As a landlord, you may have restrictions on pets in your property, but under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), you must consider reasonable requests for service animals. Service animals are animals that provide assistance, perform tasks, or provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities. They are not considered pets, so you cannot condition their presence on the payment of a fee or deposit.
When a tenant requests a service animal as a reasonable accommodation, you can ask for written verification of the disability if it is not readily apparent. You can also assess the relationship between the disability and the requested accommodation. These accommodations must be reasonable.
The Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) has published guidance on the obligations of housing providers under the Fair Housing Act to allow people with disabilities to have assistance animals as a reasonable accommodation. This guidance provides best practices for complying with the Fair Housing Act when assessing requests for assistance animals.
In New Jersey, the Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) protects disabled people from discrimination based on their disability when buying, selling, renting, leasing, or subletting a property. This likely includes disabled owners of service dogs. However, there is little to no available case law on this issue in New Jersey.
As a tenant, it is your responsibility to provide valid certification to your landlord if you are requesting accommodations for a service animal. Failure to do so may prevent you from protesting any enforcement of pet prohibitions or limitations, such as breed or size restrictions. You should provide enough documentation to your landlord to allow them to validate your request.
Keep in mind that you may be held liable if your service animal causes damage to the property or harms someone on the premises. In these cases, federal and state protections may not apply. It may be advisable to check with your renters insurance company about pet coverage.
To qualify your animal as a service animal, you must have a documented disability and a disability-related need for the animal. The animal must be trained to perform specific tasks related to your disability, such as assisting with mobility or providing emotional support.
If you have any questions or need help understanding your rights when it comes to service animals, our experienced attorneys at Uniglicht, Bloom, Frackt & Kleinman are here to assist you. Please give us a call 732-490-1777.