What Are Your Rights When It Comes to Your Apartment’s Pet Policy?

Most pet owners will say that their beloved pet is part of their family, but if you rent an apartment, condo or house, you may be subject to a few rules when it comes to pet ownership.

“Companion animals provide us with so much and are integral members of the family for most Americans,” says Katie Jarl, director of government affairs and policy at American Pets Alive!. “And for those with disabilities or special needs, these animals are actual lifesavers and awarded special protections under the law.”

Housing and rental restrictions are the leading causes for people to be forced to separate from their pets, Jarl says, making it essential for pet owners to know their rights, especially those with service animals and support animals. “It’s something that we need to tackle from a national perspective,” Jarl adds.

[READ: Can a Landlord Evict You Without a Court Order?]

Here’s what you need to know about your rights when it comes to your apartment’s pet policy.

— Apartment pet policies.

— What are your rights when it comes to service animals and support animals?

— Can a landlord deny a service animal or support animal?

— Talking to your landlord about your pet.

Apartment Pet Policies

Pet policies are conditions within rental leases that stipulate the terms for tenants and their pets. These policies lay out the rules for the landlord and the tenant when it comes to expectations and responsibilities surrounding pet ownership within the rental unit. Because your lease is legally binding, reading your lease and understanding these conditions is essential.

Standard guidelines within apartment pet policies include:

Breed restrictions. Many apartments enforce breed restrictions to avoid liability and potential damage to the property. Some insurance companies may also require breed restrictions before they will insure a multifamily building. Common dog breeds prohibited on rental properties include pit bulls, German shepherds and Rottweilers.

Type of pet allowed. The apartment building may allow cats and dogs, but the pet policy could restrict other kinds of pets like reptiles or birds.

Number of pets. Most apartment pet policies limit the number of pets to one or two within each unit.

Weight restrictions. Some policies may include a weight limit, which could also rule out many breeds of dogs. Bigger dogs could pose a risk to the apartment, plus, there’s also noise to consider. Most apartments that restrict dogs by their weight usually won’t allow any heavier than 25 pounds.

Pet deposit and pet rent amount. The landlord could impose fees associated with pet ownership within the unit, such as an upfront deposit and a “pet rent” amount added to your monthly rent.

No-pet policy. There may even be a no-pet clause within the lease. This means that no companion animals are allowed within the unit. However, there are exceptions for service animals and emotional support animals under federal law.

If necessary, landlords and housing facilities must allow service dogs and emotional support animals to live on the premises if a tenant has a disability-related need.

What Are Your Rights When It Comes to Service Animals and Support Animals?

“The federal Fair Housing Act protects tenants of most professionally managed units and requires that landlords make reasonable accommodations for not only specially trained ‘service’ dogs but also ‘support’ animals that assist with a physical or mental disability,” says Christopher Berry, managing attorney at the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “The Fair Housing Act applies to most but not all rental units so it’s important to determine whether it even applies.”

Service animals are also protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. “A service animal is defined by the ADA as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability and those tasks must be directly related to a person’s disability,” Jarl explains.

Per the Fair Housing Act, breed and weight restrictions do not apply to service animals or emotional support animals. Additionally, Jarl says that landlords cannot charge a tenant extra pet rent or pet deposits for service or emotional support animals.

[Read: What You Should Know About Tenant Rights.]

Can a Landlord Deny a Service Animal or Support Animal?

According to ServiceDogCertifications.org, landlords have the right to deny accommodation when the animal exhibits dangerous, unsafe or destructive behavior. Certain smaller landlords, such as owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units and single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent, are also exempt from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s assistance animal rules.

But if you are denied, Jarl encourages every person in that situation to reach out to either a national or state-based Disability Rights Legal Center. Another option is to file a complaint through the HUD. There’s even a section on the HUD website where you can file a complaint against the landlord denying you those rights.

“I always recommend that any individual that’s denied reach out to one of those legal centers to receive the legal help that they need to work with the landlord and make sure that their service or support animal is allowed in their housing,” Jarl says.

Talking To Your Landlord About Your Pet

According to Berry, landlords are required to allow service animals, but it’s up to the landlord as to whether or not they want to allow companion animals. “Local or state tenants’ associations and legal aid societies often have resources explaining applicable laws, which can help guide a tenant through the approval process,” Berry says.

For companion animals, The Humane Society of the United States recommends finding rental housing that welcomes all pets. While this can be difficult, you can increase your chances of success by giving yourself enough time to search for housing, researching animal-friendly listings and reaching out to family, friends, networking sites or social media.

You can also talk to the landlord about your companion animal and they may be willing to make an exception, even if they don’t meet weight or breed restrictions.

On the other hand, if you have a service or emotional support animal, you technically don’t have to disclose this information on the rental application due to privacy laws. However, Jarl says that the landlord may still ask for a certification to prove that your animal is a service animal or an emotional support animal. This is information she suggests prospective tenants have handy to present if they’re renting a new place.

ServiceDogCertifications.org says that landlords can verify a service dog by asking two questions: Is the dog a service dog required for a disability? What work or task has the job been trained to perform? These questions can only be asked if the disability-related need for the animal is not readily apparent. Also, landlords can never insist upon any documentation such as ID cards, registrations or certificates.

[READ: What You Should Know About Rising Average Apartment Rents]

However, ServiceDogCertifications.org adds that emotional support animals require a signed letter from a licensed health care professional such as a therapist, doctor or counselor. These letters are known as ESA letters and landlords are entitled to rely on them as verification of the tenant’s need for an emotional support animal.

Prospective tenants with pets should also be aware of federal and local laws when it comes to what is and what isn’t allowed. “Tenants with companion, service or support animals should familiarize themselves with their rights under federal, state and local laws so that they can make an informed decision about how best to approach their landlord,” Berry says.

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What Are Your Rights When It Comes to Your Apartment’s Pet Policy? originally appeared on usnews.com

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