Law You Can Use: What Renters Should Know About Keeping Pets

JoeBurkeLogo_presented3Q: My landlord doesn’t allow pets. I just got an aquarium as a gift. Will I have to get rid of my fish?

A: Technically, yes. Under Ohio Revised Code §5321.05, a tenant must obey all local health and other ordinances and also must not disturb her/his neighbors. However, fish in an aquarium probably wouldn’t violate either obligation, and your landlord is unlikely to pursue a costly eviction action over fish. It would be wise to get the landlord’s permission, though, and to realize that you would be responsible for any damage, for example, if the aquarium leaks or breaks.

Q: A relative will be staying with me while she looks for a new home. She has a dog, and my apartment does not allow pets. If I let the dog stay here for a few weeks, am I risking eviction?

A: Yes, if there is a “no pets” clause and the animal is a “companion” as opposed to a “service” animal. If her dog is a service animal, however, you likely will not risk eviction, but could still attract negative attention from neighbors or your landlord. It would be wise to alert your landlord to the situation before your relative arrives.

Joseph Burke Law_WEB4Q: What’s the difference between a service animal and a companion animal?

A: The Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) definition of a “service” animal almost exclusively applies to dogs (with one notable exception for miniature horses). Service animals are individually trained to perform specific tasks for a person with a disability (such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, or calming a person with post-traumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack). Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals.

The “companion” animal definition also generally applies to dogs, but can include other types of animals, such as cats, birds, lizards, etc. Companion animals may or may not be trained for specific tasks. Rather, their purpose is to provide companionship to mentally or emotionally impaired people. A landlord may restrict companion animals from public areas (such as a pool), whereas service animals must be allowed in public areas.

Q: My dog is my companion because I have a disability. My landlord has a “no pets” policy and wants to charge me extra for my dog if I rent from him. Is he allowed to do that?

A: Generally, no. Federal housing law requires fair access to housing and reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. Courts have said that waiving a “no pets” lease provision is a reasonable accommodation for someone who requires a “companion” animal for physical or emotional support. If you require a companion animal, your landlord must waive the “no pets” provision and cannot charge you an extra “pet deposit.” If your dog is a specially trained “service animal,” you are even more likely to be protected from possible landlord overreaching.

Q: Must I give my landlord proof of my disability in order to keep a companion or service animal?

A: No. You need not provide proof for either a companion or a service animal. If a landlord says “no animals” and challenges you, a note from your doctor wouldn’t hurt, but the landlord can’t require this.

Q: What if my dog damages my apartment?

A: If either a service or a companion dog damages your unit or a common area, the landlord can charge you for the cost of repairing the damage, including taking a deduction from a security deposit, as long as the landlord’s standard practice is to assess tenants for causing damage to the premises.

A landlord does not have to accommodate any “companion animal” that is or becomes so unruly or disruptive, unclean and/or unhealthy that the animal’s behavior or condition directly threatens the health or safety of other tenants. A landlord can request copies of the animal’s health records and require that all companion animals be properly vaccinated. Also, you must observe all local leash laws or ordinances and properly dispose of all animal waste.

It is possible, but more difficult, for a landlord to remove a “service animal” if it becomes a threat to the health or safety of other tenants.

This Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by attorney Doug Holthus of Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder’s Columbus office. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek the advice of a licensed attorney.

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