Since the dawn of time, humans have taken to keeping animals by their side for companionship, protection, and assistance with daily tasks. Little research was conducted, if any, to the extent of which this companionship can affect a human’s life. With the advent of increased mental and psychological research, studies have introduced (and since confirmed) that animals do fulfill the three traits listed above and may have measurable positive effect on those with mental health issues. The focus of this paper will be to briefly shed light upon the allowance of animals in rental housing and what legal responsibilities landlords and tenants have regarding animals. I believe there are inherent flaws that have allowed individuals to abuse the legal system and gain permission to house companion and assistive animals, without the need for them. The legal system’s attempt to clarify a set of requirements and eligibility of individuals to be granted a companion animal in rental housing has failed. Open ended requirement definitions leave a lack of clarity in several key areas, thereby increasing the jeopardy landlords and property owner’s encounter when attempting to ensure they meet the legal rights of tenants and tenant prospects, without giving up their own rights as ownership or management.
Companion Animals in Rental Housing
As a Certified Residential Manager, one of the most complex issues that I face on a daily basis is to delicately balance our property leasing requirements with the demands of tenants and tenant prospects. Individuals conducting housing searches often look for that “perfect match”, to find housing that has all the amenities that they require to be comfortable while occupying. Examples of requested amenities are garage parking spaces, dishwashers, private laundry, specific neighborhoods or locations, and the allowance of pets. Within a portfolio of properties, it is common to find a short list of available properties that meet client demands. Animal inclusion is typically the most difficult to match, as many landlords have made the decision to protect their asset from animal damage by disallowing animals in their rental units. Industry professionals and landlords such as ourselves are required to operate under a strict set of regulations when considering potential applicants, have specific requirements for disclosure to tenant prospects and tenants, and are constant targets for legislation by activists and advocacy organizations strive to ensure that the freedoms of individuals are protected while those individuals reside in rental property. Just like any legislation and legal actions, the acts of the few often impact the masses. One specific case can create a new set of operational standards for an entire industry to change how they operate. To begin our review of this problem we will first examine various definitions utilized in housing legal context regarding animals. Introducing these basic concepts will allow you to understand the continued discussion throughout the paper, as well as to see the conflicting use of terms throughout various entities in regards to companion animals. Problem #1: Varying Definitions
The first problem that is immediately clear when considering allowance of a companion animal in rental housing is the definition of a companion animal. Across multiple agencies and legislative bodies, there are several terms that are utilized to differentiate animal status and there is little to no congruency between them. As you are about to read below, you will see that they even overlap and contradict one another. As a landlord or rental property owner, this makes interpretation of the law difficult to accomplish, and facilitates overutilization of the companion animal law under the Fair Housing Act. In the eyes of the law, an “assistive” animal that provides a specific, assistive service to an individual whom is...