Cats and Dogs
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What religion doesnt allow dogs as pets?

Do I need permission to get a pet?

Probably! If you are currently in a lease, check your lease before you get a pet. If your lease requires permission to have a pet or to add a pet, make sure you get permission from your landlord in writing and keep a copy for your records. Your landlord may just add a clause or an addendum to your lease. Make sure both you and your landlord initial and date the change. If your landlord refuses to allow you to have a pet, wait until you move to a pet-friendly apartment. (From our blog: make sure to Assert the Rights You Have and Get It In Writing)

If you’re looking for a new apartment, make sure that you have permission in writing to have a pet.

What can happen if I get a pet without permission?

You could be evicted if it is prohibited in your lease. This would be a non-rent violation. The type of notice the landlord can give you, and whether you have a chance to get rid of the pet and avoid an eviction, will depend on several factors. For more information, please see Eviction. Being evicted makes it hard to find housing, can affect your credit, and does not relieve you from paying rent unless the landlord finds someone new to move in or your lease ends.

If one tenant has a pet, does the landlord have to allow everyone to have pets?

Not necessarily. The landlord may give pet permission to some tenants and not others as long as they do not discriminate against certain tenants because of membership in a protected class, such as race, religion, sex, etc., or do it in retaliation against a tenant for enforcing their rights. It is not illegal for a landlord to discriminate against certain animals or breeds, as long as they are doing it for everyone. Also, some tenants’ «pets» might actually be service or companion animals, which have different applicable rules.

What if I have a disability and depend on a service animal, or emotional support (companion) animal?

This is a special situation where the landlord’s pet policy does not apply. A service animal or emotional support animal should not be considered a «pet.» They should be treated, from the landlord’s perspective, like a piece of medical equipment.

Federal Laws

Because federal fair housing laws require landlords to allow reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, the following apply:

  • Landlords may not prohibit a service animal or emotional support animal from living in the unit.
  • Landlords may not charge the tenant extra «pet» rent or «pet» security deposit for a service or emotional support animal.
  • Landlords may not apply other «pet policy» rules like breed or weight restrictions to service or emotional support animals. For more information from HUD on this, click here.

There are two exceptions, when a landlord can deny a service or companion animal:

  • If the landlord lives in the unit, and they or a member of their immediate family have an allergy to the animal.
  • If that specific animal has aggressively threatened someone. (This must be the specific animal in question, and not based on beliefs about behavior from that breed, size, etc.)

The Americans with Disabilities Act gives specific guidelines for what are and are not «service animals» and some people mistakenly believe that only service animals are protected. However, the ADA also says that «emotional support animals that do not qualify as service animals under the Department’s title III regulations may nevertheless qualify as permitted reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities under the Fair Housing Act and the ACAA.» The Fair Housing Act, which addresses «reasonable accommodations» in rental housing, is available here.

State Laws

On the state level, Wisconsin law now defines an «Emotional Support Animal» as one who gives “emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship” to a person with a disability. Unlike a service animal, an emotional support animal does not need to be certified or trained to perform tasks to benefit that individual. Wis. Stat. 106.50(1m)(im), 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 28, Effective 4/18/18.

Landlords can only deny the service animal or emotional support animal if:

  • The tenant is not disabled or does not have a disability-related need
  • The tenant fails to provide requested documentation allowed by this law
  • There is undue financial or administrative burden to the landlord or the presence of the service animal or emotional support animal would fundamentally change the services provided by the landlord
  • The specific animal “poses a direct threat to a person’s health or safety” that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another accommodation
  • The specific animal would cause substantial physical damage to the property that can’t be reduced or eliminated by another accommodation. Wis. Stat. 106.50(2r)(bg)4.d., Wis. Stat. 106.50(2r),2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 30

There is now a fine of $500 or more for tenants and/or health professionals who intentionally misrepresent the tenant having a disability or needing the accommodation of an emotional support animal. (This does not apply to service animals certified and specifically trained to assist the person with disabilities.) Wis. Stat. 106.50(2r)(br)5 & 6., 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 30, Effective 4/18/18.

How do I get my service or emotional support animal approved?

Tenants can be required to provide the landlord with documentation from a physician, psychologist, social worker, or other health professional, licensed in Wisconsin and acting within the scope of their certification, showing they have a disability and their animal is needed as an accommodation. NOTE: Tenants are still protected by HIPPA laws, and the law does not require the tenant or the health professional to disclose the nature of their disability or other medical details. Wis. Stats. 106.50(2r)(bg)2. & (1m)(mx), 2017 Wis. Act 317, Secs. 29 & 30, Effective 4/18/18.

Applicants are not required to state anything about having a service or emotional support animal on an application.

