Finding a place to rent when you have a dog can be difficult; many landlords don’t want to deal with the potential damage to their property by a dog or the possible nuisance complaints if they bark and disturb neighbors. But what about service dogs? Can a landlord deny a service dog or prohibit a tenant from renting because they have a service dog?
While it is perfectly within the rights of landlords to place restrictions on pets, including dogs, when renting or leasing an apartment or home, it is illegal for them to deny tenants with service dogs unless there are rare, extenuating circumstances.
While specific laws vary from state to state, let’s look at laws that protect assistance animals in housing that doesn’t otherwise allow pets.
Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals — What’s the Difference?
It is important to distinguish between service dogs and emotional support dogs. Service dogs are trained to perform the services they provide their handlers with disabilities. Emotional support animals are not specially trained and provide support for their mentally or emotionally disabled handlers merely by their presence.
While some laws cover both types of assistance animals (including housing rights), other laws only apply to service dogs and not emotional support animals. For instance, airlines may ban emotional support animals from flights, but they must allow service dogs.
The Fair Housing Act and How It Protects Assistance Animals
The Fair Housing Act is federal legislation which requires landlords to allow service and emotional support animals even if they have a “no pet” policy. This also applies to Home Owner Associations (HOAs), condo associations, and co-ops.
The Fair Housing Act protects individuals with assistance dogs from discrimination in several ways. Service and emotional support animals are considered tools, not pets, so many of the restrictions aimed at pets do not apply to assistance animals.
Assistance Dogs in Housing With a “No Pets” Policy
Rental buildings cannot use their “no pet” policies to deny service dogs or emotional support animals. Just because the housing provider’s policy prohibits pets, it does not mean that they can prohibit assistance animals.
Breed and Size/Weight Restrictions
Housing providers cannot use breed or weight/size restrictions to deny them. For instance, if a building doesn’t allow pit bulls or dogs over 40 pounds, they cannot use those restrictions to deny a 50 pound service dog or an emotional support dog that is a pit bull.
Can Landlords Charge a Pet Fee or Hold a Pet Deposit for Assistance Dogs?
Landlords cannot collect a security deposit specifically related to a service dog and above the amount of any regular security deposit for a rental unit. They also cannot charge monthly “pet fees” above and beyond the rent for service dogs. While common for pet dogs, these types of fees are illegal and can be contested.
When Can a Landlord Deny or Reject a Service Dog?
There are exceptions to the rule regarding a tenants right to have a service dog or emotional support animal. If a landlord determines that the service dog presents a danger, safety risk, or health risk to others, it is within their rights to deny accommodation of the dog.
Landlords must make a valid claim as to the danger or risk that the service dog poses; they cannot simply make the claim without evidence or good cause. They must also show that any perceived risks cannot be managed or mitigated by the owner.
Rental buildings that are owner-occupied and with four or fewer units are also exempt from the requirements of the Fair Housing Act. So an owner-occupied duplex, for example, can deny accommodation for a tenant’s service dog and receive an exemption from the FHA regulation. Single-family homes rented by the owner also fall into this category.
In most cases, you cannot be denied a service dog or emotional support animal by a landlord. There are exceptions, however, so be sure you know your rights in your specific situation.