Pit bulls as service dogs.....

112 Replies

Just got a call in Indiana from a lady whose kid has a pit as a "service" dog.

Thoughts on this? Can I still discriminate against the breed as I normally do with pits, rotts and so on even if they have papers?

Just know if you allow 1 pit bull, are you ready for all of the other tenants wanting them as well?  

Originally posted by @Michael Noto :

Just know if you allow 1 pit bull, are you ready for all of the other tenants wanting them as well?  

It's a single family home and I'd prefer to discriminate against the breed. I'm asking if law would super cede my policy due to it being a service breed.

I had an applicant tell me her pit bull was a service animal. Because she was applying to rent a condo, the association said no way. Their policy is no pet over 20 pounds. My insurance company wouldn't allow it either. The applicant got testy about it and said we had to allow it. I told her to take it up with the association and the insurance company.

You can always use the insurance company as the bad guy. And if you have a multi-family, consider how one tenant's pit bull might affect your other tenants.

Hopefully they don't even turn an app in so it doesn't even come up.

Find something else in the app for turn down.

 Service dogs need to be registered, and the tenant needs to have attended classes with the dog.  There will be documentation if it's all true.  Ask to see it.  

  I have tenants with dogs.  I have to meet the animal first.  The ONLY thing that ever angers me, as a landlord, is being bitten by a tenant's dog.  And I love dogs.  And I HAVE a great dog. But I've been bitten three times already (same dog--tenant has since moved).  

  With potential tenants and ANY dog, I make this point:  if there's an emergency, and I need to enter your apartment, is your dog going to be safe from ME?  I have an obligation to other tenants in the building and to maintain the building itself.  In that situation, if I need to address an issue emergently, and there is a dog acting threateningly toward me, well, you can see where this could go, right?  

   It all comes down to this: how much of a hard-a$$ do you want to be?  I have a tenant who got pit puppies recently, without telling me first.  I've had her for three years, the place is going to have to get redone after she moves out anyhow, so my wife and I agreed: with our blessing.  Am I happy about it?  No.  But I have a larger issue: it keeps otherwise good tenants in place and the rent coming in.  

If it is a service animal you have to rent them under the ADA laws, even if you have no pet poliicy. And you cannot collect a pet deposit. If you don't rent to them you are open to a federal law suit. This is becoming a big issue for landlords and property managers. Anyone can go on line and get a "certificate" for $65. They will even refer you to a phone number where the tenant gets an interview over the phone from a pyschologist and gives them a letter diagnosing their problems and prescribing a service animal. Check some other posts and google "service animals" to see the sites.

Prospective applicants that 'dictate' to me what I have to take pet-wise never seem to get their applications turned in completed correctly or in time before someone else submits theirs.  Really weird, right?! 

Don't mess with service dogs @Brandon Hicks  . @Kevin Page  is absolutely right.

Story for your consumption: Local cafe owner that I know personally had an Iraq vet come in with his 'service dog' (I'm also a vet so I have absolutely no resentment toward him for this...generally I would be bias toward his point of view). Unfortunately, these 'service dogs' are often not trained in any manner..as the animal was running around bothering patrons and begging for their food and getting underfoot.

The store owner asked him to take the dog outside and it turned into a big issue, really bad press about a store owner who 'hates' vets and the disabled, news cameras and write-ups in the paper, lawsuit..etc.. Guy is barely hanging onto his business now. Unfortunately, the guy was probably just looking for a paycheck. There are a LOT of attorneys that will use the disabled to shop around for lawsuits by finding even small violations of the disability laws

Owner handled the situation incorrectly because he didn't know the laws. Regardless if you believe it is a 'real' service dog or a 'fake' one...DO NOT DISCRIMINATE against this person with this animal. You cannot say no because of this dog. They may or may not be disqualified because they don't meet your strict leasing requirements which you have documented and provided to them prior to application...but the dog is a non-issue.

There are several threads on these forums specifically related to service dogs, and worth reading up on.  I'm not a lawyer, so no legal advice, but my understanding is unless you can show where it is an unreasonable burden for you to allow this (and possibly losing insurance would be that burden but I don't know), then you cannot discriminate against a service dog, no matter what breed.  As far as proof or papers, I do know that in the states I have rentals, you cannot ask for proof like training certificates as they are not required as people are allowed to train their own service dog.  I do believe that you can ask for a letter from a physician that can explain the person has a disability that requires a service dog, but do not ask for specifics on the illness or disability even if it is not evident as that is not allowed.  Anyway, it is a very tricky subject.  A lady in Maryland took it to court and won the right to have her pit bull returned to her even though her county has a ban on pit bulls.  A service dog is a different category altogether from a pet.  So tread carefully.     

I think my course of action will be as follows....

IF they submit an app and there are no other areas of concern where I would normally reject them, such as insufficient income, prior evictions, drug/violent criminal charges and so on I will contact my attorney for proper guidance.

Thanks to those who posted.

I would simply allow them to apply, but not call them back, or explain that another qualified applicant applied first, so you went with them to be fair.

This blows my mind. If the law is going to force business owners, landlords, and others to accommodate people with these dogs, they should absolutely require the people and the dogs to be professionally trained and for them to pay for such accommodations. If a dog damages the property or disturbs other tenants they should be financially responsible just like someone would have to install and then later remove their own grabs bars or accessible fixtures at their own cost (at least in CT). Don't get me wrong, I can see the value in these dogs, but this is a little crazy.

