Most Lakewood rental property owners understand the basics of fair housing laws. However, things can get more complicated when we talk about service animals and emotional support animals. How are they different from pets?
This is an incredibly nuanced topic, and it’s also potentially dangerous for landlords who aren’t staying up to date on laws and regulations. Making a mistake is easy, and those mistakes that violate the Fair Housing Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act can be expensive. Fines are over $10,000 for a first offense.
Here’s a basic overview on what you need to know when it comes to pets and service animals. Emotional support animals are considered companion animals, which have the same protections as service animals but also allow for you to verify that a tenant needs such an animal.
If there’s any doubt at all, contact a Lakewood property management company before you address a tenant’s request for a service or support animal.
Pets or No Pets: It’s Your Choice
Pets are easy. You can allow them or not allow them. There’s no law protecting tenants who want to move in with their pet dog or cat or turtle. We think it’s a good idea to offer pet-friendly homes. They usually rent faster and tenants tend to stay in place longer when they have a pet. This saves you money on vacancy and turnover.
You can also charge a pet fee and pet rent when you have tenants moving in with pets. While there is some risk and extra liability that comes with allowing pets, you’re almost always going to make more money on a pet-friendly property.
Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals
While you get to decide whether or not to allow pets, you don’t have that flexibility with service animals and emotional support animals. If a tenant needs them, you have to allow them. Even if you have a strict no-pet policy for your rental home.
Service animals are always dogs. They are used by tenants with a physical or intellectual disability. Typically, these disabilities are easy to detect, and you won’t need to ask what the service animal is for. If you ask a tenant why they need a Seeing Eye Dog, you’re probably going to look silly. You can also be sued. Service animals are certified and trained. Sometimes, they wear something identifying their service.
Emotional support animals are considered companion animals, and the law treats them just a little differently. You cannot disallow them, but you can ask for documentation if the disability is not immediately apparent. Emotional support animals are different from service animals in that they can be any type of animal and they aren’t trained to do a specific task or serve a specific purpose. They offer comfort and support.
In these cases, you can ask your tenant for documentation from a medical professional explaining the disability and why the animal is required. Don’t be confrontational about it. Asking for documentation is permitted, but being difficult or expressing doubt can get you into legal trouble.
Tenant Responsibilities with Pets and Service Animals
When you allow a tenant to move in with a pet, you can require a pet fee or a pet deposit, and you can also charge a pet rent every month. Most tenants will be willing to pay a bit more for the privilege of moving in their furry family members. You should screen the pet and require pictures and vet records so you know the animal is safe and healthy.
With service and emotional support animals, you cannot ask for extra pet rent, a pet deposit, or a pet fee. You should still collect a security deposit, however, and you can use that deposit at the end of the lease term if there is any damage from the service animal. The tenant is still required to clean up after the animal and ensure it isn’t a nuisance to other tenants or the property.
These are a few of the most important things you need to know about service animals and emotional support animals. We know it’s a complex topic, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you need help or have additional questions. Please contact us at Assured Management, Lakewood property management experts serving residential landlords in West Denver and the surrounding areas, including Littleton, Golden, Wheat Ridge, Arvada, and more.