We often get questions about whether or not landlords can treat service animals like pets. The short answer to this question is no, service animals are not pets. However, there are some nuances that landlords should be aware of when renting property to a tenant with a “service animal”.
The Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Rehabilitation Act (RA) prohibit public and private landlords, condominium associations, and homeowners associations from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability, which includes failing to provide reasonable modifications to policies and practices when necessary for the individual to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing. This means that these regulated entities must waive policies governing “pets” for individuals with disabilities who use and need them as “service animals”. The FHA and RA protections also apply to individuals who live with the person on the lease, such as a child with a disability.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) prohibits regulated entities from refusing to sell or lease to: 1) an individual who is deaf or blind and uses a “guide” animal; 2) an individual who is physically disabled who uses a “support” animal; or 3) an individual who is the handler or trainer of support or guide animals.
It is important to recognize that service animals are defined differently under the FHA and RA than the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA more narrowly defines what a service animal is, while the FHA and RA are much broader in their definitions. The only requirement under the FHA and RA is that there must be a connection between the individual’s disability and the service that the animal provides. Animals that provide emotional support are service animals under the FHA and RA. Also, there is no limitation on the type of animal that can be a service animal under the FHA and RA.
Importantly, landlords can’t charge deposits for service animals because they are not pets. However, landlords can require the tenant to pay for damages caused by the service animal. Also, tenants with service animals can be subject to reasonable requirements that relate to the health and safety of others. For example, tenants with service animals can be required to clean up after their animal, and certain animals can be barred if they pose a direct threat to others, as long as there is actual evidence of the risk.
Frequently, it can be hard to tell if an animal is, in fact, a service animal. For this reason, landlords may require a tenant who requests service animal accommodations to provide documentation of his or her disability and the service that the animal provides in connection to that disability, unless the disability or the service the animal provides is readily apparent.
This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive explanation of the FHA, RA, and PHRA. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a more detailed publication online. If you have more specific questions regarding particular circumstances surrounding a service animal, please don’t hesitate to contact the Real Estate Group at Stock and Leader.