You have a “no pet” policy, but your applicant wants to keep a “companion animal” or “emotional support” animal.
Do you have to accept the animal? Can you require a pet deposit or pet fee?
The term “companion animal” is often used to refer to an emotional support animal. In 2013, the Americans with Disabilities Act was amended to include a much more restrictive definition of a “service animal.” However, according to the U.S. Department of House and Urban Development (HUD), landlords have a broader obligation to accommodate tenants that require a “service animal” or an “assistance animal”. Below is a link to HUD’s web site with an extract defining “assistance animals” and “service animals.”
“An assistance animal is not a pet. It is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. Assistance animals perform many disability-related functions, including but not limited to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, providing protection or rescue assistance, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, alerting persons to impending seizures, or providing emotional support to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support. For purposes of reasonable accommodation requests, neither the FHAct nor Section 504 requires an assistance animal to be individually trained or certified. While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals…
DOJ’s revised ADA regulations define “service animal” narrowly as any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The revised regulations specify that “the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.” Thus, trained dogs are the only species of animal that may qualify as service animals under the ADA (there is a separate provision regarding trained miniature horses), and emotional support animals are expressly precluded from qualifying as service animals under the ADA.”
If your applicant declares that they have an “assistance animal” and request an accommodation to the landlord’s “no pet” policy, the landlord can request that the applicant have a letter sent from their health care provider stating why the applicant requires the assistance animal. NOTE: you can’t ask what their disability is. You can only receive verification that the applicant has a legitimate need for that assistance.
Once the need for the “assistance animal” is established, the landlord cannot deny housing to the applicant on the basis of the landlord’s “no pet” policy. Nor can the landlord charge the applicant any additional pet deposit or pet fee. However the applicant is still required to meet the landlord’s financial qualification requirements.