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Is tenant's guest entitled to keep service animal in unit?

When a tenant at a no-pets complex says her guest is disabled, what steps can a manager take to verify that's true and that a service animal is necessary?

April 19, 2013|By Martin Eichner

Question: I manage a 12-unit apartment complex with a strict no-pets policy. We understand that under federal and state fair housing law, we may need to make an exception to our no-pet policy for a disabled resident who requires a service animal as a reasonable accommodation. However, there is a resident at my apartment complex who has a visitor staying with her for a few weeks. The visitor has a dog that accompanies her everywhere and appears to be staying in the resident's apartment with her. When I asked the resident about the dog, she told me that her guest is disabled and that the dog is a service animal. Do I have to allow the visitor's service animal? If so, what sort of documentation can I request from the visitor?

Answer: Under the federal Fair Housing Act, you are required to allow a tenant's visitor to bring a service animal into the rental unit as a reasonable accommodation for the visitor's disability, assuming all other requirements of the act are met. The FHA extends not only to renters, but also to persons "associated" with the tenant. Therefore, a tenant's visitor is protected because that visitor is associated with the renter. Tenants are entitled to the full use and enjoyment of their housing, which includes having guests visit.

Under the FHA, a person who is associated with the tenant is protected if that person has a physical or mental disability, has a record of such disability or is regarded as having such a disability.

If the visitor's disability and need for accommodation is readily apparent, you may not request any additional information about the disability or the need for accommodation. If the visitor's disability is not obvious, you may request reliable disability-related information that verifies the person is disabled under the Fair Housing Act, describes the needed accommodation or shows the relationship between the disability and the requested accommodation. The supporting letter can be provided by a doctor or other reliable third-party. Even though the disability may not be apparent to you, you are not entitled to ask that the support letter include a description of the nature of the disability.

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. Send questions to info@housing.org.

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