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The Landlord’s Guide to Emotional Service Animals

On Behalf of | Feb 5, 2020 | Landlord's Guide |

If you’re a landlord, there’s a good chance that you’re going to encounter the issue of service animals at some point in your career. Service animals and emotional support animals are important to many people throughout the United States. You probably already know that as a landlord, you have laws to follow concerning service animals. However, it’s important to know exactly what the rules are. We spoke to Denver personal injury attorney Kyle Bachus of Bachus & Schanker, about what you need to know about Colorado’s laws regarding emotional service animals.

Colorado Laws Regarding Service Animals

Colorado’s housing laws regarding service animals come from both United States federal law and Colorado state law. In general, a tenant has the right to have a service animal or emotional support animal, even if the rules of the housing unit don’t allow pets. You can’t charge a deposit or an extra fee for a qualified service animal. However, you can reject the animal if it is aggressive or if the tenant cannot provide documentation of their disability and the need for the animal. Colorado’s service animal laws require tenants to prove accommodations are genuinely needed and reasonable.

To understand service animals in a landlord-tenant situation, you must first understand what a service animal is. In fact, there are two kinds of animals that help people with disabilities: service animals and emotional support animals.

What is the Difference Between Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals?

The difference between service animals and emotional support animals is that service animals have been trained to perform specific tasks while emotional support animals assist a person without performing any particular tasks.

For example, a service animal may be trained to remind someone to take their medication. They may know how to recognize the signs of a seizure or diabetic shock. An emotional support animal doesn’t perform any specific tasks. Instead, merely by its presence, the animal provides support. The difference between service animals and emotional support animals is that service animals perform specific assistive tasks while emotional support animals provide strictly emotional support.

A Landlord Must Accept Both Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

Colorado law requires that landlords provide accommodation for both service animals and emotional support animals. Even though the two types of animals help in different ways, they’re both legally considered animals that assist with disabilities. As a landlord, you must accept both types when the tenant meets all the legal requirements

When Does a Landlord Have to Allow a Service Animal in Colorado?

A landlord must allow a service animal in Colorado when the tenant meets two qualifications. A tenant meets the requirements to have a service animal when the following conditions are met:

  1. The tenant has a real, recognized disability.
  2. The animal is related to, and assists with the disability.

The purpose of allowing service animals is to ensure that people with recognized disabilities have equal access to housing.

As a Landlord, Can You Verify a Tenant’s Disability?

Yes, as a landlord, you can verify a tenant’s disability. If the disability isn’t immediately obvious, you can ask for a doctor’s note that confirms the disability and that the animal can help with the disability. To qualify a tenant to have an animal, the doctor must meet with the patient in person or by formal telemedicine. The doctor must be familiar enough with the person and their disability to make a determination. The doctor must also be qualified professionally to make a determination regarding the appropriateness of the service animal.

It’s okay to ask for documentation and verification. Be sure to verify that the documentation is more than just an online questionnaire from an unqualified source. In addition, things like buying a leash that says “service animal” isn’t enough to make an animal a service animal. It’s okay to make sure that your tenant has the proper approvals and documentation. Documentation must meet legal standards for you to be required to accept the service animal.

Can You Charge a Pet Deposit for a Service Animal?

No, you cannot charge a pet deposit for a service animal. Because a service animal is a reasonable accommodation, the tenant must be able to rent their property without paying any additional fees for the animal. Remember, a service animal isn’t legally regarded as a pet. They’re there to help the tenant have equal access to housing. Because of their role in providing equality, you cannot charge a pet deposit for a service animal.

Who Pays for the Damage If a Service Animal Damages the Property?

In Colorado, the tenant pays for damage if a service animal damages the property. Colorado law 24-34-803 makes tenants liable for damage to rental properties caused by their service animal. The owner is liable even if the animal doesn’t have a propensity to cause harm or if the tenant didn’t have a reason to believe that the pet would cause harm.

Are There Any Grounds to Lawfully Reject a Service Animal?

Yes, there are some grounds by which a landlord may lawfully reject a service animal. For example, if the service animal poses an unreasonable risk of physical harm to others or has a high likelihood of property damage, the landlord may reject the animal. The key thing to remember is that the risk must be reasonable and apparent. You may not deny an animal based on certain breeds alone.

In addition, you may still place other requirements on renting a property, even if the person has a service animal. For example, you may still screen the applicant for their credit history. Other lawful restrictions on who you rent to can still apply based on your discretion. Remember not to use another reason as an excuse for rejecting a service animal; your actions may be subject to scrutiny, and you may be opening yourself to legal action.

Landlords and Service Animals

As a landlord, remember that tenants have rights when it comes to service animals. However, you have rights, too. An experienced attorney can help you understand your rights and defend yourself if you have questions with landlord service animal requirements.