When is a Snake a Companion Animal?

Posted by Teresa on March 17, 2011 under Landlord and Tenant FAQs | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screening, tenant credit checkMost landlords and property managers know that whether or not pets are allowed in their rental properties, exceptions must be made to accommodate companion and service animals for the disabled, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But what functions as a service animal for a tenant might not look like a service animal to you.

A landlord might wonder how a bird or a snake could be used as a service animal. After all, it’s not as though they help the tenant cross the street.

Rental property owners and managers must remember that not all disabilities can be seen. For example, people who suffer seizures sometimes use boa constrictors to warn them of a coming seizure. The snakes gently squeeze their owners when they feel a seizure coming on, so the person can take medication or remove him or herself from a stressful setting.

Cats and ferrets are sometimes used by individuals who experience anxiety. The animals might serve to calm them down when during air or water travel. And a parakeet can help a person with severe depression by acting as the focus of the person’s care and attention. In this way, the bird improves the person’s daily functioning—which is the definition of a companion animal.

The ADA rule covering companion animals requires tenants to obtain certification by a medical professional that the animal is necessary to relieve the disability. If a tenant has such an order, then the rental property owner or manager must make reasonable accommodations for the animal. And remember, service animals are not pets.

The U.S. Department of Justice is currently trying to define service animals. Last year, it received thousands of comments when it announced plans to exclude from the definition wild animals and service animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, and companionship, and to promote emotional well-being. We will keep you posted on what the DOJ decides!

Pre-screen all tenants as part of your standard application process. Background and credit checks will help ensure you rent to qualified tenants. For more landlord resources, including forms and information on tenant screening, turn to E-Renter.com.

Rejecting a Tenant Application

Posted by Teresa on June 18, 2009 under Fair Housing Act, Screening and Background Checks, Tenant Credit Checks, Tenant Screening & Background Checks | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

Rejecting Tenant ApplicantWhat are your risks when considering applicants for your rental property? Even in these tough times, you cannot approve every applicant. It’s important to know your parameters when you must reject a potential tenant.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discriminating against tenants on the basis of race, religion, sex, disability, or national origin. Some states have laws making it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or marital status.

Of course there are legitimate reasons to turn down an applicant. Just be sure to document your process thoroughly and to be fair and consistent with each applicant—so you are well prepared if you’re ever accused of discrimination.

Here are some legitimate reasons to turn down a rental applicant:

Income level: It is legal to use a prospective tenant’s income as a basis to approve or reject their application. Be sure to check the income of all tenants on the application to avoid any potential problems.

Bad Credit History: Prior bankruptcies or low credit score are objective criteria for rejecting tenants.

Exceeding Occupancy: You do not have to rent to a family of six applying to rent your one-bedroom apartment.

Inadequate Rental History: You may require a reasonable number of positive rental references, and reject an applicant based on a negative reference from a previous landlord.

Past Eviction: If an applicant has ever been evicted, you may reject the application. However, if he or she won an eviction lawsuit brought by a previous landlord, you cannot hold the lawsuit against them.

Criminal Record: If an applicant has been convicted of a crime, it is probably enough reason to reject their application. Take care, however, to make a distinction between an arrest and a conviction.

Pets: If you do not allow pets in your rental unit, you may reject a pet-owning applicant. However, be aware of how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) views therapy pets. You may have to make an exception to your no-pet rule to accommodate a disabled tenant.

As always, staying consistent with procedures is extremely important—especially when considering whom to approve or reject as tenants. Keep your paperwork in tip-top shape, and follow the same process with each applicant. Favoring any person or type of person over another is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Your best practice is to run credit and background checks on each applicant. Screening tenants is quick, easy, and inexpensive—and it could potentially save you thousands in legal fees. Use the facts—just the facts—to determine whether or not you approve an applicant.