Responding to Late or Unpaid Rent
Under the Fair Housing Act and Washington State law, residential tenants with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations or modifications. Common accommodation requests include assistance animals, additional occupants for caregiving, reserved parking, or transfers. Assistance animals include any type of animal typically kept in households, require no training, and can be used to assist with any type of disability from blindness to depression. Modification requests include permission to install wheelchair ramps, handrails and other physical changes to the rental property. These types of modifications are generally done at the tenant's expense.
Failure to process requests appropriately is the cause for over 50% of all fair housing complaints, and most of these are about assistance animals. A fair housing complaint can result in thousands of dollars in fines, attorney fees, and other costs.
If the disability or need for the accommodation is not obvious, the housing provider can request a letter from the tenant's licensed care provider (doctor, therapist, clergy, etc.) stating that they are disabled and need the specific animal or other accommodation due to their disability. The housing provider can request specific documentation for each animal or other accommodation requested, but only if the need is not obvious.
If a request results in an unreasonable financial or administrative burden or would change the nature of the housing provider’s business, they must work with the tenant to find a reasonable alternative solution. If at any time a tenant requests an accommodation and it becomes challenging to find a mutually acceptable solution, consider consulting an attorney before denying the request.
The housing provider should think of the assistance animal as an extension of the tenant, like a wheelchair. Therefore, it follows that:
- They are prohibited from applying any fees or special policies, with one exception. It is OK to require that the animal is in compliance with local laws, including any license/vaccination requirements.
- If the animal disturbs other tenants, makes a mess, or damages property, they may serve notice to the tenant to comply with rules or vacate.
- The tenant may be held liable for any damage the animal (or wheelchair) does to property or persons.
In a multifamily building, other tenants may complain about the presence of an animal in a no-pets building. It is acceptable to explain that the animal's presence is due to a disability accommodation under the fair housing act, but do not share any details about the tenant or their disability.
For detailed guidance on accommodating assistance animals, see U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Guidance Document, Assessing a Person’s Request to Have an Animal as a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Fair Housing Act (FHEO Notice: FHEO-2020-01 issued January 28, 2020).
Processing Accommodation Requests
When processing an accommodation or modification request from a tenant with a disability, the housing provider can take steps to confirm that there is a disability-related need and that the request is reasonable.