Q: We purchased a home and completely renovated it, at a cost of $100,000. When the contractor finished, we began renting it to two young women who signed a lease clearly stating “no pets allowed.” One of the young women has Type 1 diabetes. She recently approached us, one month into her lease, to say that she’d like to get a service dog. Do we have to allow this? Can we require her to pay a pet damage deposit separate from the standard deposit and a monthly pet fee? We completely refurbished the house and are worried about damages to flooring, doors and cabinets. Can we require her to provide a letter from her doctor? Can we require the dog to be trained and certified before she brings it home? This got us wondering about other people with service dogs. If one of our tenants has a friend who has a service dog, is the friend allowed to bring the dog onto our property for a visit even with a “no pets allowed” lease?
A: Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are required to permit the use of service or companion animals that provide assistance or perform tasks that benefit people with a disability, or provide emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of a disability, even when there is a “no pets” policy. People with diabetes are considered disabled under state and federal law. The Fair Housing Act defines a service animal as one that has been trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) must be directly related to the person’s disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert them when their blood sugar reaches high or low levels.
The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to provide “reasonable accommodations” for tenants who have disabilities, so that they have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. Allowing residents who have disabilities to live with their service animals is a reasonable accommodation. You may not refuse your tenant’s request for a service dog even though you have a “no pets” policy. I understand that it’s frustrating because of your expensive remodel, however, you cannot charge a pet damage deposit and a monthly pet fee for your tenant’s service dog because it isn’t considered a pet. You can charge a security deposit, which you have already done. You also are allowed to charge your tenant at the end of her lease for any damage her service dog caused to your home. You may require written verification from your tenant’s health care provider to prove your tenant is disabled, but you cannot ask specific questions about the disability. You also may require written verification from the health care provider that your tenant’s service animal is needed. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional, so you should not request certification or proof that the dog is trained.
If one of your tenants has a friend with a service dog, the dog is allowed to accompany them onto your property even though you have a “no pets allowed” lease. Service and companion animals are in a different legal classification from pets, which is why pet restrictions and fees are waived for them. Typically, tenants give their landlord notice that a visitor’s service animal may be coming onto the property. If a nuisance issue develops with a service animal disturbing others, posing a threat to others or causing damage to the property, then landlords can write warnings or try to remove the animal through legal proceedings. If you have photos of your home currently, before the service animal is in your property, keep them on hand to reference at the end of your tenant’s lease.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.