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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What should landlords know about service animals?

The Chicago Tribune real estate section offers the public to ask questions, answered by Benny L. Kass*; a question was asked about 'Service Animals' we wanted to share.

I own a small apartment building that has always been advertised as: "No pets allowed."
Recently, a man applied for a rental and told me he needs a small dog for his mental health.
I know I have to allow a service dog, but am I also obligated to accept this potential tenant?
Service animals are trained by professionals for specific jobs; comfort animals provide companionship to owners. 
There are two main categories of pets involved: service animals and companion animals (also known as assistance or comfort animals). Besides dogs, other animals can fall into the comfort category.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says an assistance animal is not a pet. It works, helps or does tasks to benefit a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates at least one identified symptom or effect of a person's disability.
You have to ask the applicant two questions: Does the person have a disability, a physical or mental impairment, that substantially limits at least one major life activity, and does the person have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? If the answer to either question is no, you need not accept the person as a tenant.
But if the answer is yes, you have to determine if the animal is a service dog. If so, you must allow the dog in your building. But under HUD guidelines, there are three exceptions: the animal is out of control and the owner takes no action to control it; the animal is not housebroken; or the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated or reduced.
Unfortunately, it appears that a cottage industry has developed throughout the country where one can get, for a few dollars, phony certification that the dog is needed for the comfort and companionship of the owner.
You, as landlord, he absolute right to satisfy yourself that the request is legitimate. You can't ask for the potential tenant's medical records, but you have the right to ask for a letter from a local doctor or therapist to support the need for a companion pet.
HUD and the U.S. Justice Department have much material on this topic. Keep in mind that if you reject the application, the prospective tenant has the right to file a complaint with one of the federal agencies. Get advice from a local attorney whenever you face this issue. assistance or comfort animals). Besides dogs, other animals can fall into the comfort category.
*Benny L. Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington and Maryland. No legal relationship is created by this column; mailbag@kmklawyers.com.
Copyright © 2014, Chicago Tribune

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