The 10 Commandments for Assistance Animals

Posted by Stephen Marshall on

Stewart is the property manager at Collins Square Apartments, a small rental community with 31 units. Collins Square allows its residents to have up to two pets. Its lease agreement requires each resident with a pet to pay an extra deposit, to follow local leash laws, to pick up after the pet and dispose of its waste, and to keep the pet from disturbing other residents or causing damage.

Quinn recently signed a one-year lease at the community. At the outset, he notified the management that he had an assistance dog and provided a letter from his therapist that verified his emotional disability and need for the dog. Upon receiving the letter and seeing that it met the necessary criteria, Stewart allowed Quinn to have the dog as an accommodation for his disability. Because the dog was an assistance animal, Stewart did not charge Quinn an extra "pet deposit". 

Unfortunately, about a week later, Stewart received a complaint from a resident that Quinn was allowing his dog to roam freely around the community. In fact, he would let the dog outside, then sit up on his second-floor balcony and watch the dog run about. After the dog had played for a while and done its business, Quinn would call for it to come back to the apartment and would let it inside.

Stewart met with Quinn and clarified that this behavior was not acceptable, that the dog had to be on a leash while outside the unit, and that Quinn was responsible to dispose of its waste. Quinn balked at this notion, and reminded Stewart that the dog was an assistance animal, not a pet, and therefore did not have to abide by the “pet rules”. Quinn further reminded Stewart that he had waived the "pet deposit" on this very basis. Stewart said that he would discuss the matter with his supervisor and get back with Quinn about the issue.

Later that day, another resident reported that Quinn’s dog had jumped on his five year-old daughter and knocked her down while it was running around on the property. While the resident admitted that the dog was merely playing and the girl had not been hurt, he was still quite concerned about the incident. Stewart informed the resident that the dog was an assistance dog, not a pet, and that he was trying to confirm that it had to obey the community’s pet rules. Upon hearing this, the resident informed Stewart that he had a friend who was a lawyer, and that his friend had told him that assistance animals had to wear a special piece of clothing signifying that they were assistance animals and that the dog’s owner had to carry a card signifying that the animal was an assistance animal. Again, Stewart said he would try to confirm the rules.

At this point, Stewart was thoroughly confused. Quinn had told him he was being too restrictive on assistance animals, and the other resident had told him he wasn’t being restrictive enough. What was the truth? The truth is that certain restrictions can be placed on assistance animals and their owners, but there are limits on those restrictions (there are restrictions on the restrictions). Ultimately, what Stewart needed to know could be found in The 10 Commandments for Assistance Animals. Here’s the version for landlords:

  1. Thou shalt not prohibit particular breeds from being assistance animals
  2. Thou shalt not charge a pet deposit for assistance animals
  3. Thou shalt not place size or weight restrictions on assistance animals
  4. Thou shalt not charge higher rent for tenants with assistance animals
  5. Thou shalt not charge a higher security deposit for tenants with assistance animals
  6. Thou shalt not require the tenant to purchase additional insurance based on having the assistance animal
  7. Thou shalt not impose rules on assistance animals that are not imposed on other animals at the community
  8. Thou shalt not require special clothing or identifiers for assistance animals
  9. Thou shalt not require special cards or letters be carried by owners of assistance animals
  10. Thou shalt not require that non-service assistance animals be trained or have proof of training


 Here’s the version for tenants:

  1. Thou shalt pick up and dispose of all waste in a timely and appropriate manner
  2. Thou shalt ensure that thy animal be house-broken
  3. Thou shalt comply with local licensing requirements for thy animal
  4. Thou shalt ensure that thy animal be vaccinated
  5. Thou shalt ensure that thy animal receives proper care (food, water, grooming, etc.)
  6. Thou shalt keep thy animal on a leash or in a carrier when outside the rental unit
  7. Thou shalt restrain thy animal from jumping, lunging, or growling at other residents
  8. Thou shalt restrain thy animal from disturbing other residents by constant barking or otherwise
  9. Thou shalt restrain thy animal from causing damage to the property of others
  10. Thou shalt be financially liable for any damage or injury caused by thy animal

In a perfect world, Collins Square would require each tenant with an assistance animal to sign a lease addendum setting forth these rules, but since Quinn had already signed a lease with these rules for "pets", it is likely that a court would enforce these same rules against the assistance animal. Armed with this knowledge, Stewart sent Quinn a notice that he had violated the terms of the lease by allowing his dog to be unrestrained outside of the rental unit and had failed to dispose of the dog’s waste appropriately, and that a failure to correct these violations would result in the termination of his tenancy, as set forth in the lease. In response, despite his initial objection, Quinn fell in line and began walking his dog with a leash and picking up its waste. Stewart also informed the other resident that Quinn's dog was not required to wear any special clothing and that Quinn was not required to carry any card or letter about the dog being an assistance animal. And they all lived happily ever after, or at least until their leases expired.

Like all rules, these commandments may require some elaboration or there may be an exception based on a particular set of facts. However, knowing them will take you a long way in dealing properly with tenants who have assistance animals, and will help you to strike the right balance in protecting the rights of all your tenants, disabled or otherwise.

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