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Let’s start off with a bit of terminology, as there are several types of animals that fit this article.

Guide animal: A travel tool used by a person who is legally blind

Hearing animal: Alerts a person when a sound occurs such as a doorbell, knock, telephone or fire alarm.

Service animal: Assists a person with a mobility or health disability. Such assistance may include carrying items, fetching, opening doors, ringing doorbells, activation of elevator buttons, support while walking, assistance up from a fall, etc. Sometimes called an assistance animal.

Seizure response animal: Assists persons with seizure disorders. May go for help, stand guard, or activate an alarm for a monitoring company for them to send out help.

Companion or Emotional Support animal: Assists persons with psychological disabilities. Alleviate symptoms such as anxiety, depression, stress and social interaction issues. Helps tenant to live independently and fully use their living environment.

No matter which article, ruling or piece of literature I have found on this subject, it all boils down to the same thing. Persons with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations so that they may enjoy the same benefits of the rental property and amenities offered as those without a disability. While this is directed to what a landlord may need to know about making the reasonable accommodation, it is also quite informative from a renters perspective.

In October of 2008, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released its final ruling on Pet Ownership for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities. These rules went into effect November 26, 2008 and apply to multifamily housing and landlords with more than 3 rental properties. For any information on this rule 24 CFR Part 5, contact Deputy Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and Programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 451 Seventh Street SW, Room 5204 Washington DC 20410-2000 or phone at 202-619-8046. The hearing/speech impaired relay number is 800-877-8339.

My hope for this summary is that it will help you determine whether you need to make a reasonable accommodation for your rental property. First off, if you are a landlord with only one or two rentals, you are exempt from this ruling. However, once you become a landlord of 3 or more rental units or properties, these rules apply to you. Secondly, there are some basic qualifying rules to help you determine whether you are required to grant reasonable accommodation to an existing tenant or an applicant of a vacancy. All three criteria mentioned below must be met for the requirement to be established.

1. The person must have a disability as defined in the Fair Housing Act. Under Washington State Law, a disability is a sensory, mental or physical condition that is medically cognizable or diagnosable. Often times, the individual applying for rental housing will already have a statement from a licensed doctor, mental health counselor, psychologist, social worker, marriage therapist, family therapist or some other licensed individual who is able to attest to their disability and the need for an assistance, service, support or therapy animal.

2. The animal is needed to assist with the disability. This means that there must be a demonstrated relationship between the disability and the assistance the animal provides. Does the person require the use of the service/support animal to have the same opportunity as a non-disabled person to use and enjoy the housing provided?

3. The person must request a reasonable accommodation that demonstrates the relationship between their disability and the assistance the animal provides. This is usually done in writing and with corroboration from rule #1 above.

In addition, under 24 CFR Part 960, landlords may not apply or enforce pet policies against support or service animals. Service and support animals are not considered pets; they are more like an aid for the disability. When I say aid, it means like the use of a cane, crutch, walker, wheelchair, etc. As such, you cannot treat a support or service animal as a pet and cannot charge pet fees, deposits or have pet agreements as a requirement to have the animal. However, if the animal does damage to the unit, it would be considered the same as tenant damage and the tenant would have to take care of paying for the damages.

While service/support animals are not required to have any special training, the individual may come prepared with statements from the veterinarian attesting to spay/neuter status, vaccinations or statements from those who are willing to provide references for the animal to help in their application process. They may even have a certificate that their dog participated and completed training in a dog obedience class. The applicant is not required to provide any of this proof although these statements may assist you in determining that they are responsible for their animal, that there will not be any harm posed to other tenants by having the animal on the property and that it will not cause a financial burden to grant the request for the reasonable accommodation.

There are many reasons that landlords prefer not to allow animals into their rentals; noise, territorial disputes between animals, clean up problems, damage to the property, etc. The benefits of the individual having the animal to assist them in having equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling must be taken into consideration on a case by case basis. According to the IREA, many landlords who expressed that they had reservations at first, found that tenants with support animals turned out to be the most responsible tenants they had experienced and had the lowest turnover rates.

While you may be required to make a reasonable accommodation for the service/support animal, there are still some things that are in your favor as a landlord. For instance:

The tenant may be required to retain full control of the animal at all times. This could be in the form of a leash in common areas or an animal carrier.

You could also require the animal to be well behaved – does not jump, nip, snarl, bark or bite at others. If there are problems with animal behavior, you can require that the animal participate in a behavior class in order for the animal to continue to be allowed at the property.

You can require regular visits and proof of such visits to the vet for vaccinations and immunization as well as proof that local animal licensing requirements have been met.

Clean-up of the animals waste may also be required of the tenant or handler and you can require that it be scooped up immediately.

Certain areas of the property can be designated as off limits such as not allowing the animal to swim in the pool or be inside a sauna room. Such designations should not infringe upon the tenants right to full enjoyment of the property, and should not be considered an infringement as long as there are others available to provide assistance inside those specific areas.

While this article is not meant to be detailed or cover every scenario you may encounter, I hope that you find it informative and helpful. I look forward to your commentary!

Lori Hartjoy: I am the owner of Blue Mountain Rentals, which was established in April of 2011. I bring over 20 years of clerical experience to my clients. My background includes processing employment, tenant screening, background checks and a property manager. The information contained on this blog and from any communication related to the Blue Mountain Rentals website is provided for informational purposes only. All information you choose to use is at “your own risk”. Please visit http://www.bluemtnrentals.com for more information on how I can provide a win-win situation for you.

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