Many pet owners would go to extremes to ensure they can live at ease with their animals at their side. In fact, that’s most Americans – roughly 68 percent of U.S. households have a pet, which equals about 84.6 million households, according to a 2017-2018 survey by the American Pet Products Association.
But if you rent an apartment, condo or house, you may be subject to a few more rules than homeowners with pets have to navigate. Landlords can place limits on the type or size of pets residing on their property, and they can even prohibit them entirely.
The exception, of course, is when an animal is not a pet but rather an assistance animal the tenant needs to live comfortably. In this case, a tenant's right to keep an assistance animal is protected by the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination against people based on disability, among other protected classes.
The validity of many assistance animals – namely those designated as emotional support animals – has come into question over the last few years, particularly in public places such as airplanes and restaurants.
But when it comes to where you live, it’s important to know what rights your landlord has to limit animals living on the property, what your rights are as a tenant with a disability requiring an assistance animal and how to have a productive conversation with your landlord about pets and assistance animals. Here’s what you need to know when talking to your landlord about animals in your rental.
When it comes to allowing the typical companion animal, be it a pet snake, cat, dog or anything in between, a landlord can establish a policy for all tenants, restricting the type or breed of animal allowed, establishing registration and vaccination requirements and even charging additional deposits, fees or rent.
For properties managed by Intempus Realty in the San Jose, California, area, pet owners pay a higher security deposit, but they don’t have to pay additional fees or pet rent, says Eugene Korsunsky, president of Intempus Realty.
But the pet policy for each property is ultimately determined by the individual landlord. Many landlords establish their policies based on previous experience, personal preference or even pet allergies, he says.
Insurance policies may also establish restrictions on dog breeds or animal types allowed on the property. To avoid higher premiums or the threat of losing insurance coverage, many landlords strictly follow their insurer’s recommendations, from prohibiting dogs above 25 pounds or certain breeds to forbidding reptiles or other exotic pets.
The Assistance Animal Exception
For individuals requiring the assistance of an animal in the home, however, there is an exception. Landlords must permit tenants with assistance animals, as long as the animal does not require excessive accommodation and does not pose a threat to anyone else on the property.
An assistance animal covers two types, according to Michael Skojec, senior counsel at Ballard Spahr LLP, a law firm specializing in litigation on behalf of property owners, developers and property management regarding real estate and fair housing: “It could not only be a service animal that is trained to perform a certain function, but it could be an emotional support animal, which has no special training and just provides comfort by being with the person.”
Service animals are most often dogs and, occasionally, miniature horses, which are both established under the Americans with Disabilities Act as animals that cannot be restricted in public places. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, can be any type of animal a health professional considers therapeutic for the patient, be it a dog, cat, gerbil or peacock.
[Read: How to Break Your Apartment Lease.]
With an assistance animal, the landlord is required to waive any pet deposit, monthly pet rent or other related fees stipulated in a pet-friendly property’s policy. While this may include a pet security deposit, keep in mind that you’re not exempt from paying for any damage your animal may cause. So if your emotional support dog has a habit of chewing on the baseboards in the living room, it’s reasonable to expect the landlord will remove a portion of your security deposit to pay for those repairs.
Additionally, a landlord can still require any assistance animal be up-to-date with vaccinations. This measure is not just for the safety and security of everyone else on the property, but for insurance purposes as well.
However, assistance animals remain exempt from pet policies that prohibit certain breeds, including mastiffs, Akitas and Siberian huskies.
“Breed restrictions are not allowed for assistance animals, and even if [as the landlord] you think, because of the breed or because it’s a big dog, that the animal may be dangerous, that’s not sufficient,” Skojec says.
Talking to Your Landlord About Your Assistance Animal
When it comes to discussing your assistance animal with your landlord, the trickiest part is when neither party is sure which information should be provided and what remains confidential.
To protect your rights under the Fair Housing Act, you are not required to disclose the disability the service animal or emotional support animal is meant for. “They just need to know the person is disabled, not what the disability is, and that the animal is needed to address their disability. Those are the two prongs that the health care provider needs to attest to,” Skojec says.
The landlord may have his or her own form for your health care professional to fill out, as well as proof of local licensing and recent vaccinations. When the form isn’t fully completed or it takes longer than desired, there have been cases where the tenant ultimately feels unwelcome due to threats of eviction or application denial, or repeated requests to the point of harassment, Skojec explains, which, in these types of cases, is unlawful discrimination.
People suspecting discrimination in this or any form can report the situation to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which will investigate and determine whether to move forward with a lawsuit at no cost to the complainant. Skojec notes that the outcomes in these cases aren’t often intentional discrimination, but misunderstandings about what’s required of the landlord.
“The ultimate result is not necessarily payment of money, although sometimes there’s a little bit involved for the person who was harmed,“ Skojec says. “But there’s actually this opportunity to get a landlord who may not be as knowledgeable about the discrimination laws, to get them educated and sort of brought in line without either the landlord or tenant having to go through an elaborate court process.”
Talking to Your Landlord About Your Pet
If you have a regular pet, a hard-line pet policy in a bigger apartment building may be difficult to move past, but single-family rentals may be more likely to make an exception. “We always list our properties ‘no pets,’ [but] we actually like pets – it opens up to a bigger pool of potential candidates. Not every landlord goes for it, but we propose it,” Korsunsky says. It never hurts to inquire about an exception to a no-pets rule, especially when you come prepared with information about your pet to help plead your case.
Your best bet to be able to discuss changing a pet policy is when you’re leasing a house or condo from a landlord who doesn’t manage 40 different rentals. Come prepared with proof that your pet is up-to-date on shots, trained and unlikely to damage floors, doors and other parts of the house.
