Pets can be a landlord’s worst nightmare. Dogs and cats are often noisy and dirty, and they can wreak havoc on newly finished floors. So landlords have the right to keep animals out of their units. But this right is not absolute. If a disabled tenant needs the aid of a service animal, landlords must allow the pet inside the building, even if they have a strict no-pet policy.
Service Animals: The Landlord’s Duties
The Fair Housing Act, a federal law that governs rental activity in every state, requires landlords to offer “reasonable accommodations” to disabled tenants. So if a landlord selects a tenant who is one of more than 10,000 Americans currently using a service animal, a few key rules apply:
1. Tenants who require the aid of an animal due to a “sensory, mental, or physical condition that substantially limits a major life activity” must be allowed to live with a service animal.
2. Service animals do not need visible identification or documentation, but landlords can ask for proof that the animal is necessary. A letter from any health care professional will usually suffice.
3. Landlords cannot force disabled tenants to pay a pet deposit, but the tenant is still liable for any damage caused by the animal.
Building owners may also require that tenants keep their animals are well-behaved, but that’s a typical landlord right that extends to human tenants, too. And since most service animals are highly trained, it’s fairly rare for them to cause serious problems for landlords. Other tenants, however, are another matter.
Other Tenants’ Right to Void Their Lease
While the Fair Housing Act limits landlords’ right to keep service animals out of their buildings, other tenants do not face the same restrictions.
If a tenant moves into a building because of its no-pet policy, and a service animal moves in next door, the tenant has a right to challenge the validity of the lease. Of course, objecting to a service animal won’t win anyone a Humanitarian of the Year award, but the absence of pets can be an important factor for many tenants, especially those who suffer from allergies.
So while landlords must allow service animals to assist disabled tenants, they may also have to void the leases of tenants upset by their new neighbors.