Four Questions and Answers on Assistance Animals

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One of the most frequently asked questions on the MHCO Landlord/Manager hot line or seminars is assistance animals.  Here are five questions and answers to help provide some guidance.

Question 1: When tenants request an assistance animal, are they required to put a deposit down like everyone else who requests for a pet to be admitted to housing?

Answer 1: No, you can’t charge a deposit for an assistance animal. So don’t charge the deposit until you've made the decision that it's not an assistance animal.


Question 2: If someone has paid a pet deposit and later needs to reclassify their pet as a support animal, must we refund the pet deposit?

Answer 2: Generally, yes. If you decide to approve the animal as an assistance animal, you should refund the deposit.


Question 3: We have verified that a tenant’s Rottweiler is her assistance animal. But Rottweilers are a restricted breed under our property's insurance policy. What should we do?

Answer 3: HUD has told us that if your carrier won't insure you if you allow a Rottweiler on site, and you’re unable to obtain comparable insurance from some other carrier, then that would be a defense to not allowing the Rottweiler. It would not be a defense to not allowing an assistance animal at all, but not allowing that particular breed. The problem is the burden is on you, the housing provider, to show that: (1) your insurance carrier is going to drop you; and (2) you cannot obtain comparable insurance. It's your burden, but it is a potential defense.


Question 4: If a tenant who’s requesting permission for an assistance animal provides verification from a credible source, but it's dated a few years back, is this acceptable? What is the rule for backdated verifications?

Answer 4: There isn't a rule; it's just a reasonableness issue. If the tenant has gotten a new animal, then you should ask the tenant to update the verification letter. If it's the same animal and it's a legitimate letter other than the date, then it’s probably good enough.



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