LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
Property Profi les, Inc.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. I hear so much about landlords having problems with tenants bringing in pets disguised as comfort animals. How can I protect myself and my property from this happening? Can I just say “No Animals” and let it go as that? What do you do?
A. The whole “Comfort Animal” situation is definitely on the forefront of issues concerning property owners and managers across the nation. The problem is that there is no standardization. Congress is looking into finding some kind of verification and/or qualification process to help deal with the issue. It would be beneficial if there were some kind of registry to legitimatize the process. In fact, organizations that promote the rights of the disabled are open to this type of registry because the rules aren’t clear enough to eliminate the potential abuse and protect legitimately disabled individuals.
That being said, please know that there is NO national or federal assistance animal registry at this time. There are no IDs or vests provided by any national or federal agency to identify an animal as being an assistance animal.
So what CAN you do? Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Department of Justice has said that a service animal can only be a dog (or a miniature horse) trained to perform a special task for a person with a disability. Be advised that the disability doesn’t have to be obvious – as with a person in a wheelchair. The person can have some kind of a neurological or other impairment that isn’t obvious just by looking at them. As a landlord you are able to verify by asking only 2 questions:
1) Is the animal needed due to a disability?
2) What task has the animal been trained to do?
What about comfort animals – AKA assistance animals? Under Fair Housing, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has said that every housing entity has to allow for modifications to allow a disabled person to enjoy the full benefit of the property. In their opinion, there is no limit to the type of animal. Therefore, any species could be considered, if it provides a benefit to the disabled person…comfort rat, comfort tarantula, comfort mongoose – you see where I am going with this. You do have the right to get credible verification for the animal if the disability isn’t obvious. A health care professional, mental health professional, or social worker can verify the person has a disability and that the assistance animal is needed to alleviate one or more symptoms of the person’s disability. The resident cannot be asked to provide access to health care providers, details regarding the diagnosis, nature or symptoms of the disability, medical records, or proof of training of the animal. They also cannot be required to obtain insurance coverage and cannot be charged a pet deposit. You can establish reasonable restrictions in regard to either the service or assistance animal. You can expect the handler of the service or assistance animal to adhere to applicable laws – including leash and pick-up laws. They are also responsible for any damage to the unit caused by the animal; are required to have the dwelling properly cleaned at vacancy; have the animal current on vaccinations; have the animal under control by a handler at all times and have the animal meet minimum sanitary standards.
This will continue to be an issue as long as tenants with pets work to circumvent the laws and cause legitimately disabled individuals to seem suspect. Hopefully some type of qualification process can be established to eliminate all the gray areas that surround comfort animals.