I have 3 units just outside of Seattle and while I haven't run into a scenario where a tenant required a service animal, I wanted to prepare myself. In my research I've found that I'm not allowed to charge a pet deposit for service animals and that it appears that as a landlord, I have limited/no ability to validate if the animal is truly a service animal vs. a companion. Has anyone else dove into this and been able to establish a reasonable policy that complies with the state law. Thank you.
Rental Housing Association of WA (https://www.rhawa.org) has some good resources on this topic including a blog post (behind a paywall, of course). Their rental forms will be compliant with the applicable state and municipal laws. Membership fee is nominal and is well worth it in my opinion.
I'm no attorney but such laws require landlords (and employers, etc.) to "reasonably accommodate" tenants (or employees) who have a disability. Of course, the term reasonable is subject to interpretation. A little more below...Here's What You Can Do:
- You can ask for doctor's verification of disability as long as the disability isn't obvious to you (this covers emotional support, comfort, and companion animals)
- You can ask if the animal has any training or certification
- You can issue a 10 Day Comply or Vacate Notice if the service animal is causing damage or other problems
- Call RHAWA or an attorney for advice
- You can't restrict tenancy based on service animals
- You can't deny someone because they have a service animal
@Jason Robinett , I am not a lawyer, but generally, you can not deny someone because of a service animal. That said, if your yard is not fully fenced, your house may not be a good fit for the applicant and his/her service animal!
Service animals are complex. The number of requests are increasing astronomically and there's no sign of slowing. And tenants are getting smarter about abusing the law to convert pets to "emotional support animals" and getting past your No Pet policies.
Instead of wasting a bunch of time trying to figure out how to slow the tide, roll with it. Make your place as pet-friendly as possible and charge for it. I charge up to $100 per animal per month. I've seen some Landlords charge up to $300 a month and they find people willing to pay it. I don't recommend being so unreasonable, but I do recommend you create a good pet policy and try to allow them. You can still put in restrictions. I limit households to two pets total, they must have owned the animal at least one year (I support rescue animals but the applicant needs to demonstrate they have trained it), and there are certain breeds that are not allowed in certain properties (barking, biting, chewing, etc). Just keep it reasonable and justifiable. You can even create a policy that allows exceptions for additional rent (e.g. $100 more a month and proof of bite insurance for all dangerous breed dogs)
I also recommend you check out petscreening.com because they will require the tenant to "apply" for their animals. It requires pictures, vet records, vaccinations, and more so that you know what you're getting. It also requires an annual renewal so you can keep records updated and ensure tenants aren't adding/replacing animals without your knowledge or permission.
Best of all, petscreening.com will screen service animals to ensure they are in compliance. They can't stop the fraud, but they stop most of it, and ensure you are not violating the law and exposing yourself to a lawsuit.
Thanks everyone for the great feedback and advice. Much appreciated!