@Daniel Raposo  There are lots of people who really need a service animal but some unscrupulous people with dangerous dogs are taking advantage of the law. That is who we need to look out for.  Florida is trying to make exceptions to the law to curb abuse. 

Originally posted by Aly NA:

I had an applicant tell me her pit bull was a service animal. Because she was applying to rent a condo, the association said no way. Their policy is no pet over 20 pounds. My insurance company wouldn't allow it either. The applicant got testy about it and said we had to allow it. I told her to take it up with the association and the insurance company.

You can always use the insurance company as the bad guy. And if you have a multi-family, consider how one tenant's pit bull might affect your other tenants.

 Aly:

If her animal is a service dog it should have certification papers (temperament, obedience) from the institution which trained it.

If it doesn't have papers, it's just a pet.

@Roy N. , she claimed she had documentation, but I had no interest in taking on the condo association, which flat out told me no. I told the applicant she could call them if she wanted to. They never heard from her. 

There are good topics here on BP regarding service and therapy animals. Apparently they have different documentation requirements. 

My insurance specifically forbids 11 breeds of dogs, including pit bulls.

Originally posted by @Roy N. :
Originally posted by @Aly L:

I had an applicant tell me her pit bull was a service animal. Because she was applying to rent a condo, the association said no way. Their policy is no pet over 20 pounds. My insurance company wouldn't allow it either. The applicant got testy about it and said we had to allow it. I told her to take it up with the association and the insurance company.

You can always use the insurance company as the bad guy. And if you have a multi-family, consider how one tenant's pit bull might affect your other tenants.

 Aly:

If her animal is a service dog it should have certification papers (temperament, obedience) from the institution which trained it.

If it doesn't have papers, it's just a pet.

In most states in the US, no certification papers are required, and a landlord can get in trouble demanding them. Hopefully, more states will start requiring licensing as a service animal, but until they do, it is a complicated issue to be taken seriously, and an HOA saying No can get them in heaps of trouble, too, so that Board needs some education before denying the request. I do know that if a service pet is aggressive or the owner doesn't take care of it properly, like leaving dog doo all over a common area, then that is cause for action against her having it, but it seems to me that only occurs after move-in, so then you're evicting, adding more frustration and costs to the landlord.

@Lynn M.  

One condo association prohibited more than one pet and each pet could weigh no more than 40 lbs, and they did weigh pets to make sure they met their criteria.

Their definition included all animals even service dogs.

During our tenant screening, I give a very specific answer when a prospect tells me they have a service animal (or emotional support animal or other another label). That is "We welcome qualified service animals for people with qualified disabilities." Then I proceed with the interview and qualification process. If the person applies and we are at a point of doing background checks, we will then do our due diligence for determining if it is a valid request or not. 

Pit bulls are not the only breeds that HOAs and Insurance Companies ban. German Shepherds are often on those lists too, but some can be trained to be great service animals.

We have a determination process and some hoops for the the tenant to go through to demonstrate they have a qualified disability and the need for this specific animal is legit. My background as an ADA compliance manager for a major medical center affords me of knowledge that scares off the fakers and relieves those tenants that do have a qualified disability and the need for a service animal.

The Federal Fair Housing Act is the most significant law that comes into play for housing providers. Each state also has their own take on this topic.  Here's an example from Washington State.

Straight from the Washington State Human Rights Commission website:

"Q.   How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?

......

There are no legal requirements for service animals to be specially identified. Some, but not all, service animals, wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or “certified” and/or have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. A public entity cannot require any proof of a person’s disability, or identification or certification of the service animal’s status.

A housing provider may ask for a health care professional’s statement that an individual is a person with a disability and will be assisted by a service animal. A housing provider may not ask for details or the nature of an individual’s disability."

@David Krulac I had an HOA board once deny my tenant a request for a wheelchair ramp even though she submitted doctor's notes about her disability as they said it didn't conform to their HOA rules. That was a fun hearing. A service dog is not considered a pet and should not be judged under the same criteria as a pet. Even a no pet policy must consider a service pet. Hopefully, they have good lawyers to back them up on that judgment as if an applicant sues, it is likely to be by suing everyone involved -- homeowner, HOA, etc.

Originally posted by @Lynn M. :

In most states in the US, no certification papers are required, and a landlord can get in trouble demanding them. Hopefully, more states will start requiring licensing as a service animal, but until they do, it is a complicated issue to be taken seriously, and an HOA saying No can get them in heaps of trouble, too, so that Board needs some education before denying the request. I do know that if a service pet is aggressive or the owner doesn't take care of it properly, like leaving dog doo all over a common area, then that is cause for action against her having it, but it seems to me that only occurs after move-in, so then you're evicting, adding more frustration and costs to the landlord.

Lynn,

Apparently that trend is being exported.   There are now jurisdictions in Canada which have relaxed the standard of service animal - partially due to the fact they are being used in more roles that before.   In some provinces, the government will issue a letter of certification to a person with a disability and their service animal, but only if they request it.

We've never encountered a service animal that was not trained and had papers from a renown organisation, but looks like we may have to revisit that requirement in some locations.   It also appears that many of these organisations are trying to establish and {common} process to register and provide identification or service animals.

It would be interesting to know if the service animal goes to work with its owner , or to school with the son . I would think such an animal would be a constant companion . So it would never be at the rental alone or allowed to run and always on a leash .  I also believe in Santa Claus .

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