Landlord/Tenant Q&A: CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI

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

Q. I know that I’ve read some things on pet deposit and service animals and comfort animals but I am still confused about what I can and cannot do with my rental property and pets. Can you help clarify for me?

A. In June of 2013 a law was passed allowing landlord’s to collect a pet deposit in addition to the standard security deposit from a tenant, if they allow pet(s) in the property. The deposit must be fully refundable, like a standard security deposit unless there is damage. The deposit may be no more than one month’s rent regardless of how many pets you allow. So yes, you can collect a refundable pet deposit of no more than one month’s rent if you allow pets.

Keep in mind, a pet deposit is not a replacement for a pet addendum. You should still clearly define in writing the rules and expectations regarding pets so it is clear under what circumstances money may be withheld from the pet deposit. A good pet addendum should specifically state how damages will be handled, for example if a carpet gets soiled and the smell cannot be removed, will the tenant be responsible for replacement or a damage fee? Will the tenant be responsible for fumigation, inside or outside too, when they vacate? Cover the expected care and cleanliness of litter boxes and feces in the yard? Will you require renter’s insurance with liability coverage in case the pet harms anyone on your property? Will you allow breeding on your property? What about disturbances? There are additional considerations for condominium and townhouse associations and their rules. The Hawaiian Humane Society has a good pet addendum on their website available for public use.

All of the above applies to pets. A service or assistance animal is not a pet; I heard a great analogy this past week at our NARPM Seminar about this topic. For our purposes as landlords, think about a service or assistance animal as being the same as a crutch or a wheelchair – the animal is a tool helping the person with a disability. You cannot charge a pet deposit for an assistance animal that is a reasonable accommodation for a tenant with a disability as defined by HRS 515-3 or for a service animal as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. A person with a disability may request the use of an assistance or service animal as a reasonable accommodation under the law. The accommodation may require making an exception to the no pet rule; this applies to landlords as well as condo associations. You can still require that service or assistance animals are on leashes and that sanitary pick-up rules are followed. Also, the animals may not cause disturbances. Assistance animals are defined as those that work, assist, or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. They can also be animals that provide emotional support. Assistance animals can include: service animals, support animals, therapy animals, and comfort animals. The animals are not limited to dogs. All assistance animals do not require formal training.

You may never ask a tenant or prospective tenant what their disability is; however, if the disability is NOT apparent, you may ask for a letter from a doctor or professional stating that the animal is needed (not how it is needed) to help the person with their disability. There are more rules about this and we have had several other articles dedicated to this topic. I do hope that this helps answer your question. The most important thing is to be fair to all people.

If you are unsure about what you are doing with regard to service or assistance animals, consult an attorney or call Hawaii’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

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