Screening Service Dog?

10 Replies

I just put out the rent sign yesterday in the window but didn't post anything online because the place wasn't ready yet- I hadn't even decided which vinyl planks to install downstairs and needed to steamclean the carpet upstairs. 

But, then somebody must have seen the sign, made an appointment to see it before it was ready and now wants to rent the place at the beginning of next month which would work out great. 

My big concern is that this applicant has a service dog and I never allow pets. But, if I install vinyl planks downstairs along with the porcelain tiles in place, then those should be bullet proof? I've got carpet upstairs and I know dogs can damage it, but the carpet is already old and I know they'll need to be replaced anyways the next time this place goes up for rent. 

Before I accept the tenant, what are you looking at the tenant's pet to screen them?

Since its a service dog, does this mean its well-trained and behaved? It appears the tenant has a disability and so the dog really is a service dog and not one of those comfort dogs. 

Can't say no because of the service dog. That's come up on the forum countless times. Plus the real service dogs are awesome. Yes very well trained. Have you ever seen one guiding a blind handler? Incredible!

Yep, you can't screen someone out because they have a service dog. People with disabilities are a protected class and service dogs are covered by that. Unless there is another reason that you wouldn't rent to them (ie; bad credit, poor references, smoking, etc) and you can PROVE that is why they were denied, then you have to consider them as prospective tenants. Take good notes while doing your due diligence and keep them for your records.

Did they show you any documentation that it is a real service dog?

They brought in a copy of a service dog card where one said said service dog with picture of dog and the other side had a Q&A section about service animals. It looks real but who knows with tenants. 

A little "trick" in your view of service animals to help with keeping out of trouble. Dogs/cats ect are "pets", service animals are not pets they are "medical assistance". I say that because you cannot charge fees or additional deposits for a service animal as you would a pet. Otherwise screen as you would any other applicant.

Can I still charge a month's rent for the security deposit? 

Or, does it depend on what the SD would have been for other renters? In other words, if the security deposit for another renter would have been a month's rent minus 100 dollars, then I can't charge this person with a service dog a security deposit equal to a month's rent?

And, does this mean that I shouldn't ask to meet to see the dog beforehand or go to tenant's current place to see its condition with this dog. I'm open to allowing a pet, but I don't want to allow a  destructive 50 pound dog who will destroy the place just because the dog is a service dog. 

The FHA says that you have to screen all prospective tenants equally, and apply your criteria equally. That is why so many of the experienced LL here say have written criteria. That way if you did deny this applicant, you can point to the specific non-disability related reason why they were denied. You are not allowed to charge an additional deposit just because they have a service animal. And you must allow reasonable accommodations for someone with a disability.

So for your situation let's assume the applicant meets all your criteria for income/credit/background ect. The dog as I mentioned is not a "pet", and not a reason for denial. To your question of the deposit, it needs to be the same as you would have charged any other applicant. You can still ask to see the animal's county license and vaccinations as that is a legal requirement for all animals, service animal or not. 

So what is an example of an unreasonable accommodation. Let's say their service dog is a pitbull, and your insurer lists pitbulls as being a restricted breed. That would be an unreasonable accommodation, because it would cause a real financial hardship for you. It would cause your insurance to be cancelled and/or you would have a higher insurance cost by allowing the tenant. 

Here is a link to a service dog organization page that explains the FHA as it relates to housing and LL, I hope it helps. I allow pets in most of my rentals so it is less of a concern for me if I had a disabled applicant, since the only difference would be in my not collecting a pet deposit and rent.

You cannot "screen" a service dog and any pet policies do not apply to them as they are legally defined as medical equipment, not as pets. This is why we cannot refuse tenancy to their handlers. Familiarize yourself with laws, policy and landlord and tenant rights when it comes to service dogs, what their behaviour should look like due to extensive training (this is what sets them apart from other dogs). That is your protection - if they behave outside of that, they are NOT a service dog. Familiarize yourself with what you are and aren't allowed to ask in terms of verification etc.

Yes, service dogs are HIGHLY trained for 2 years. They are nothing to worry about. ESAs have no requirement for training, unfortunately, but still have legal rights to reside in a no pets rental. Service dog, ESA or regular dog - tenant is liable for any damage caused. This shouldn't be an issue with a true service dog.

Keep in mind some people call emotional support animals "service animals". Emotional support animals are not trained. Thier card for the animal can be from some internet provider. A service animal has a job to do and is trained to do that job for a specific person.

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