By Carinne Jaeger and Jeana Poloni
Recently, emotional support animals have become more commonplace in the rental arena. Most people are familiar with traditional service animals like guide dogs, but do animals being used for emotional support qualify for the same protections?
The Fair Housing Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination require landlords to accommodate tenants with disabilities. Some jurisdictions specifically define service animals to include companion animals. For example, King County’s Fair Housing Ordinance includes companion animals in the definition of “service or assistive animal.” KCO 12.20.020(Q). If you are a landlord with a tenant asking for a reasonable accommodation for an emotional support or companion animal, the best practice is to follow the guidelines for reasonable accommodations.
What is a reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice,
or service that allows a person with a disability to use and enjoy a dwelling. If a landlord has a no-pets policy, a tenant may ask for a reasonable accommodation to allow him or her to have a service or emotional support animal.
A request for a reasonable accommodation may be submitted orally or in writing. The landlord must analyze the request in a timely fashion and on a case-by-case basis. The tenant’s request must be reasonable, related to the person’s disability, and necessary to afford the person an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling.
How do I verify the reasonable accommodation request?
If a tenant makes a request for a reasonable accommodation, the landlord may ask for verification in some cases. (1) If the disability is not immediately apparent or obvious (a blind person or person in a wheel chair would have an obvious or apparent disability), a landlord may ask for verification that the tenant has a disability from a medical professional or other qualified third party. (2) If the need for the animal is not apparent, a landlord may request verification that a service animal or emotional support animal is needed for the disabled tenant to help them with their disability and allow him or her a full opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling.
If the disability is immediately apparent and the need for a service animal is also apparent, the landlord may not request any additional verification. For service and emotional support animals, a landlord also may not request proof of training or registration as a service animal.
When can I deny a reasonable accommodation request?
A landlord may only deny a reasonable accommodation request under select circumstances: when it imposes an undue financial and administrative burden, when it fundamentally alters the nature of the business, or when there is a direct threat. Consult an attorney if you think an accommodation request is unreasonable.
Can I charge an additional damage or pet deposit for a service or emotional support animal?
No, you cannot charge anything additional for the service or emotional support animal. The animal is considered an extension of the person and is not considered a pet.
What do I do if the animal damages my rental property?
The tenant is liable for any damages caused by his or her service or emotional support animal. If a tenant’s service or emotional support animal causes damage to the property, the landlord may deduct those costs from the security deposit, in accordance with RCW 59.18.280, just as if the tenant did the damage herself.
In cases involving disabilities and service animals, it is always better to err on the side of caution. Consult an attorney if you have any questions about a reasonable accommodation request.
If you need assistance with a tenant dispute, an eviction, a lease or other landlord-tenant situation, please call 206.443.8678 today to speak with one of our experienced attorneys.
Important: The Loeffler Law Group PLLC provides this information as a courtesy without any claim as to its effectiveness or legality. Use of the information in this hand-out does not in any way create an attorney-client relationship between the user and any party associated with the Loeffler Law Group PLLC.