Q: I own an apartment complex and have a strict “no pet” policy. One of my tenants verbally requested a reasonable accommodation to allow him to have a dog. What does “reasonable accommodation” mean and how should I respond to him?
A: The term “reasonable accommodation,” as defined by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is “a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces.” By requesting a reasonable accommodation, your tenant is asking you to change or make an exception to your “no pet” policy.
This request does not have to be in writing and your tenant does not even have to use the term “reasonable accommodation.” If your tenant asks you to make a change to your policy or requests a reasonable accommodation, then you must engage in an interactive process to discuss the request with your tenant in good faith. To assist you with this process, on January 28, 2020, HUD issued notice FHEO-2020-01 to help housing providers assess a tenant’s request for an assistance animal (service animal or emotion support animal) as a reasonable accommodation.
Q: My tenant is requesting that I make a reasonable accommodation to allow him to have an emotional support animal. What is the difference between an assistance animal, emotional support animal, and service animal?
A: HUD clarified the differences between these terms in their January 28, 2020 notice FHEO-2020-01. Assistance animal is the term used to describe both 1) a service animal and 2) a support animal also known as an emotional support animal. A service animal is defined by the American Disability Association (ADA) as “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.” The definition of a support animal or emotional support animal provided by HUD is “) other trained or untrained animals that do work, perform tasks, provide assistance, and/or provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities.” A support animal or emotional support animal does not require any training to provide support to the tenant.
Q: My tenant is requesting that I make a reasonable accommodation and allow him to have a service animal. Are there restrictions for service animals?
A: Yes, the only type of animal that can be described as a service animal is a dog and the dog must be trained to perform tasks for the benefit of the individual with a disability. On the other hand, support animals can be any type of animal and do not require any training.
Q: I do not allow pets in my rental properties. I found out that my tenant has an unauthorized dog and told him to remove the animal. A week later, my tenant told me the dog is an emotional support animal and provided a doctor’s note requesting a reasonable accommodation. Do I have to let him keep the dog?
A: Yes, if your tenant has a note from a medical professional saying that he requires “an emotional support animal” for a condition that is considered a disability, then you must comply with this request. Remember, an “emotional support animal” is not considered a pet.
Q: My tenant provided me with a certificate from a website that says her Chihuahua is an assistance animal. Can I request more documentation from this tenant to support her need for this animal?
A: It depends. Many healthcare professionals do provide online services to their patients to provide them with documentation to support their need for an assistance animal. However, under the Fair Housing Act, a housing provider may request reliable documentation to support the tenant’s request for a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal. Please contact a Landlord/Tenant attorney prior to requesting additional documentation from the tenant.
Q: My tenant told me she has a disability and is requesting an emotional support animal as an accommodation. From her physical appearance, she does not appear disabled. Can I ask questions about the disability?
A: No, you may not ask the tenant to describe their disability to you or explain how the animal will assist them. However, if your tenant has a disability that is not readily apparent or known, you may ask your tenant to provide a note from their medical professional stating that they have a disability and that they need an emotional support animal. If the tenant refuses to provide documentation for the necessity of an emotional support animal, then depending on your lease, you may serve the tenant with a 3 Day Notice to Perform Covenant or Quit to remove the animal. Please contact a Landlord/Tenant attorney prior to serving such notice.
A copy of the January 28, 2020, notice issued by HUD as FHEO-2020-01 can be found at the following link:
Attorney Franco Simone, of Simone & Associates and The Landlords’ Legal Center, has been doing evictions for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct law professor at the University of San Diego. Mr. Simone’s office is open Monday – Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Tel: 619-235-6180, website: www.landlordslegalcenter.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.