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Landlord Advice: Make Sure Pet Policies Do Not Discriminate

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If you are a regular visitor to my website, you know that I am not a big fan of allowing pets in apartments.  In fact, whenever I give anyone landlord advice, I recommend avoiding this if at all possible.  However, no matter what, your pet policy must be fair and non-discriminatory, as HUD is starting to scrutinize investment property pet policies, especially where a tenant disability is involved.

Specifically, HUD recently filed complaints against landlords in 2 states for discriminatory pet policies.  In both cases, someone residing at the rental property was medically prescribed an “emotional support animal.”  The first case involved a young child in Iowa with cerebral palsy; her doctor actually prescribed a pet to help relieve the young girl’s emotional stress.  The second complaint targeted a similar situation in New York.

The landlords in both complaints had strict no-pet policies, and the tenants were aware of this prior to moving in.  Thus, both landlords refused to allow the pets after the fact (although the first landlord would have allowed it with an increase in the rent).  However, because the pets were medically prescribed, each landlord’s refusal constituted (according to the HUD complaints) discrimination against people with disabilities.  Much like entry ramps at eating establishments are required to make them handicap-accessible, HUD argued that the emotional support animals were required in order to provide reasonable accommodations in the rules & policies “…to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use or enjoy a dwelling.”

Ok, I know what you are thinking because I’m thinking it myself.  It seems a little ridiculous to file a complaint against the landlords when the tenants knew their pet policies beforehand.  It is their properties, and they should be allowed to enforce their own rules.  That said, whether we like it or not, these complaints serve as a warning to all of us landlords out there.  If you ever run into a situation like this, be careful what you say or do until you do some research and consult with a property attorney.

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