As a property owner, you are probably already aware that service animals must be accommodated in all public property, including rental property. However, since the line between “service animal” and “therapy animal” can be a bit blurred, upholding accommodation laws can be a bit confusing. Here’s everything you need to know about having service animals in your apartment complex, condo unit, or rental home.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) classifies a service animal as a dog—not any other animal—that is trained to perform tasks for a disabled person (defined as someone with “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”) Importantly, the dog must be trained to take a specific action to assist its owner; for example, alerting a diabetic that his or her blood sugar levels are too low.
An “emotional support animal”, however, does not take a specific action to assist its owner. So, for instance, if a dog is trained to sense a panic attack, and bring the owner medication or a phone, it is legally defined as a service animal. But if the dog merely helps provide therapeutic comfort through its presence, it is not considered as a service animal under the ADA or Fair Housing Act.
Many animal rights groups encourage pet owners to obtain a doctor’s note stating that they have a medical need for an emotional support animal. However, the ADA is firm on the fact that a doctor’s note does not turn a companion animal into a service animal. While emotional support animals, comfort animals, or therapy animals are often used to relieve loneliness, depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, they are not protected as service animals unless they have been specifically trained to perform a task for a disabled person. Medical conditions such as anxiety and depression, while serious, are usually not considered disabilities.
Importantly, if a person is disabled, it does not matter if the animal is a service or companion animal. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords must provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities so that they have an equal opportunity to enjoy and use a dwelling. In cases when a person with a disability uses an emotional support animal, a reasonable accommodation may include waiving a no-pet rule or a pet deposit.
Property owners may not ask a housing applicant about the existence, nature, and extent of his or her disability. However, an individual with a disability who requests a reasonable accommodation may be asked to certify, in writing, (1) that the tenant or a member of his or her family is a person with a disability; (2) the need for the animal to assist the person with that specific disability; and (3) that the animal actually assists the person with a disability.
Hopefully, these tips will help you be fully ADA compliant when it comes to the subject of service animals. However, it’s important to remember that laws vary from state to state, and decisions can always be challenged or disputed, so if you have any confusion in this area it’s best to hire legal counsel. If you need help managing your Raleigh investment property or tenants, contact Barker Realty today.
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