Landlord/Tenant Q&A: LAURENE H. YOUNG, (B) MPM, RMP, REALTOR

LAURENE H. YOUNG, (B) MPM, RMP, REALTOR
Young Hawaii Homes, Inc.
2011 President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. I just rented one of my units to someone who seemed to be a nice, young, responsible woman. However, it turns out that she has some sort of mental condition. She hears voices and seems paranoid about people. I’m afraid that she will harm someone. She is now asking for other things, including maybe a pet. I pay a lot of money to keep my yard green and immaculate and I don’t want a pet’s urine to ruin the grass. Can I end her lease since she did not inform me about her condition before? I know I cannot discriminate, but I had other applicants and could have chosen someone else had I known she was going to want these things and was so strange.

A. As you know, you cannot discriminate based on many things, including disability, which includes mental disability. The short answer is, no, you cannot terminate her lease because she did not disclose her condition and need for some sort of accommodation. Many times, people don’t disclose certain things because they feel that they are less likely to get that rental unit if landlords know beforehand. As long as she didn’t provide false or misleading information on her application that would constitute fraud on her part, you cannot terminate her lease.

Your tenant has the right to an equal opportunity to use and enjoy her housing. You must also allow reasonable modifications requests related to her disability. Because of her paranoia, if your tenant asks for extra locks or security measures, allow her that reasonable request. But, what if she requests expensive alarm systems and cameras or bars on the windows? Well, I would ask that she do all the research on those items, put the detailed request in writing, and pay for the installation and upkeep of the items. You cannot require that a certain contractor install the modification and may only require that whoever does the work is reasonably able to complete the work in a workmanlike manner and obtain any necessary building permits. One thing to note on any reasonable modification is that when tenants leave, they are not required to remove any modification made to the exterior of the building, like a ramp. They must restore any modifications done to the interior of the unit if the landlord requests it and when it is reasonable to do so.

We have written about comfort animals many times before in these articles. These animals are not considered “pets”, so you cannot collect extra rent, require liability insurance or require a pet deposit. You can, however, require that the tenant and comfort animal follow certain rules, and should spell them out. The tenant should follow all local laws, including leash laws and licensing requirements. The tenant should properly clean up and dispose of the animal’s waste and keep the unit clean. The animal should be properly vaccinated and treated for fleas/ticks. The animal should be housebroken. The animal must be under the physical control of the tenant and not pose a danger or nuisance to others. The tenant is responsible for any damage caused by her animal. In your situation, you could politely ask the tenant to only allow the animal to use a certain area of the yard to “do his business”. Let the tenant know that she is responsible for any damage to the yard caused by her comfort animal. You can require that the unit be treated for fleas, be deodorized and have the carpets professionally cleaned when the tenant leaves.

You have no grounds to break the lease, unless the tenant starts to pose a danger to others or purposely destroys or causes extensive damage to the unit. If she or her comfort animal causes a disturbance that impacts the neighbors, you would send her a 10 day notice to correct the problem. If the disturbances continue, you can then terminate the rental agreement.

Your tenant is likely a highly functioning individual trying very hard to deal with her disability. The fact that she is able to live on her own is a good sign. There may be occasional lapses in her behavior but, then again, we all have those. It’s a new environment that she has to get used to. She may turn out to be a great tenant once she settles in. Give her a chance.

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