Recent additions to federal laws about fair housing have made it so that people with mental or emotional disabilities can force a landlord to make exceptions to No Pet policies and demand that landlords forego reasonable guidelines for domestic animals present in a dwelling. Prior, only people with tangible physical disabilities, like blindness or diabetes, could access these exceptions.
Let me tell you every story I have so far about tenants wanting to bring an emotional support or service animal into a rental property.
A single parent on public assistance who was fired from their job the first week they moved into the rental and who has not gotten another job four months on, wants to adopt a unspayed pit bull puppy. This person has several children and the adjacent neighbor has several children. Though we allow pets, an un-spayed pit bull puppy is a recipe for a problem.
Individual 1 got a letter from Mental Health Partners authorizing this request. Individual 1 says it’s for bi-polar disorder and PTSD. The individual offered this info freely, or else we would not be able to know it because, per the law, we are not allowed to ask that.
The landlord consulted a few laywers and looked into how the presence of this animal at his property would affect his insurance. Because the fair housing law is so vague and needing to be fleshed out by case law, the owner of this property is being cautious. So it seems like we will be forced to accept this worrisome animal into my client’s property.
Why can only a pit bull puppy alleviate Individual 1’s pain? Why can’t this renter get a dog we like: a non-puppy that is of a calm breed that is spayed or neutered? Individual 1 says the dog is paid for and that’s the one they want. Which brings up: how is an unemployed person, who is getting 100% of rent paid by public assistance, able to purchase a dog and pay for its food and medical needs properly?
A single person looking to move in with roommates claimed that he had an emotional support dog. We allow dogs at that property, however this person asserted that we recognize his dog as being emotional support. I was unclear why this was so important to him. He had nothing to gain from me other than not having to pay a modest pet deposit. Perhaps he was trying to set a precedent.
When he submitted “proof” that the dog was approved by a counseling professional, he gave me a letter he had submitted to United airlines. Landlords have a right to demand a letter by a mental health professional in order to assess such requests. When I told him that what he showed to me was not adequate documentation and that I needed to know the credentials of the source of the person who wrote the letter he could not provide it and he threatened to complain to powers that be.
I firmly believe that this fellow was trying to scam and that the person who wrote the letter he tried to use as proof was not qualified to do so. I didn’t rent to him and I never got word of a complaint to any governing body.
A renter who lived in a multi unit and had one pet dog moved in his girlfriend and her dog without permission. Other tenants in the building had complained about the two large dogs being let out unattended in the shared front yard. When I queried him about the second dog he said it was his girlfriend’s service dog.
Service dogs are in a whole other category. Service dogs perform a real specific task vs. just being emotional support in general. Where emotional support animals can’t generally go everywhere with the human, service dogs are allowed to go everywhere. And come on, aren’t all pets emotional support? Mine are.
When I asked for proof that it was service dog he was unable to provide it. When I asked why the dog was left unattended and was not with the human it serves, he got irate. At the time I was also asking him for proof his girlfriend did not live there, which I knew he could not provide. This fellow took a real creative tactic at that point. He accused me of mistreating him because, he said, he was a transvestite and that the array of small women’s shoes I had seen in the apartment were his for that purpose.
To date I have not dealt with one resonable or honest renter on the subject of domestic animals vis a vie Fair Housing laws. To put this in perspective, I’m liberal and I agree with a social safety net. However manipulative renters are exploiting this vague and weak law. I hope that brave landlords start challenging this law so it can develope some better boundaries. As it is now unscrupulous renters can expliot elements of the Fair Housing law to suit themselves. That is not okay.