Service animals are different from pets, and even if you don’t allow pets in your rental property, you are legally required to allow service animals. These are often dogs, but they can be any type of animal at all. You might have a tenant with a doctor’s note that says a rooster, snake, guinea pig or ferret is necessary for that tenant’s physical or mental health.
The first thing you need to do when a tenant tells you a service animal is necessary is to ask for documentation to support that claim. Most people will have a letter from a doctor or a therapist prescribing the animal for some sort of disability or health problem. It’s permissible for you to call the practitioner and confirm they treat your tenant and wrote the letter.
Deposits and Fees
While you might charge a pet deposit or a fee for tenants who move in with their pets, you cannot do that with a service animal. Don’t try to increase rent on tenants who need a service animal and do not ask them for a larger deposit or a pet fee. This is illegal.
In many cases, your pet policy will restrict the breeds of dog that you allow in your properties. However, when it’s a service animal, you have to allow whatever breed the tenant happens to have.
Make sure your lease agreement addresses service animals and what you require from tenants who have them. You cannot legally prevent tenants from having a service animal when they have the proper documentation, but you can require them to clean up after those animals and to provide proof that they have been vaccinated and spayed or neutered.
You don’t want to get into legal trouble with service animals or support animals. If you’re not working with a Grand Rapids property management company and you’re unsure of how to handle tenants who need service animals, contact us at United Properties of West Michigan for assistance and additional information.