If the answer is still no, it may be time to look for a different rental option. Sneaking a pet into a no-pet zone typically backfires, and seeking a medical diagnosis when you don’t actually need an emotional support animal doesn’t help the case for those that truly need assistance animals.
To try to win a landlord over with your pet, come armed with evidence that the animal can be as good a tenant as any human – or better. Korsunsky recommends showing “pictures of the pet, previous rental history, those kinds of things.” And while Korsunsky’s company doesn’t require vaccination records or local licensing, it couldn’t hurt to show that your animal is appropriately documented and is under the care of a veterinarian.
Pulling one over on your property manager won't work.
Your ability to communicate with your landlord or property manager as a renter is key to living happily and in peace. When you fail to notify your landlord of problems you encounter – or try to hide guests or other things that may not be permitted in your lease – the relationship is often compromised. Especially in instances when you’ve brought in an unauthorized pet or let a maintenance issue get worse due to not reporting it, you may find yourself having to pay your landlord extra, losing your security deposit or even getting evicted.Stay in touch.
Stay in touch.
Any good landlord will encourage tenants to be in communication often, which makes it easy to request maintenance or ask a question about what the lease allows. Property management companies often offer multiple forms of communication, from face-to-face conversation with a receptionist or leasing agent to contact via email or an online resident portal, says Lynn Edmondson, regional manager of Wendover Housing Partners, a property management company based in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Once you send a request, the property manager or landlord will then “communicate in writing about what’s going on and what needs to be done,” Edmondson says. Read on for seven things you shouldn’t – and likely won’t be able to – hide from your landlord.A new roommate
A new roommate
Living with a roommate is a great way to save on housing expenses, but your landlord has to know about said roommate – and approve. It may be a matter of simply revising the lease once you notify your landlord of the desired addition, but your landlord also has the right to run the potential roommate through the same vetting process as with every other tenant, which can include a credit check, employment confirmation and previous residence referrals. If you sneak a roommate in, your illegal co-tenant could be evicted. One exception is when you have a dependent, which can be a child, elderly parent or an adult relative you legally care for. Laws in certain states clarify that “you’re not allowed to ask an applicant if they have any dependents living in the unit with them,” says Nat Kunes, vice president of product at AppFolio, a full-suite property management software company. Check your state's landlord-tenant laws, which should be available online, for more information.A sublet
Just like a roommate, sneaking a sublet tenant into your rental will likely be found out by a landlord, and it can have devastating consequences. Always review your lease first for a subleasing policy. The landlord may not allow sublets at all or could require the subtenant to go through the same vetting process all residents go through when applying to live there. Also check your state laws on subleasing, which may give you more or less leeway depending on how detailed the law is. In South Carolina, for example, the law states a sublease agreement isn’t valid unless the landlord has signed off on it. An illegal sublet could result in your eviction for violating the lease, as well as the subtenant’s eviction for residing there illegally.A pet
A dog or cat won’t help you pay the rent, but millions of Americans love adding to the rental family by bringing a pet home. Again, however, your landlord has the right to establish a no-pets policy or place restrictions on the pets allowed, such as the type of animal, size and breed. “If the pet [is] qualified to live there, it’s just a minor thing of changing the lease to add that and collect the appropriate fee,” Edmondson says. If you get caught keeping a pet in your place when the landlord hasn’t approved it, you’ll likely have to fork over the fees anyway. But if the place doesn’t allow pets, you’ll likely either be asked to move out or rehome your pet.Pet damage
Outside of properly notifying your landlord or property manager of a new pet, Edmondson says damage to a rental caused by a pet is one of the more common issues she sees residents try to cover up. Whether you struggled to housetrain a puppy or your cat loves scaling the blinds, the best course of action is to own up to the damage before moving out. “I’ve had that happen several times, when [cleaners] go in to clean the carpet and they come back and say, ‘We can’t clean it, there’s too much pet damage,’” Edmondson says. You’ll have to pay for the repairs regardless, but it keeps a more positive interaction between you and the property manager if you’re honest. Trying to get away with damage could also lead to a negative report from the property manager if any future landlord calls to check on your residential history.Maintenance problems
Whether it’s a backed-up toilet, a leaky roof or fire damage in the kitchen, any problem should be reported to your landlord or property manager as soon as you become aware of it. “A lot of those types of maintenance issues that over time get much, much worse,” Kunes says, noting a leak can lead to extensive water damage and mold. Edmondson says there are tenants who simply don’t report such issues for fear of having to cover damage they caused: “They think after they move out they will not be responsible for those damages.” Of course, any damages outside normal wear and tear will come out of your security deposit, and you can additionally be billed for damages exceeding that amount.Broken appliances
If the fridge, dryer, garbage disposal or any other appliance stops working properly, you have the right to report it and expect it to be fixed. There’s a good chance the landlord will replace an older appliance at no charge to you. If the appliance is relatively new or was damaged from particularly hard use, the landlord may look to you to cover it. If you move out before notifying the landlord, it will be discovered, and you’ll be expected to pay it, Edmondson says.A pest problem
A pest problem
Pests can get into a rental property in a variety of ways: Rodents could be stirred up by construction next door, or maybe other tenants have a habit of leaving food uncovered on the counter or table. Either way, it’s imperative you notify your landlord immediately about a pest problem so it can be taken care of. Most large apartment complexes have standing relationships with pest control companies, which consistently work to keep pests from accessing any rental homes and limit the spread of those that do get inside. If you don’t start communicating with your property manager early on, the problem could become worse – and the blame may fall on you as a result. “That could be a tenant-caused issue that the tenant could be responsible for to pay,” Kunes says.Read More
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.