By Laurie Mega
Allowing pets in your units is a calculated risk. There’s always the chance a dog, cat, or other pet could cause damage to your property. On the other hand, 72 percent of American renters have pets, according to the Humane Society. So prohibiting animals may cost you.
But you can minimize the risk pets can pose by implementing a pet screening process and creating rules around pets in your properties. You may even consider adding a monthly pet fee to the rent.
Of course, this only applies to animals considered pets. If you have a current or prospective tenant making what’s called a reasonable accommodation request for a service animal, you can’t restrict or prohibit the animal.
In this article, we’ll discuss the pet screening process and when it is not appropriate to require one.
How Does a Pet Screening Work?
When a prospective tenant applies for one of your units, you can include a pet application along with your human one. A current tenant can also fill one out for a new pet. A pet application, also called a pet resume, collects basic information, including:
- Number, names, types, and sizes of pets
- A photo of each pet
- Registration information
- Veterinary information
- History of destructive or aggressive behavior
- Training certifications
- The name of a renters insurance policy (if you require it)
Basically, you’re trying to get as much information about each pet as you can. What you do with this information is up to you. You can use it to approve or deny pets on your properties, or you can simply keep it on file should you ever have an issue with your tenant’s animals.
If your city bans certain breeds of dogs as house pets, you can determine if your tenant will be violating that ban. If they have more unusual pets such as ferrets or exotic birds, you can decide if these are the kinds of animals you’re okay within your properties.
It’s also helpful information for members of your staff, as well. If a property needs maintenance, for example, you can share information about animals on the property with your crew. Making them aware of a pet on the property ahead of time can prevent an animal from escaping or an allergic reaction. If a dog doesn’t like strangers, you can instruct your tenant to restrain the animal before your maintenance team arrives.
Want help managing all your pet screening needs? Visit PetScreening.com for more information.
Pets vs. Service and Emotional Support Animals
There are instances where a property manager or owner can’t require a pet application or screening. That’s when an animal, usually a dog, qualifies as a service animal for a disabled person.
When a disabled person makes a reasonable accommodation request, owners can’t charge pet fees or require a deposit. Any restrictions your owner may have on the size or weight don’t apply, either. Nor do city restrictions on breeds.
Keep in mind, though, that service animals still have to meet city and state requirements on registration and vaccinations.
When an animal qualifies as a service animal under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), there is only one instance where a service animal can be restricted or banned. That is if the animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others.
In January of this year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released new guidelines on service and emotional support animals. The regulations are based on both the FHA and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and discuss when an animal is allowed as a reasonable accommodation and when it isn’t.
What Is a Service Animal?
Under the ADA, a service animal is
any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual's disability.
Note that the definition covers dogs only. Service animals of any other species are considered pets under the FHA, but there may be state or city regulations that include other animals under the service definition.
A person with a disability can also make a reasonable accommodation request for another type of animal if they can prove they can’t use a dog; for example, if they are allergic.
If a current or prospective tenant requests an accommodation for a service animal, there are only two questions an owner or property manager can ask:
- Is the animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
You cannot ask about the person’s disability, nor can you require documentation to prove that they are disabled.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
Under the FHA and the ADA, an emotional support animal doesn’t count as a service animal and can be treated as a pet. Just keep in mind that state and local laws may make accommodations for certain types of emotional support animals.
An emotional support animal is different from a service animal in that it doesn’t perform specific work or tasks for its owner. Instead, its presence provides emotional stability.
There have been a lot of stories in the news about accommodations for emotional support animals from cats and dogs to miniature horses and snakes. Essentially, it’s up to you and your owner to determine what you will allow, provided you stick to state and local regulations.
If you want to make sure you’re compliant, NOLO provides a list of each state’s laws and regulations.
Allowing pets opens up a larger pool of prospective tenants, and putting measures in place to protect your properties is a good idea. But it’s important to remember that accommodations have to be made for tenants with disabilities.
According to HUD, 60 percent of the FHA complaints made concerned denial of reasonable accommodations and disability access. “In fact,” writes HUD “such complaints are one of the most common types of fair housing complaints that HUD receives.”
Understanding when and how to screen pets and the FHA and ADA laws around service animals will keep you on the right side of the law and allow you to provide a wonderful rental experience for all of your tenants.