No Pets Fourplex and Tenant with companion dog

19 Replies

I own a Fourplex and occupy one of the units in Oregon. This is my only multifamily property. There is a "No Pets" policy which my tenants are aware. One of my tenants presented me with a Doctors note for a companion dog. I informed her about the pet policy and would get back to her. What are my options without getting into legal issues?

I didn't think companion dogs generally fall under "pet exclusions".  Not allowing the service dog could potentially be seen as a disability discrimination I would think.  Definitely worth researching.

A "companion" or "emotional support" dog is NOT covered under the ADA but I would still consult with a local attorney because state or local laws may cover such a pet.  

"Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."

Source:

http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

I'm pretty sure companion dogs are NOT service dogs, according to the ADA. Here's an article I found by doing a google search on the subject: http://www.petpartners.org/page.aspx?pid=489

Do a BiggerPockets search for this topic. Many good previous discussions. Look for "service animal", "companion animal", and "emotional support animal". You need to be aware of the Fair Housing Act, not only the ADA and the Rehab Act, as well as your state laws.

First, the person must have a qualified disability and the doctor's letter (or qualified professional's note) must validate that fact. The documentation must also point out that this particular animal provides a necessary service or function for this person related to their disability.

Many people try to fake their way into having a pet under another guise. Be alert, but also be very careful what you say. Discrimination law suits, well founded or not, are a bear.

Be very very careful. Check with your lawyer. We discussed this in some of our License Renewal classes (I am a Realtor) and it is a very open area and does not apply to just dogs. Be glad he doesn't need a companion Donkey :-)

Hopefully the dog does not bark a lot because you are likely to have a pet in your future.

As mentioned above, it's a way more complicated issue than allowing a service animal vs. a companion animal.  The law requires that landlords make "reasonable" special accommodations for special needs of all tenants with disabilities.  If you've got a tenant, or tenant applicant, with a qualified disability, then accommodating their special needs for a companion animal can not just be ignored.  The disability need not be obvious, the companion animal need not be specifically trained or certified. 

The burden to landlords is verifying the disability.  And it is a burden and a landmine of possible unintended discrimination. You can't ask about or verify specifics of the disability, only that a disability exits.  The person isn't necessarily on SSDI or getting any other disability benefits.  The tenant might have only a doctor's note that describes a condition and how the companion animal is a recommended treatment.  Is the condition a disability? How will you know? Does the ADA consider it a disability?  Who wants to go to court to find out?

I haven't been approached as a landlord about companion animals.  But I know of people using the companion animal angle to keep a pet in no-pet properties. 

Be very, very careful with any tenant or tenant applicant claiming disability, no matter how minor you think it might be.    

A little off topic but, speaking of disabilities, it did come up in one of our certification classes that "Hoarding" is considered a disability now........

Originally posted by @Bob E. :

A little off topic but, speaking of disabilities, it did come up in one of our certification classes that "Hoarding" is considered a disability now........

I think this is because the mental health manual for physicians was recently updated to include hoarding which is in the obsessive compulsive spectrum. Are there any "reasonable" special accommodations for tenant behavior that is a health or safety hazard?  Other than perhaps the time needed to remedy, or maybe special assistance. I'd like to think no one has to keep a hoarding tenant if they can't remedy a valid health and safety complaint. 

Kristine Marie Poe I totally agree about not having to keep a tenant but our instructor seem to think this was basically unsalted law. What a nightmare. I understand not wanting ti discriminate but how do you weight the health and safety issues, especially if the unit is a multi-plex?

Depending on the dog would be my determining factor. A lease I signed when I was renting stated of course a deposit, higher rent, and the complex determined if I got to keep the dog. Our dog is a potty trained, non-aggressive, hypo allergenic, "Schichon" that doesn't shed and weighs 10lbs. We knew though that they would check on the place and it was their call if we could keep him. As an investor their investment is more important than a pet. They would have to agree that it is your right to remove buster from your property if he becomes a nuisance. 

Thanks for the advice all. From further research, I've found that I am unable to charge any pet fees or increase the deposit in any way. I do have the right for an explanation on why the companion pet is required and some insight on the persons disability for legitimacy. I will cooperate with this as if it is true, then it will be fine. I am having the tenant complete a "Reasonable Accommodation" form obtained from the local Multifamily Association. The doctor's signed form that was provided to me was very vague - "Please allow companion pet".

Originally posted by @Gary Thao :

Thanks for the advice all. From further research, I've found that I am unable to charge any pet fees or increase the deposit in any way. I do have the right for an explanation on why the companion pet is required and some insight on the persons disability for legitimacy. I will cooperate with this as if it is true, then it will be fine. I am having the tenant complete a "Reasonable Accommodation" form obtained from the local Multifamily Association. The doctor's signed form that was provided to me was very vague - "Please allow companion pet".

The doctor's note didn't identify or outline a condition for which the companion dog is a treatment or therapy, like stress or anxiety or grief?  Just "Please allow companion pet"?  Seriously?

Hmmm, the doctor calling it a pet, that doesn't sound right since these are referred to as service animals when it's on the up and up ...

Get the request for reasonable accommodation and then read some other posts that went into the topic of what is reasonable and what might not be.

Although it's been a while since I've looked into this, I believe my research on this came up with that I cannot require to know what the disability is, only that if it's not evident, I can request a doctor's note that says this person has a disability and this dog provides a service required for the disability, and I think I'm also allowed to ask what service the dog actually provides.   I'm not sure I would take a note simply saying, Allow the companion pet, without a doctor's statement actually saying the person requires it for their disability, but I'd probably check with an attorney first before causing problems for myself.  I allow a well-trained family dog, anyway, so it's not an issue for me unless the dog is aggressive or not trained.  I wonder how it would be if other tenants in the same 4-plex, or you, the owner, living there, had dog allergies, would that be enough reason to not rent to a tenant with a "companion" dog?

Originally posted by @Lynn M.:

Although it's been a while since I've looked into this, I believe my research on this came up with that I cannot require to know what the disability is, only that if it's not evident, I can request a doctor's note that says this person has a disability and this dog provides a service required for the disability, and I think I'm also allowed to ask what service the dog actually provides.   I'm not sure I would take a note simply saying, Allow the companion pet, without a doctor's statement actually saying the person requires it for their disability, but I'd probably check with an attorney first before causing problems for myself.  I allow a well-trained family dog, anyway, so it's not an issue for me unless the dog is aggressive or not trained.  I wonder how it would be if other tenants in the same 4-plex, or you, the owner, living there, had dog allergies, would that be enough reason to not rent to a tenant with a "companion" dog?

I've been wondering about the same issue.  When is the accommodation "not reasonable".  I'm allergic to dogs.  Can I deny allowing a service or companion animal as the managing owner? Or only if I live on the property?

And what if I or one of the tenants have our own disability, involving debilitating fear of dogs?  Ha ha.