More and more, there seems to be an increase in the use of support animals. Support and companion animals are getting a lot of attention recently and as such, property managers need to make sure you understand the laws governing emotional and support animals and how they pertain to you.

Definition of Companion or Support Animals

The definition of Companion or emotional support animals are defined in the HUD’s guidelines, “Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs.”

What is the difference between service and companion animals?

Service animals are typically animals that aid individuals with physical disabilities. (such as vision impairments). Companion animals assist an individual who has a mental or psychological disability and us there to provide emotional support in order to help alleviate the symptoms of that mental disability.

Service and Companion animals are not required to have any specific training and reliable verification of the disability need for a companion animal suffices. According to the law, property managers cannot charge any extra pet fees or restrict the animal based on type, size or breed. Property managers and owners also cannot prohibit the animal from living with the tenant whether there is a “no pet” policy or not.

Understanding the HUD Guidelines

Property managers should understand the HUD guidelines. Inevitably, property owners or managers will face this situation with tenants.

Lawyers are receiving a lot of calls from property managers and owners about their legal action regarding service animals. If a tenant provides verification of the disability and the need for such an animal, there is not much a property owner can do to prevent it.

It is important to ask the tenant what type of service the animal provides, If the animal only provides companionship (and no other medical services), the property manager can be denied, and/or any pet related fees can be enforced.”

Separate Pet Policies

Property Managers and Landlords should have separate pet policies and rules in place for “pets” and “service animals”. Since some rules won’t apply to both, a separate policy is advised. Some pet rules may not permit a pet in a community room or the pool area but a tenant with a service animal would need to be allowed to bring the animal with them.

What happens if tenants don’t follow the rules?

Property managers have the right to act against tenants who violate the policies and rules that you have in place. Property managers should take extra care in any action taken. Think CYA! For example, warning letters that recognize the animal as a service animal, should remind the tenant that they are still required to follow the policy rules. Such letters should be mailed, and hand delivered instead of serving as a legal notice. The property manager can include that if the problem persists, the animal may be removed.

One exception could be that if an animal has attacked a person on the property. In that case, the animal may need to be removed immediately in order to avoid potential liability issues.

Another rule that is often violated is when the tenant doesn’t keep the animal on a leash or doesn’t pick up after it.

Service animals are usually not the problem. Most of the time it’s the animal’s owner.

Onsite Property Inspections

For those property managers who use a property inspection application, be sure to include inspecting items specific to the service animals. The property inspector should make complete notes on the condition of the property (including interior) as it relates to the animal. For example, are there claw marks on doors, carpeting showing signs of chewing etc. Property inspection software should also provide the ability to take photos of each area of concern. All these notes and images may save you down the road should an issue arise. Keep in mind, when you do the “move in” inspection, take pictures of the condition of the interior as it stands in good condition. Don’t just wait until damage to take pictures. You need to include pictures on the condition of the property before the tenant moved in with a service animal. Many online lease management software solutions come with a property inspection application for onsite inspections.

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