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Can a Landlord Charge a Pet Fee or Security Deposit for a Service Animal?

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The Federal Fair Housing Act does not allow landlords to discriminate based on disability. However, the scenarios surrounding this law may not appear cut and dry; each situation can look different. Therefore it is essential to look at every scenario individually and take action accordingly. 

Seeking a Rental with a Service Animal

Let’s go over a common event when landlords accept service animals but still require a pet security deposit.

Typically, a landlord —or their designee—schedules a rental unit showing with a prospective tenant. When the tenant attends the showing, she brings her Golden Retriever with her. She discloses that her dog is trained to monitor her for impending seizures. The landlord happily approves the tenant for the rental. However, the landlord also expects a pet security deposit, to ensure that the unit remains in good condition. The landlord states that they can offer her 20% off the usual pet fee and pet security deposit because her dog is a service dog. 

Service dog requirement list (infographic).
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1. What Does the Federal Fair Housing Act Say?

Does the pet fee and pet security deposit request, even at a discounted rate, violate the Federal Fair Housing Act? 

According to the Federal Fair Housing Act, a landlord discriminates against a disability if the landlord refuses to provide “reasonable accommodation.” This means an individual with a disability should have the same opportunities to live within a rental as a person without a disability. 

Since the service animal performs a specific task required for a disability, the Golden Retriever is more than a pet. The dog is a service animal and a necessity for its owner. Therefore, the pet fee and pet security deposit do not apply to service animals. 

Examples of service dog tasks (infographic).

2. How Does a Service Animal Relate to a Person’s Disability?

People often forget that although a service animal is an animal, it’s much more than that. The service animal helps fulfill a specific task that an individual with a disability needs for safety or for daily life. A service animal is a critical medical tool to overcome a disability. To charge an additional fee for the service animal would be like charging an individual for using a cane or a wheelchair—the service dog is a vital “tool” to the owner to overcome the disadvantages of their disability.

Charging a person with a disability a pet security deposit for their service animal is unethical. 

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3. Who Pays for Damages? 

Does this mean that a person with a disability would never need to pay for damages incurred by their service animal?

Of course, they do. No matter how well-trained a service animal is, they’re still animals. Accidents happen. If the rental property sustains damages from a service animal, then the fees would come out of the usual security deposit or need to be paid for by the owner of the service animal. 

A pet security deposit cannot be demanded because of the service animal. Instead, any service animal damages—aside from usual wear and tear—would be treated like any others would. The only difference is that the damage would be classified as done by the owner, not charged as damages done by a pet. 

However, if a service animal owner fails to demonstrably care for their animal—fails to toilet them properly or keep them clean—then the issue can be reported as a situation of animal neglect.

It’s always essential, in any residence, for service animal owners to care for their pets well and respect the rights of others around them. 

Service dog test helps evaluate the readiness of the dog (infographic).

4. What If the Landlord Does Not Allow Pets At All?

If a landlord doesn’t allow pets, can a service animal still reside in the rental unit?

Yes! Remember, service animals are more than pets. A legitimate service animal is part of an individual’s treatment and care, they are considered a medical tool to assist in a person’s disability. By law service animals are allowed in residences and most anywhere their handler wants to take them. According to the Animal Legal and Historical Center, landlords may not ask for medical records, a doctor’s note, or prohibit an animal due to species or breed.

A landlord cannot deny a service dog based on its breed.
A landlord cannot deny a service dog based on its breed.

Be a Good Service Animal Owner

Each service animal owner is a representative of other owners, so it’s essential to approach disagreements responsibly and respectfully. Prepare yourself beforehand. Gather your documentation and have your questions and answers ready before seeking rental housing or engaging in disputes. 

Most landlords will be aware of service animal laws and readily accommodate them. For others, they may only see animals as pets. These landlords may benefit from a referral to Federal Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Act laws. Service animals are much more than pets—they’re a vital intervention for a disability. 

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