If the landlord refuses to allow the service animal or emotional support animal, you may contact:

  • U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD has publications available about fair housing and can direct you to your local fair housing office.
  • Fair Housing Centers.
  • In Dane County, for more information about service or companion animals, call Access to Independence.
  • Disability Rights Wisconsin is a statewide organization that provides information about the legal rights of persons with disabilities.
  • Your local Aging and Disability Resource Center.

How do I find landlords that rent to pet owners?

Check the regular rental listings–many landlords advertise that they allow pets. Some humane societies also keep lists of landlords who rent to people with pets. If you are looking for an apartment in Dane County, contact the Dane County Humane Society. You can also search rental websites for units that allow pets.

How can I convince a landlord to rent to me and my pet?

Negotiate with the landlord

Contact the person who has the authority to grant you permission. This may be the resident manager, property manager, or owner of the building.

  • Use some of our negotiation suggestions.
  • Ask why the landlord has a no-pets policy. By asking up front about your landlord’s concerns, you can learn more about how to best present your own request. Considering your landlord’s position will encourage them to be more open to yours.
  • When negotiating with your landlord, be careful about waiving or agreeing to give up some of your rights in order to get permission for a pet. If the landlord seems unreasonable, you may want to keep looking for another apartment.

Present yourself as a good pet owner

Prepare a «pet resume» and include proof of your claims. Include the following in the resume:

  • Good rental history. Write about your pet’s great rental history. Since some landlords require pet references, include letters of reference from current or previous landlords who can verify that your pet did not damage the apartments, and letters from neighbors who can attest to your pet’s good behavior and your own sense of responsibility.
  • Training. Mention that your pet is well-behaved. If your cat is litter box trained or uses a scratching post, be sure to say so. If your dog does not bark when left alone or has attended obedience classes, mention this and include receipts or a graduation certificate.
  • Veterinary records. State in the resume that your pets are well cared for and include copies of health certificates showing that your pets are spayed or neutered, free of fleas and ticks, and up-to-date on their vaccinations.
  • Renters insurance. Depending on what kind of pet you have, you may be able to purchase liability insurance for any damage your pet may do. If you have this insurance, mention it in your resume and include a copy of your policy.
  • Interview. Invite the landlord to «interview» your freshly groomed, well-behaved pet at your current home to show that your pet has not caused any damage.

In addition to presenting a pet resume, offer to sign a pet addendum to your rental agreement that makes you responsible for possible damage to property or injury to others.

Be a good pet owner

  • If you have a dog, make sure to clean up its waste.
  • Consider crate-training if you feel your dog may be destructive while you are not at home.
  • Make sure your cat has access to a scratching post and that one or more litter boxes are readily available. If your cat is scratching something it shouldn’t be, try putting aluminum foil or double-stick tape in that area to deter the behavior.
  • Talk to a veterinarian or other pet owners for advice on behavior issues.

Can landlords charge pet owners higher security deposits?

Effective 12/21/11, the State of Wisconsin imposes no limits on security deposit amounts. Landlords may charge pet owners more, but they must follow all the same laws about returning it. «Non-refundable» pet deposits are illegal. Check our our About Security Deposits page for more information on security deposits!

Can landlords charge pet owners more for rent?

Yes, landlords may charge a monthly pet fee of whatever amount they choose. It is always worth trying to negotiate if you feel the extra amount is unreasonable. However, you should plan some extra time for this, and get everything in writing. See the section above on convincing landlords to rent to you and your pet for specific things you can mention if you negotiate with your landlord.

Can landlords automatically withhold money from pet owners’ security deposits?

No, landlords may only charge for actual damages. If your pet did damage the apartment, the landlord may charge you for the repairs. If you are paying additional rent for your pet and being charged from your security deposit, make sure you’re not being double-charged. If your landlord charges for pet damages, you can ask them (or a judge) to credit you for the amount you’ve paid in pet fees. Ask to see receipts for charges a landlord claims. If you feel you are being charged unfairly, contact the Tenant Resource Center for more information, or see About Security Deposits.

Where can I get more information?

  • Our webpage specifically on Emotional Support Animals.
  • The Humane Society of the United States has sample pet resumes and detailed information on how to find housing that accepts pets.
  • The Dane County Humane Society has a list of landlords who rent to pet owners.
  • Cats International provides information for cat owners.

Landlord’s Right to Prohibit Pets and Animal-Limits

As discussed in detail in our articles on landlords and tenants, landlords do have the right to control use and maintenance of property leased out but such rights are limited by various governmentally imposed restrictions. For example, in an effort to enforce the Constitutional right to equal housing, landlords cannot refuse to lease to a person predicated on race, religion, ethnicity or creed.

Additionally, various locales have imposed upon landlords additional restrictions in an effort to protect various classes of persons. Thus, some locales prohibit landlords from requiring no children in the family rented premises. Other locales insist upon wheelchair access for new construction of existing residential or commercial leases.

This article shall explore the limits imposed upon tenant’s rights to have pets and other animals on their premises.

