Monday, March 20, 2017

Companion, Emotional or Service Animals… The current law.


Landlords across the country have been complaining about a spike of tenants lately that have been trying to skirt no pet policies and avoid paying pet rent, deposits or fees by using the Service, Emotional or Companion animal argument.

Virginia has done a substantial amount of research as a result of an Obama Administration Federal HUD guideline preventing discrimination on this basis. There has been a backlash with states asking HUD for a clarified definition to prevent fraud in their subsidized housing. To date HUD has not answered the requests to modify their definition of a disability to stop these fraudulent disability scams.This is where we currently stand on the issues.

As a result of the new guidelines, there are several websites online that have popped up such as thedogtor.net , certapet.com, therapypet.org etc that provide a money back guarantee certifying that they will evaluate tenants for a fee and provide them with a disability that requires a companion or emotional pet.

Currently as a landlord you can not ask what type of disability a person has if the disability is obvious such as being blind or being in a wheelchair.  However, if they have a disability that requires emotional support, a disability as such may not be apparent, therefore you are allowed to ask for verification.

They will need to provide you with proof that reasonable accommodations are needed to be provided by you if they have a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” showing the relationship between their disability and their need for the accommodation. That can come in the form of a note from their physician, psychiatrist, social worker or other mental health professional.  You can not request medical records.

A landlord can not charge any kind of fee, pet rent or deposit for an assistance animal. Which can currently be for emotional, companion or service needs. A landlord also can not deny a request to rent the unit due to not being sure if person actually has a disability that needs animal assistance. And you can not discuss a tenants disability or need for accommodation with other residents or visitors to the property which may arise when other tenants inquire why one person was allowed to have an animal and they weren’t. They have deemed an answer such as our company will not discuss another tenants records and we always comply with federal fair housing laws to be sufficient.

If they are accepted and they have an assistance horse than you are required to let them have it in your house. They clarified that as of now emotional assistance boa constrictors are also allowed. You may not determine what kind of assistance animal they have. If they have an emotional assistance, companion animal pit bull than you are required to allow them to have it even if your insurance company does not allow it and you won’t be insured. The laws are very clear on this. You may also not put any restrictions on the animal such as weight, size or any other criteria. If the animal violates the rules, causes damage or hurts someone than at that point the tenants are subject to the same eviction process as others.

The State of Virginia has made it clear that you can deny request only for things that clearly pose a danger to the health and safety of others and they give the example of a service alligator. You also may deny if that particular service animal they have has a documented history of violated reports of nuisance, property damage or physical damage of other persons or animals and there is no possible way to reduce the likelihood of another occurrence happening.
The state gives the example of a service elephant being an animal that you may deny as substantial physical damage to the property will happen. If it is any type of animal that violates local ordinances than you may deny it.

To read more detailed information from a pdf that Virginia has put together on this issue Google search the term Virginia fraudulent requests for assistive/emotional support animals

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