Pets on their own can get a little hairy (no pun intended) when you’re renting out a South Jersey property, but dealing with assistance and support animals can really become complicated. There are some things to do and some things to not do, and today we’re helping landlords understand the requirements and the legal implications of renting to a tenant who need a support or a service animal.
Tenants with Physical and Intellectual Disabilities
There are two important questions that need to be asked when you’re dealing with assistance and support animals:
- Does the person seeking to live with an animal have a disability?
- Does the person making the request have a disability related to the need for an assistance animal?
These are yes and no questions, and if the answer is yes, you must treat the animal differently than you’d treat a pet.
What You Can Do: Request a Note
The most that can be requested is a note from the tenant’s medical provider stating that the applicant has a disability and the animal will provide assistance or support. You are allowed to ask that, but you are not allowed to ask for any additional or detailed information.
Don’t dig any deeper. Ask for the documentation and that’s all. Any detailed information on the disability itself or what the tenant has to do to live with the disability is extremely private information, and there are laws that protect it.
To avoid getting yourself into trouble, consider hiring a professional property manager. This is an area of the law that is constantly changing, and you want to make sure you have the latest information and the best practices in place. Any mistake that triggers a fair housing lawsuit can lead to fines of thousands of dollars. It’s not worth the risk.
What You Cannot Do: Ask for An Explanation
You can only ask if the tenant has a disability that requires the service animal. You can ask what the disability is, but you cannot ask how it impacts their behavior or their living conditions. It may feel like you’re entitled to that information since they’ll be living in a property that you own. But, those questions are not permitted. Don’t ask them.
Do not ask what specifically that animal does for the applicant or the tenant. You just need to know that the animal provides assistance or support. Don’t ask how the dog helps. That’s digging deeper, and it’s not legally allowed. You can ask a surface question, but don’t go any further. You’re getting into someone’s personal medical information if you ask additional questions, and that’s going to be difficult for anyone to explain. A disability is defined as a physical or intellectual impairment that substantially limits life’s activities. No one wants to explain that, whether they can explain it or they can’t.