Tenant, no pets…..what the &$#&% is a service animal?

Service Animal/Emotional Support Animal

If you are a landlord, you might have come across this with tenants: the request of a service animal or an emotional support animal in the rental. In many cases, the disability is real; service animals are trained dogs (can also be a miniature horse) to provide a specific task for the disabled person. They guide the blind. They are trained to hear a knock at the door. They lessen the effect of psychiatric episodes for people dealing with disorders. Service dogs are federally exempt from ‘no pet’ policies in a lease agreement. The landlord must provide a reasonable accommodation for such animal. There is an exception if the reasonable accommodation would create an undue financial burden.

A service animal is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is also another group of animals called the emotional support, companion, or assistance animals. These animals are not generally covered under Americans with Disabilities Act; however, they still may be exempt from your ‘no pets’ policy through state or federal housing laws.

But how does a landlord know the disability is real, and the animal is exempt from the ‘no pets’ policy? How can you tell if the if the tenant bought the cute puppy at Petco, and now he or she wants to claim it as a service or emotional support animal in order to keep it?

The answer is not clear. Every landlord should research carefully before filing an eviction. Violating these rules as a landlord may come with state or federal penalties. The tenant may also be liable if he or she is knowingly misrepresenting such a disability to have the service animal. If a pet is requested as a service animal, you can ask two specific questions about it: (1) Is this a service animal; and (2) What task has the animal been trained to perform? If these questions are obvious, they should not be asked. If it is not obvious, or the pet is described as an emotional support animal, the landlord may ask for further documentation regarding evidence of the person’s disability to require such an animal. However, be careful with the questions. If you are a tenant, you should also review a previous post about leases. Disability Law Colorado’s article is another great resource for more information on a service animal with a lease agreement.

If you are experiencing this problem or would like legal assistance with your rental, please call the Grand Junction Estate Attorneys at Reams & Reams, (970) 242-7847.


Disclaimer: This post is intended to be an educated opinion only. This answer should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor
construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.



6 Things a Tenant Should Consider Before Signing a Lease

Along with probate law, our law firm represents landlords and tenants. Many times I will have a landlord or tenant asking to consult on a lease after something bad has happened. Some of these problems can be averted. And they can be addressed even before the lease starts. Are you a tenant and about to sign a long term lease? Then consider these six important things before signing the lease:

1. Read the Lease Agreement. This is straightforward, but most tenants do not read the Lease until it is too late. Read the clauses carefully. What does it prohibit? How much is the deposit? Is part of it non-refundable? Does the landlord require cash or cashier’s checks? Does it require extra-ordinary cleaning services prior to vacating the house? If you find something you do not like, suggest a change. If the landlord refuses to make reasonable changes, it may not be a good fit. I have had one landlord tell me it is against the housing laws to make changes to a lease (this is incorrect).

2. Read the reviews of the landlord. The property management company could either be the greatest landlord you have ever had that fixes everything or your worst nightmare. Become informed of people’s experiences.

3. Document damage of the house prior to moving in. Do not trust the landlord to know what is damaged before you move in. After moving in, you may find yourself trying to explain damage that was already there. If you do not have documentation, you may end up paying for that. You could also go one step further and do a home inspection with a professional. If you are in the Grand Junction area, I recommend Apex Home Inspectors.

4. See if you can talk with the previous tenants. Why did they leave?

5. Do not get stuck in the lease. At the end of lease, if do not want to renew, know the requirements for notice. Does the notice require a month in advance of the expiration? It may require written or in some cases, certified mail of non-renewal. Failure to do it correctly may put on the hook additional monthly payments.

6. Read your rights as a tenant. Some clauses are unenforceable.

Even with these examples, review of the lease may be daunting. If you need assistance on a landlord/tenant issue, please contact the Grand Junction Estate Attorneys, Reams & Reams at 970-242-7847 to set up an appointment.