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Houston Property Management Tips

Tenant Pet Agreement: Is It a Pet or an Assistance Animal?

Tenant Pet Agreement: Is It a Pet or an Assistance Animal?

Did you know that 61 million adults in the USA have some disability? Many people with disabilities may need a service animal, making it harder to find housing.

Some landlords have no pet agreements. Because of this, some people will try and make a false claim about needing a service animal to try and get around the no pets rule.

So how do you tell the difference between a legitimate claim and a false claim for a service animal? When can you reject a real service animal, and when do you have to let them stay? Read more to learn about the differences between pets and service animals. 

What Makes an Animal a Service Animal?

A dog, cat, or another animal that provides medical and quality of life help to its owner is an assistance animal. Examples are seeing-eye dogs, allergy sniffing dogs, and emotional support animals. These animals get special privileges regarding housing, travel, and more.

In Texas, people with disabilities must have an equal right to housing. This includes their service animals being exempt from no pet agreements and pet restrictions. However, if the dog causes damage to the property, the tenant is responsible for the repair costs.

What Do Tenants Need to Do to Have Their Service Animal?

A person with a disability is always entitled to have one or more service animals. However, many people believe that they can put several animals on one certification and have as many as they want. Each service animal must serve a different purpose for the tenant and have its own papers and eligibility

For example, a person may have an emotional support animal and a seizure-alert dog. Still, two emotional support animals may be denied.

While service dogs and emotional support animals are different classifications of assistance animals, both are protected by law. Like service dogs in Texas, emotional support animals are protected under the Fair Housing Act.

Some potential tenants may try to give you an online certification, but a doctor can provide accurate documentation. Healthcare providers who work with your tenant can give you statements about the necessity of the animals.

When Can I Uphold My Pet Agreements and What Are the Exceptions?

If you have a breed restriction for your tenants or prohibit pets entirely, you cannot use these as a reason to reject a possible tenant. A properly certified service animal must be allowed to live on the premises, even if they're a restricted breed. 

However, if the animal's presence requires substantial changes to the residence, would create too much financial burden, or would be a threat to others, you are not required to let them stay.

When considering your tenant's animals, ask yourself:

  • Does the tenant have a disability?
  • Does the animal do things for the tenant or provide emotional relief from the tenant's symptoms?

If the answer to either is no, you don't have to provide accommodation for the animal. If the answer to both is yes, then the Fair Housing Act will require you to allow it.

Learn More

A service animal is a protected right for people with disabilities. Pets are not. The biggest difference is that a pet is just an animal, and a service animal can be considered medical equipment. As long as an animal has proper documents, it's illegal not to let a tenant live on your property due to it. 

Visit our website to learn more about your rights as a landlord and what animals can be service animals. We're here to help you determine when your pet agreement has been violated and when you've got a service dog on your hands!