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Lions and Tigers and Bears – No, Just Service Animals

Written by Wil Whalen, Spectrum Enterprises

As a property manager or owner, you most likely have some kind of a pet policy in place.  Whether you allow all pets and breeds, just small animals or even have a no pet policy in place, none of these restrictions apply to a resident with a service or emotional support animal.  There has been a lot of confusion as to what qualifies a service animal and the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal.  Recently the Department of Justice modified the rules defining the term “service animal.”  They define it as:

 “any dog or service horse 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….”

So now you’re probably wondering why you even have to consider a request for permission for a tax credit tenant to maintain a cat, bird or other animal in their unit.  The Department of Justice explained an important distinction between a service animal for ADA purposes and a support animal for FHAA purposes.  The new rules limit service animals to dogs and service horses, but that doesn’t mean that a tax credit housing provider can disallow the use of other animals as a reasonable accommodation for someone who needs an emotional support animal.  Also, you cannot discriminate as to what type of animal you approve as an accommodation.  As long as the resident is disabled and qualifies for that accommodation, you have to allow the animal.  Also keep in mind that any kind of a service or emotional support animal must be prescribed by a doctor.  The doctor should be willing to testify in a court of law that the resident is disabled and does indeed need the service animal that was prescribed.

The animals, however, cannot pose a threat to the safety of any other tenant and must be house trained.  Also, the animal cannot be a significant nuisance to the other tenants, by barking too loud, growling at other tenants, being aggressive, etc. The animal must be allowed in all areas of the premises where persons are allowed to go and the tenant must be in control of the animal at all times and clean up after it if and when needed.  You cannot impose any limitations regarding breed, size or weight.  These animals cannot be subject to any fees/deposits that apply to regular pet owners.  You also cannot unreasonably delay a decision to grant the accommodation request. 

Keep in mind that there are cities and counties that may have breed restrictions.  In that case, you can disallow that animal and if the tenant wants to fight the decision, their battle would be with the city or county and not with you or your property.  Know what your city and county rules are, if any, regarding animal breeds, weight, etc.


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