Are landlords allowed to ask for service dog papers?
Yes, and no. They can ask for proof that the service animal is “prescribed” by a medical professional. This is true for any type of disability. In most cases, the tenant will provide a letter from their doctor stating that they have a disability that benefits from a service animal. Tenants asking for accommodations for their emotional support animal can be asked to provide a letter from their therapist or mental health care provider. Landlords cannot, however, inquire about the tenants specific disability or diagnosis. Medical details are protected information.
Fair Housing Laws and Service Dogs
According to the Fair Housing Law, a disabled tenant is any individual that has a mental or physical impairment that results in significant impairment to the ability to actively engage in major life activities.
As a property manager, or need help with property management, you’ll need to know the laws about service dog rental laws. You are required – by federal law – to prevent discrimination towards disabled tenants that reside within your rental(s).
Service animals are not considered to be “pets”, instead, they are working companions. In short, these companions are similar to medical devices and equipment that aid the disabled.
If one tenant has a pet, does the landlord have to allow everyone to have pets?
Not necessarily. The landlord may give pet permission to some tenants and not others as long as they do not discriminate against certain tenants because of membership in a protected class, such as race, religion, sex, etc., or do it in retaliation against a tenant for enforcing their rights. It is not illegal for a landlord to discriminate against certain animals or breeds, as long as they are doing it for everyone. Also, some tenants “pets” might actually be service or companion animals, which have different applicable rules.
Biggest Mistake Landlords Make with Service Dogs
The short answer is, yes. It’s a confusing topic for landlords, renters and other interested parties, because most people are at least somewhat familiar with the subject of service animals and their protection under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the fact that emotional support animals (ESAs) are not protected. So, for instance, restaurants are not required to allow emotional support cats, but they are required to allow seizure alert dogs. When it comes to housing, though, the protections are much broader, as they should be. The ADA still applies, but so does the Fair Housing Act (FHA) which requires landlords to permit assistance animals, including ESAs, and states that any type of animal can qualify, not just dogs.
Under the FHA, a landlord can require documentation showing that you do have a disability and that you need your assistance animal to help you with some aspect of your disability. A letter from your doctor is adequate. Landlords are not allowed to request your medical records or to speak to your health care professional directly.
No special training or certification is required for your animal to qualify as an assistance animal. Landlords cannot require or even request certification. However, landlords can require documentation showing that your service or assistance animal has the legally required vaccinations.