Providing a pet-friendly property can often be beneficial for St. Louis landlords. You’ll find that your vacancy rates are lower because of the overwhelming majority of tenants who have pets. You’ll also find that you can charge a bit more for your home, by utilizing pet fees and pet rent. Good tenants are willing to pay a little extra if it means their furry friends can move in with them. As long as you have a strong pet policy in place, you can have a successful and profitable rental experience by allowing pets.
However, some owners still don’t want to allow pets into their homes. They’re concerned with liability, allergens, and the potential for pet damage. We understand that, and as a landlord, you are under no obligation to open your rental home to pets.
Fair housing laws are pretty strict. While you have the option of denying a pet, you cannot deny a service animal or a companion animal.
Fair Housing Act and the ADA
There are no federal, state, or local laws that say landlords must allow pets into their St. Louis rental properties. However, service and companion animals are governed by two specific federal laws: the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Both of these laws protect people with physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities against discrimination. According to these laws, you cannot deny a tenant the use of a service animal or a companion animal, which is most frequently an emotional support animal or a therapy animal.
You have to allow those animals because they are accommodations, not pets. The law sees these animals the same way they see a wheelchair or an accessible parking space. You would never prohibit a tenant from moving in with a wheelchair.
When you allow pets in your property, you can charge a pet deposit or a pet fee. You can also charge extra rent every month and call it pet rent. These additional charges are not permitted when your tenant has a service or companion animal.
Differences between Service Animals and Companion Animals
Terms are always thrown around haphazardly when we’re talking about service animals, companion animals, emotional support animals, etc. However, there are some unique differences that you need to be aware of.
Service animals are trained to help a person do a specific task. When your St. Louis tenant needs a service animal for a physical or intellectual disability, it’s usually obvious what that animal is needed for, and therefore you can’t ask for details or specifics. You will know that a tenant has a vision impairment, so asking why a Seeing Eye Dog is necessary would not only be illegal but also nonsensical. You should also know that service animals are always dogs. No one should claim they are moving into your property with a service snake.
Companion animals are different. They are usually dogs, but can also be cats and other types of animals. These are not trained or certified in any way, but they do support and comfort the person who owns them, and they’re acquired at the direction of a healthcare professional.
In these cases, you can ask your tenant for documentation from a medical professional explaining the disability and why the animal is required. You can also call and talk to the doctor or provider who prescribed the animal. Make sure you do this in a professional way and document your conversation. If you’re rude or combative, you may run into some legal pushback that won’t be pleasant.
We know that protecting your property is important. However, you must follow the law and right now, the law protects those service and companion animals. Don’t treat them like pets.
If you have any questions about this or anything pertaining to St. Louis property management, please contact us at Amoso Properties, and we’d be happy to discuss your specific circumstances.