Landlords have an important responsibility when it comes to accommodating tenants who have disabilities. You would not hesitate to assign a dedicated parking space to a tenant with a handicapped placard, for example. Increasingly, the accommodation that’s requested most often is an animal. Tenants may need to bring a service dog or a support animal into their home.
Knowing what the fair housing and disability laws say about this is important. You also want to protect yourself and your property by studying the best practices, talking to local Las Vegas property management experts, and implementing strategies for creating fair policies that are compliant with the law.
You don’t have to be a legal expert in order to rent out a home, but you do have to know the law and ensure you’re complying with it when you want to be a landlord.
Our experience leasing and managing properties in Las Vegas has provided us with some valuable insights on everything you need to know about how to make sure your rental property is compliant with regulations pertaining to service and support animals.
We understand that landlords and rental property owners can quickly become confused by service animals and support animals; the definitions of these things are not always consistent or clear.
We will establish some of those definitions and make sure you know what you’re dealing with when it comes to complying with these important laws.
Legal Definitions of Service and Support Animals
Service animals are defined by the U.S. Department of Justice, within federal laws such as the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some states and local governments, however, have drafted their own laws and regulations that pertain to service animals.
Then, there are emotional support animals and companion animals. It can be difficult to keep all of these accommodations straight and to understand what your rights and responsibilities are as a landlord.
- Understanding Service Animals
According to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.
Only dogs can be service animals. Miniature horses can also be considered service animals, but only under very specific circumstances which would not normally apply to a tenant in a rental home. For your purposes as a landlord, service animals are always dogs.
Service animals must be individually trained to do specific work, or perform tasks for people with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. The work or task an animal has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.
Examples of the work or tasks that a service animal may accomplish for a person with a disability include:
- Guiding people who are blind
- Alerting people who are deaf
- Pulling a wheelchair
- Protecting a person who is having a seizure
- Reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications
- Calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack
There are other duties a service animal may perform, depending on the person and the disability.
Nevada state laws more or less mirror the federal laws. When it comes to disabilities and service animals, the state statute defines service animals as dogs and miniature horses that have been trained to do work, or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. (NRS 426.097).
Dogs and other animals whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under federal law. This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act. Assistance animals can serve different roles and may be an emotional support animal, companion animal, or therapy animal.
- Understanding Emotional Support Animals
Service dogs are often identifiable. They’re sometimes wearing a fabric sheet or scarf that identifies them. Companion animals and support animals are not so easily identified. They don’t have to be dogs, either. They can be cats or snakes or any kind of animal.
An emotional support animal is not a service animal, but it’s also not a pet. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefits to an individual with an intellectual, emotional, or psychiatric disability.
The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a verifiable disability. This type of animal is considered a “reasonable accommodation” under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses the term “assistance animal” to cover any animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.
An emotional support animal is one type of assistance animal allowed as a reasonable accommodation, even if you’re renting out a property that does not allow pets.
The Fair Housing Law and Service/Support Animals
While service and support animals are influenced by a number of federal and state laws, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) is always the logical starting point.
According to the FHA, discrimination in rental properties and other housing practices is not permitted on the basis of several protected classes, including disability. The law states that service dogs do not have to meet any certain criteria, nor do they require certification, or any kind of special equipment, identification or tags. They often have this, but they aren’t required to.
There is no limit to the number of service animals a person with a disability may have, according to the FHA. Limitations, however, can be imposed when tenants request multiple service animals. You simply cannot impede a tenant’s ability to have full use and enjoyment of the property.
Each service animal request must be considered on a case-by-case basis, the same way you would consider any other requests for reasonable accommodation.
Nevada Revised Statutes and Fair Housing
Under Nevada law, a landlord is not permitted to refuse to rent a property to a person with a disability solely because an animal will be necessary to that tenant, and thus residing with the prospective tenant in the property. If the animal will assist, support, or provide service(s) to the person with a disability and is otherwise qualified to rent your property, you have to approve them.
What Can Las Vegas Landlords Ask?
It’s uncomfortable, sometimes, to talk about a person’s disability or probe too much into questions around their physical and mental health. People are entitled to their privacy. As long as you are respectful and speaking within the confines of the law, you should feel free to ask a few elemental questions.
Legally, landlords can ask tenants if their service and/or emotional support animal is necessary for them to use and enjoy the housing unit that they’ve applied for or that they’re currently living in. You are permitted to ask tenants to provide documentation from a professional in the medical field, stating that the tenant has a disability resulting in one or more functional limitations.
Here’s what you cannot ask.
You cannot ask about the nature or extent of a tenant’s disability. As long as the disability is documented, you don’t need to know anything else. Don’t ask if they were born with it or how old they were when they lost their sight. Don’t talk about what it’s like to live with the disability, and don’t offer opinions or judgments that the tenant does not need to hear.
You also are not permitted to require that a tenant release any medical records to you.
Charging Tenants for Service and Support Animals
If you’re wondering whether you can charge a deposit or a fee for a tenant who needs a service animal or an emotional support animal – you cannot.
A service animal is not a pet. Neither is a companion animal. Therefore, those animals will not be subject to any of your pet rules and fees.
Not only are you prohibited from charging a pet fee or a pet deposit or even pet rent, you’re also not permitted to impose restrictions on the service or support animal. You cannot enforce weight restrictions that you might have in place for pets. You cannot implement age requirements for the animal, either.
What if the service animal chews holes in your walls or leaves damage that goes beyond normal wear and tear?
That’s actually the tenant’s responsibility. You can cover that damage out of the security deposit that you collect from your tenant. Make sure you document the damage carefully in case there is a dispute.
When it comes to fair housing laws and service animals and support animals, we know that the questions and the concerns can be complex. If you’d like to talk more about what’s required from you and how to handle a tenant or an applicant who needs a service or support animal, please contact us at New West Property Management. Our team expertly manages residential rental homes in Las Vegas and throughout Clark County, including Henderson and North Las Vegas.