Q: I am a landlord in St. Paul who recently received an e-mail from one of my tenants stating she has a certificate from the National Service Animal Registry indicating that she now has a support animal, a dog, to assist her. Even though we have a “no dog” policy in the building, it appears that I have no choice in the matter. I do have empathy for the person and understand that she now needs this support animal. However, when she moved in, I did not ask for a pet deposit because she had no pet at the time. The apartment has all hardwood floors, which we refinished at great expense before she moved in. Since this is a medical treatment for her, I am wondering if I can even ask for a pet deposit.
A: An emotional support animal is not considered a working service animal under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and is not granted public access everywhere. However, property owners and landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations and change their policies regarding animals in order to permit a disabled person, such as your tenant, to keep an emotional support animal.
You have a policy not allowing dogs, but that policy has to be changed for a disabled tenant, according to the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, Section 504, of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the ADA. Reasonable accommodations include changes in housing practices, policies or services that allow tenants with disabilities equal opportunity to use and enjoy their apartment and common areas in the building.
Reasonable-accommodation disputes often come up when a tenant, such as your tenant in this situation, makes a request for a companion animal. A companion animal is different from a service animal, since a companion animal does not have to be certified and can be almost any type of animal.
You have to make a reasonable accommodation that meets your tenant’s requirements, but you may be able to restrict the size or breed of the animal, and the tenant will still need to comply with city restrictions.
You cannot charge pet fees or a pet deposit for these emotional support animals, but you can charge your tenant for any damage her dog causes once her lease ends by retaining all or part of her security deposit, and billing her for any additional damage that her deposit doesn’t cover.
“The Landlord’s Guide to Minnesota Law” by Home Line is a great resource for you and other landlords who want to get more information on this topic and other issues that arise when renting out residential property. You can contact Home Line at homelinemn.org to order the book or ask a question.
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 rental 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.