The Basic Law on Pets:

Landlords have the right to prohibit pets of any kind on their leased premises and also have the right to allow some pets but not others. Thus, a landlord can allow dogs but not cats, or dogs but only if less than a certain number or size, etc. In some states, a landlord can even insist that the dog or cat be spayed or neutered. Size of the animal, breed of the animal, etc. may all be used by the landlord to restrict ownership of the animal on the premises. This makes sense since the landlord may prohibit any animal, with the exceptions noted below.

Many landlords can and do require a special pet deposit to pay for damage that an animal can cause. And consent for an animal may be withdrawn if the animal becomes obnoxious or noisy, such as barking or leaving feces in public places.

There are exceptions to the right of a landlord to prohibit or impose restrictions on all pets. More than nine thousand people nationwide rely on trained guide dogs to help them with physical day-to-day activities. An additional ten thousand people rely on these same animals for emotional support, such as for depression or anxiety. It is illegal for a landlord to refuse a tenancy to a disabled tenant that relies on a service or support animal. This is based on the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1988.

The Federal Fair Housing Act:

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) has recently issued new rules clarifying the responsibilities landlords face regarding companion animals in rental properties. The “Notice on Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs” discusses how the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) intersect regarding the use of service or assistance animals by persons with disabilities.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating based on disability, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, and familial status. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and state and local government activities.

Both laws contain provisions which address the use of service or assistance animals by people with disabilities. While the Fair Housing Act covers nearly all types of housing, some types of housing, such as public housing, are covered by both laws.

The regulations provide that housing providers under the Fair Housing Act, must provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities who require assistance animals. Pet restrictions cannot be used to deny or limit housing to people with disabilities who require the use of an assistance animal because of their disability. Housing providers must grant reasonable accommodations in such instances, in accordance with the law.

According to HUD, two threshold questions must be addressed when a tenant asks for a companion animal:

1. Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?

2. Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

If the answer to question (1) or (2) is “no,” then the law does not require a modification of an existing “no pets” policy, and the reasonable accommodation request may be denied.

However, if the answer to both these questions is “yes”, the landlord must modify or provide an exception to a “no pets” policy to permit a person with a disability to live with and use an assistance animal(s) in all areas of the premises where persons are normally allowed to go, unless doing so would impose an undue financial and administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s services.

A request for companion animal also may be denied if: (1) the specific assistance animal in question poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation, or (2) the specific assistance animal in question would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation. Breed, size, and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal.

A determination that an assistance animal poses a direct threat of harm to others or would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others must be based on an individualized assessment that relies on “objective evidence about the specific animal’s actual conduct,” not on mere speculation or fear about the types of harm or damage an animal may cause and not on evidence about harm or damage that other animals have caused. Conditions and restrictions that housing providers apply to pets may not be applied to assistance animals. For example, while housing providers may require applicants or residents to pay a pet deposit, those obligations cannot be applied to companion animals.

Landlords cannot deny a reasonable accommodation request because they are not certain whether the person seeking the accommodation has a disability or a disability-related need for an assistance animal. Housing providers may ask individuals who have disabilities that are not readily apparent or known to the provider to submit reliable documentation of a disability and their disability-related need for an assistance animal.

If the disability is readily apparent or known but the disability-related need for the assistance animal is not known, the housing provider may ask the individual to provide documentation of the disability-related need for an assistance animal.

As an example, the housing provider may ask persons who are seeking a reasonable accommodation to have an assistance animal to provide emotional support to provide documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that the animal provides such emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of an existing disability. Such documentation is sufficient if it establishes that an individual has a disability and that the animal in question will provide some type of disability-related assistance or emotional support.

However, a landlord may not ask a tenant or applicant to provide documentation showing the disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal if the disability or disability-related need is readily apparent or already known to the provider. Thus, a person with a limb missing or who is blind need not provide additional evidence to the landlord.

Note that under all circumstances a landlord may not ask an applicant or tenant to provide access to medical records or medical providers or provide detailed or extensive information or documentation of a person’s physical or mental impairments.

It is perhaps remarkable that while HUD makes it clear that private landlords have a legal duty under the Fair Housing Act to accept any qualifying companion animal into a rental property, the Department of Justice has narrowed its definition of service animals allowed into government and educational facilities under the ADA, to “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.» Emotional support animals are expressly precluded.

Financial Hardship or Administrative Burden:

A landlord can deny an accommodation if the request would cause undue financial or administrative trouble for the landlord. As an example, installing an elevator in an older building might not be financially feasible for some landlords. In most instances, the costs of a pet are relatively minimal for landlords and additional costs, such as food and veterinarian bills are paid by the tenant, thus a service animal request is usually granted in these cases.

Aside from the unique circumstances of a service animal, tenants have no right to insist upon pets being allowed by the landlord and the landlord may also place criteria on what pets are allowed and rules concerning them. Local ordinances can also come into play, so the tenant should review the law of his or her county and city.

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