Pet Restrictions vs. Emotional Support

An agent was showing a very nice house for sale in an upscale neighborhood in Arizona. A woman showed up during an open house and brought her emotional support dog with her. During the showing, the comfort dog proceeded to pee on the carpet, not once, but twice! The agent didn’t get the woman’s contact information. Once the owners found out about it, they had the carpet cleaned and asked the agent to pay for it. The carpet cleaning bill totaled $1,200.00!

This scenario is becoming more and more common. There were several headlines during 2018 of all kinds of emotional support animals and unfortunate situations on airlines. One lady tried to bring a peacock on a flight, while others tried to bring on comfort spiders and comfort snakes. Unfortunately, some people were even bitten on planes by emotional support dogs. Airlines and realtors are not the only ones struggling to set reasonable guidelines to manage emotional support animals. It effects the entire service industry where customers go to the service location. Employers are also impacted as more and more employees are requesting accommodation of their emotional support animals. In the real estate context specifically, more and more people are showing up at open houses and apartment complexes demanding access for their support animals.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that service animals be accommodated by the housing industry. However, a service animal is a highly trained dog to do specific tasks. The law says that service animals have to be allowed, but it does not prohibit the owners from liability of their animal’s actions. The owners are always required to be in control of their pets. An animal can’t just soil an area of someone else’s property because they are a service animal. In the case presented above, if the agent had gotten the woman’s contact information, the woman could have been found liable for the cleaning bill. Since the agent failed to get the contact information, the agent became liable for the hefty sum.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity has set some basic rules for management of service animals to guide tenants and landlords. These rules hold that tenants must comply with the building’s normal pet rules. These rules also include not showing aggression toward people, owners cleaning up after messes left by their pets, owners paying for damages created by pets, and keeping up with all vaccinations for their pets. Property managers can ask for proof that pet owners are complying with the rules. HUD also ruled that a property manager can ask the pet owner to get a different dog if their animal proves to be problematic or aggressive.

As you can guess, HUD tries a lot of cases involving support animals. HUD recently dismissed a case that involved a tenant pursuing accommodation for three service animals. A different case was settled recently in favor of a woman wanting to keep a large German Shepherd after she had been assaulted. A third case involved two tenants in separate units. One owned a dog that shed a lot and the other was allergic to dogs. The agreement was for the dog to not go into the community areas between 1-3 pm daily when the allergic tenant enjoyed those areas. The dog owner sued but lost since a reasonable accommodation was made for both tenants. HUD does remind people if they are in a situation and need assistance, they can always call HUD to provide some guidance.

Property owners, managers, and agents are encouraged to keep an open dialogue with tenants and prospective clients about service animals. It is an interactive process to engage with pet owners to solve service pet issues. Owners are required to make reasonable accommodations under ADA and Fair Housing Laws, but the tenant’s animals also must comply with standard pet rules.

This article is courtesy of Jennifer Felten, Esq.,