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Renting Apartments To Live With a Service Dog: What To Know

2020-07-15

If you have a dog, it can be challenging to find an apartment to rent. This is because many landlords have a no-pet policy. They fear that animals will disturb other tenants, damage property, or even cause issues with their insurance.  

But what if your dog is a service dog?

The good news is that you and your service dog have special protections under the Fair Housing Act. When you go apartment-hunting, landlords should consider you just like any other tenant and are not allowed to descriminate. 

Read on for a comprehensive guide on renting while owning a service dog. We discuss whether or not a landlord can deny a service dog. We also go over whether or not a landlord can charge extra, what documents you need to provide, and more. 

Can Your Landlord Deny a Service Dog?

For the most part, landlords cannot deny a service dog. Below, we take a look at the housing laws that protect owners with disabilities. 

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) states that landlords cannot discriminate based on factors like race, sex, and disability. 

So, landlords cannot refuse to rent to you based on your disability. They must treat you as any other potential tenant. 

The FHA also says that landlords must make “reasonable accommodations” for tenants with disabilities. These accommodations allow you to use and enjoy a space as any other tenant would. 

Let’s say there is a tenant with mobility limitations. A reasonable accommodation for them would be, say, providing a parking space that is close to their apartment. 

Animals in Rental Units

The definition of an “assistance animal” is relatively broad. An assistance animal is one that provides physical, emotional, or mental support to their owners. They do not necessarily need professional training to be considered an animal of assistance.

A service dog requires professional training to perform a specific task. Thus, they are working animals and are not considered a pet.

Service dogs are exempt from no pet policies when you are renting. 

Service Dog vs Emotional Support Animal

Some people don’t know the difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines the former as a canine (or miniature horse). It can be any breed, as long as it is trained to perform tasks to help an owner navigate their disability

An emotional support animal, on the other hand, can be any type of animal (emotional support dog, cat, fish, etc.). They do not necessarily need any formal training. The job of an emotional support animal is to provide comfort and support to their owner’s mental health. 

The ADA does not award an emotional support animal the same protections as a service dog. However, the FHA requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for those with any kind of assistance animal. This includes emotional support animals and trained service dogs. 

Restrictions on Regulating Animals in Rental Units 

As you can see, landlords have lots of restrictions when it comes to regulating animals in their rental units. Many are frustrated with these restrictions, especially with the rise of tenants requesting an emotional support animal. This may make the rental process difficult for you. 

Keep in mind that laws like the FHA and ADA exist to protect your rights. Tenants who are informed can better advocate for themselves and their service animals.  

When Accommodating Service Animals Becomes Unreasonable

The law only requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations. They do not have to comply if an accommodation poses undue burden, such as financial stress or disruption to their business. 

Accommodations may become unreasonable if the service dog/animal:

  • Barks or makes noises to the point that it disturbs other tenants
  • Poses a physical threat to other tenants
  • Is of a size or breed that would raise the landlord’s insurance rates (an insurance company might see a breed like a pitbull as a liability)
  • Destroys property in the rental unit or throughout the apartment complex 

Other examples of unreasonable accommodations include if you:

  • Do not pick up after your animal, keep it on a leash, etc. 
  • Do not pay for damage that the service animal causes

These are just a few instances in which accommodations would become unreasonable. Keep in mind that there may be other situations that would cause undue burden to your landlord. 

Can Your Landlord Charge Extra For Your Service Dog?

Landlords who are pet-friendly usually charge an extra fee for animals. And, if the complex has a no pet policy, some owners think they will have to pay extra for their service animals. Like a sort of pet rent.

But, landlords cannot legally charge extra. Remember that the law does not classify service dogs as pets, meaning they are exempt from pet fees.  

Keep in mind that tenants are responsible for any damage their pet or support animals cause. The landlord will charge you a reasonable rate to cover damages. They may also collect an initial security pet deposit in the event that the animals cause damage.  

What Documents Do You Need to Live With Your Service Dog? 

There are misconceptions about whether or not you need to provide documentation to a landlord. The ADA may be why… 

The ADA permits service dogs to accompany their owners wherever members of the public are permitted. The law prohibits people like grocery store managers from asking for proof of certification. 

This leads many to believe the same goes for landlords. However, landlords CAN ask for documentation. 

As a tenant, you should inform your landlord that you have a service dog, but you do not need to explain your disability or have a doctor’s note.

In some cases, this will be enough. But, especially if they have a strict no pet policy, some landlords will ask for documentation. 

According to the ADA, “Covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry.” Whether you’re renting or taking your service dog to a restaurant you are not required to provide proof of service dog designation.

Here are two final pieces of advice when it comes to documentation:

  • Consider getting renters insurance. This can put landlords at ease knowing that you can cover damage caused by pets and service animals. 
  • Keep in mind that a landlord cannot ask about the specifics of your disability or request proof of it. 

Does the ADA require that service animals be certified as service animals?

Service Animals do not need to be registered and they do not require a letter from a mental health professional. Sites like the Service Dog Registration of America state that they exist  “to supply service dog owners with all the resources and materials they need to navigate society with their service animals” and that registering an animal allows one to receive updates on legal changes and products for service dog owners.

Final Thoughts: What If a Landlord Denies Your Service Dog? 

As we’ve discussed, landlords can’t deny service dogs or service animals. But that doesn’t mean they don’t.

Unfortunately, you may run into problems when trying to rent an apartment. Landlords may not be educated on the fact that they must permit service dogs. Or, they could be outright discriminating. 

If you inform your landlord about your service dog and they deny/ignore your request, you can file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). You can also contact a lawyer for legal advice specific to your situation. 

Hopefully, it won’t come to this. As long as you provide documentation, in theory, a landlord should consider you as any other tenant. We hope this information empowers you on your hunt for an apartment.