Tim and Faith own several rental properties near the local university. They’ve been in the business for five years, after long careers in the country music industry. They’ve become quite experienced in managing their properties and dealing with the typical issues that arise when renting to students. Faith manages the properties, while Tim takes care of the basic maintenance issues.
A group of four students recently moved into one of the campus properties owned by Tim and Faith. The students signed a single lease in which they agreed that pets were prohibited. However, several months later, while doing a routine change of the air filters, Tim noticed a large dog in the rental unit. He asked one of the tenants why they had a dog in the unit, and the tenant responded that it was the “service dog” of another tenant.
Tim relayed the information to his wife, who immediately called the tenant to find out what was going on. The tenant advised him that the dog was a service dog. Faith was familiar with Fair Housing issues, so she knew that disabled tenants were allowed to have service dogs if their disability required one. So, she politely informed the tenant that, since he had no obvious disability or need for the service dog, he would need to provide verification of those items from a health care professional. The tenant replied that he was not disabled and didn’t have any personal need for the dog, but rather was serving as a trainer for the dog. He offered to show Faith a card that he carried that verified that he was a trainer of assistance dogs.
This was a new one for Faith, so she told him that she would have to get back to him on the issue. She called the local Fair Housing office, hoping to get a quick answer. She was told that neither the state nor federal Fair Housing laws required her to allow a person without a disability to have a service dog live with them. Using this information, Faith called the tenant back and told him that he’d have to get rid of the dog.
As you can imagine, the tenant protested, saying that he was told during his training meetings that he was allowed to have the dog live him while training it. Otherwise, he asked rhetorically, how was he going to train be able to train it? Faith responded that she agreed that living with the dog would help in training it, but that he would need to do so at a property that allowed pets. Her properties around the university simply were not built for pets, and if she let him violate the rule, she would have to allow others to do so as well. She told the tenant that she would be sending him a notice that, unless he removed the pet from the property, the lease for he and his roommates would be terminated. True to her word, the next day Faith sent a termination notice to the tenants and advised them that she would conduct an inspection at the end of the notice period to determine if the dog had been removed.
Several days later, Faith got a phone call from the local county attorney. She was told that a criminal complaint had been filed against her for willfully interfering with an assistance dog. She told the county attorney that this was a big misunderstanding, and explained that the tenant was not disabled and, therefore, was not entitled to have a dog on the property. The county attorney advised her that the state of Kentucky had passed a law, KRS 258.500(6), that allowed any disabled person with an assistance dog to keep the dog with them while living as a tenant. But, Faith protested, “a person has to be disabled to qualify for an assistance dog, that’s the reason it’s called an “assistance” dog; my tenant is NOT disabled!” The county attorney informed her that the law also explicitly applied to trainers of assistance dogs. “But the local Fair Housing office told me that Fair Housing law didn’t require me to allow non-disabled persons to have dogs”, argued Faith.
The prosecutor informed her that this was not part of the state’s Fair Housing laws, but was rather a separate statute dealing with assistance dogs, and not within the mission of the local Fair Housing office. He went on to inform Faith that the law imposed a fine of $250.00-$1,000.00, imprisonment of 10-30 days, or both. Faith was devastated. She had always tried to follow the law, and was now being charged as a criminal.
The good news, the county attorney reasoned, was that the tenants had agreed to a mediation, and he suspected that that if she would simply rescind her termination notice to the tenants, allow the training tenant to keep the dog at the property, and make a donation to the assistance dog training program, the tenant would withdraw the criminal complaint. Fortunately, the county attorney’s prediction was accurate and the matter was resolved in short order. For Tim and Faith, it was not a moment too soon.