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landlord/tenant Q&A

CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. I own a unit in a condominium and the Association has a no pet policy. I just moved a tenant into my unit that said she had no pets; now that she has moved in she just provided a letter from a doctor stating that she needs her dog due to an emotional disability. I am worried that I will get in trouble from the Association and I want her to move, she said she has no pets. What should I do?

A. This is a tough situation. It would have been better had the tenant been up front with you; however, the result would be the same. You are obligated by Federal Law to rent to her if all of her other qualifications check out; you may not discriminate based on her need for a reasonable accommodation.

If a disability is not apparent a Landlord may ask for verification that there is a disability, but may not ask the tenant to reveal the nature or severity of the disability. There must also be a correlation between the disability and the request. The Court has confirmed that under the Federal Fair Housing Act assistance animals do not need specific training and must be treated as a request for a reasonable accommodation; similar to the need for grab bars in a bathtub that would allow a tenant the ability to safely clean themselves. A reasonable accommodation is basically defined as a change in policy, practice or service which is necessary to allow a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. The Federal Fair Housing Act is totally separate from the Americans with Disabilities Act and they should not be confused.

Assistance animals are exempt from No Pet Policies and Pet Restrictions. An assistance animal is defined as animals that work, provide assistance or perform tasks for a person with a disability. They can also be an animal that alleviates a symptom of a disability, they can be considered to be an extension of a person’s being. Examples of Pet restrictions which may not be applied to a service animal are a requirement for liability insurance or a monthly charge that may be assessed for keeping and housing a pet, as we have established there is a difference between a pet and a service animal. People with service animals are required to observe laws; such as licensing, leash laws, pick up laws, keeping the animal vaccinated, registered with the building, assuming responsibility for damage and behavior, so a landlord must still ensure a disabled tenant abides by these rules. The animal must be kept under control by its handler and not disturb other residents. Landlords can require that the property be fumigated, deodorized and/or carpets professional cleaned upon vacancy.

An assistance animal with special training or not must be requested and allowed ONLY FOR A PERSON WITH AN ACTUAL DISABILITY; for a person to claim they have a disability and tell a Landlord that they NEED an animal when they truly just WANT an animal is fraud; fraud against a Federal Law.

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