Landlord and Tenant Battle Over Companion Animal Rules

A Colorado landlord made news this week by battling a tenant’s request to keep a “companion” cat without paying a deposit or additional pet rent.

According to the news report, the woman claims that the companion cat was intended as treatment for stress related to an abusive marriage.

The pet policy for the building requires the payment of a deposit, and an additional monthly increase in rent, presumably to offset the potential damage the cat may cause.

The woman complained about the additional restrictions for the cat, calling it a “companion” animal, a buzzword in housing discrimination. 

Recently, HUD — the enforcement branch for the Federal Fair Housing Act, has been prosecuting landlords who require deposits or extra rent for tenants with animals that are used to treat medical conditions.  HUD rulings have made it clear that the provisions in a lease regarding pet restrictions cannot be applied to “companion” animals.

One case involved a child whose physician prescribed a companion dog to treat his autism.  The apartment building where the family lived had a strict no-pets policy.  The landlord responded to the request by setting out conditions in a special pet agreement, including the requirement that the family buy an insurance policy, a limit on the amount of time the dog is alone in the apartment, a weight restriction, and a rule that the dog be muzzled when it is in common areas. 

HUD has also made it clear that the animal does not have to be a dog.  One HUD ruling suggests cats — and ferrets, are viable alternatives for companion animals. 

In another recent ruling, HUD has suggested that a landlord cannot ask whether the animal is trained, as is often the case with “service” animals.  HUD has indicated that the terms “companion” and “service” animals are interchangeable and the same rules apply.  For instance,  a companion animal must be allowed into all areas of the rental property where the tenant is allowed, including in one case the laundry room.
 
Through its grant priorities, HUD has committed to increasing its assistance to persons with disabilities to maintain companion animals in rental housing.

If landlords cannot charge a deposit for potential damages, and they cannot restrict where the companion animal is at any moment or which type of animal will be adopted, can they at least restrict anti-social behaviors in the animals, like excessive noise or aggression towards other tenants or other animals on the premises? 

It would appear that the HUD regulations do take into account the safety of other tenants.  While landlords cannot enforce general pet provisions in the lease, in one instance a HUD representative suggested that a landlord could still enforce provisions in the lease relating to noise restrictions or nuisance. 

In fact, the companion animal is viewed as an accommodation for a person with a disability, and as such, must be reasonable and not create an undue burden.  However, HUD has shown little sympathy for a landlord’s financial losses if the animal damages the rental property.

Applying the rules to specific situations can be tricky.  For instance, take the case of a current tenant with a “companion” dog who has lost interest in picking up the dog’s feces from the common area walkway of a “no-pets” building.  The landlord and tenant had previously agreed that the tenant would hire a clean up service every three days. The tenant is now hedging, questioning whether she should have to pay for the service.  This case is not yet under investigation by HUD, and there is no clarification how far the landlord can push the issue without risking a discrimination complaint.

The Federal Fair Housing Act does not apply to every landlord.  Many smaller landlord businesses are exempt for the federal rules.  However, each of the states is free to pass their own housing discrimination rules, many of which are more restrictive than the federal rules.  Typically, the states follow the guidelines set out by HUD.

A tenant must qualify as a person with a disability in order for the animal to be exempt from pet rules.

In the Colorado case, the tenant initially brought her request to the property manager. It is not clear whether the tenant already owned the cat prior to obtaining the medical authorization for a companion animal. 

Later, when the landlord would not waive the deposit requirement, the tenant went to the local news to garner support for her position.  She told reporters that the cat calms her down, and makes her happy. 

The property manager in this case confirmed that they had been trying to work something out for two months, according to the report.  A couple of days after the newspaper ran the woman’s story, the landlord succumbed to the tenant’s request, and waived the deposit, pet rent and resulting late fees.  The manager told reporters that the concession was offered only because it was at this time that the woman provided proof of a medical condition.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

steve February 21, 2012 at 9:21 am

What medical professional is qualified to “prescribe” a companion animal? Licensed Physician, Psychiatrist, psychologists (can’t dispense pharmaceutical prescriptions in my (and most) states).

“One HUD ruling suggests cats — and ferrets, are viable alternatives for companion animals.” Does this mean that a landlord can choose which companion animals that will permit as long as they allow at least one type?

Susanne March 13, 2012 at 7:48 am

What about the health issues of the other tenants in the building with a NO Pet Policy( e.g. Allergies, Asthma, other breathing problems)? Can a landlord deny request for a “companion” pet for health reasons of the other residents? Who is responsible for cleaning up the pet hair or feces left by these pets? Can a landlord enforce a special
Pet Agreement signed by both tenant and landlord?

miranda June 27, 2012 at 10:13 pm

I’ve been fighting for service cats & Even took my state to court & they agreed after I did . I have studied the Federal law on companion / service cats & NO landlords CANNOT TELL a tenant NO on a service/ companion animal if you have a allergy . If you have a disability & have a service animal you take to work & others have allergies that ISN’T a LEGAL for their employer to do anything or say anything to them without being construed as discrimination. It’s the Same for landlords & charging more rent & or deposit for service/ companion animal . I hope this helps your PROBLEM??

Trish February 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Can someone tell me if the American Disabilities Act covers “depression” the disease not the day to day mood in Colorado? My landlord wants to charge me $400 deposit plus $25 “pet rent.” I am a senior citizen. I have a letter from my doctor stating that my pet “is more than a pet, but also emoinal support.”

Thank you.

Chris March 3, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Hi Trish,
It’s very difficult to answer specific questions like this because it may be the domain of a local attorney to figure out how to handle your situation. Generally, if a tenant has been diagnosed with a recognized disability like depression and has a prescription for a companion animal, the housing laws will demand that the landlord waive any “pet” policies and allow the animal with no conditions. Please be aware that these rules are confusing and even threatening for landlords who are afraid that the animal will cause damage, or even hurt someone. I hope you and your landlord can work this out amicably together. Thanks for reading, Chris

Tonya April 29, 2013 at 3:53 pm

My physician has prescribed a companion animal for me due to chronic depression. When speaking to my landlords I was told they would agree to it on some conditions. Which include $300.00 deposit, inspection at their convienance, charge for defleaing when I move, that I am required to explain to other renters of my medical issue, and finally that my companion has to be created at all times that I’m not there. The expenses isn’t what concerns me, what I’m wondering is can they make me agree to sign the terms stating my companion has to be created for 8 hrs a day while I’m at work or they’ll deny me the right to have one? As far as being required to tell other renters of my condition they have no legal right to enforce. But how humane is it to keep a (cat) which is what I will be having as an companion created up? Not sure if they can enforce this one. Do you have any answers?? Thank you

D johnson February 12, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Is there a limit on how many companion animals the disabled can have in Colorado. someone I know has 2 and they what to know if they must get rid of one of them after having them for 2 years. They are depressed and upset and crying over the situation.

mandy September 1, 2014 at 2:43 pm

My mom recently became physically disabled due to her heart and I hate leaving her home alone as I have moved out and must take care of my own family now. I am thinking of getting her a companion pet (probably a cat) but she lives in hud housing in south carolina and they don’t allow pets. Do they have to allow such pets by law and does she just have to ask her doctor for a “prescription” or is there more to it?

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