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A Landlord’s Guide to Assistance Animals

On October 11, 2018, a Frontier Airlines flight from Orlando to Cleveland was delayed. A woman had boarded the plane with a squirrel named Daisy, who she said was her emotional support animal. 

 

Pigs, peacocks, ducks, and monkeys have made national news headlines for serving as assistance animals. But as a landlord, where can you draw the line? What animals can your tenants legally bring onto your property?

 

Today, we’ll lay out Texas law so you can clearly understand how to handle the next assistance animal that comes sniffing at your doorstep. 

 

What an Assistance Animal Is and Isn’t

 

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an assistance animal is one that “works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability. An assistance animal is not a pet.”

 

While that definition may be a bit broad, the Texas Human Resources Code is more specific, defining a service or assistance animal as a canine* that is specially trained or equipped to help a person with a disability and that is used by a person with a disability.

 

In both cases, the distinction is clear—assistance animals are not considered pets, so pet laws do not apply to them.

 

*There is one exception to the stipulation that a service animal may only be a dog. In very rare circumstances, the Department of Justice has indicated that a miniature horse can be a service animal as well.

 

Texas Law Says Landlords Cannot…

 

  1. Refuse to make reasonable accommodations, like permitting the use of an assistance animal, that would allow someone with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy your property.
  2. Turn down a tenant with an assistance animal because you have a no-pet policy. Regardless of your pet policy, Section 504 of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) requires housing providers to allow assistance animals for individuals with a disability. 
  3. Charge fees, deposits, or require pet insurance for assistance animals like you would with pets.
  4. Disallow an assistance animal because of its breed or size.

 

Texas Law Says Landlords Can Deny an Assistance Animal If…

 

  1. The tenant will not provide reliable information regarding the existence of a disability and the disability-related need for the animal when the tenant’s disability is not observable. Reliable confirmation may be a note confirming a disability and need for an assistance animal written by a licensed healthcare professional. Online certification of an assistance animal alone is not always reliable, according to HUD. However, as the housing provider, you are not entitled to know the tenant’s specific diagnosis and cannot ask for this information.
  2. Allowing an assistance animal would put an undue financial and administrative burden on you. For example, a 2006 Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) memo states that “if a housing provider’s insurance carrier would cancel, substantially increase the costs of the insurance policy, or adversely change the policy terms because of the presence of certain breeds of dog or a certain animal, HUD will find that this imposes an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider.” 
  3. The animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. However, you must be able to prove that the specific animal is a threat. You may not make assumptions based on the breed or size of the animal.
  4. The assistance animal damages your property (know the difference between normal wear and tear and damage in this guide). 
  5. The assistance animal is not a type of animal commonly kept in households. Acceptable animals include dogs, cats, small birds, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, fish, turtles, and other small domestic animals that are traditionally kept in the house for pleasure rather than commercial purposes. Reptiles (other than turtles), barnyard animals, monkeys, kangaroos, and other non-domestic animals are not considered common household animals.

 

Texas is Tightening the Leash on “Service Animals”

Lions and tigers and bears? Oh my! Today, people are pushing the limits of the law, trying to find loopholes so they can bring their beloved furry friends along for the ride. But a new Texas law is cracking down on people trying to falsely pass off their pets as service animals.

 

As of September 1, 2023, people falsely representing pets as service animals when they are not specially trained can face fines of up to $1000 (previously $300) and 30 hours of community service.

 

According to the bill’s author, the new law is designed to “restore the reputation that trained service dogs have earned and limit negative interactions that service dogs experience.”

 

As a landlord, it’s important to know which animals to allow and which to kindly turn away. It’s critical that you ensure that your properties follow legal guidelines, are fair to potential tenants with disabilities, and won’t lead to financial trouble for you down the road.

 

Want to pass these weighty responsibilities to someone you can trust? Let’s talk. We’d love to hear all about your property and help you build wealth hands-free. 

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