RHAWA's Guide to Pets and Service Animals

Posted By: Jalen Charles Seattle Laws , Leasing , Maintenance ,

Pets and Service Animals are a subject that we get many calls to the RHAWA Resource Desk about from our members. Many people have some anxiety about this policy and having to allow an animal when they have a no pets policy. The decision to accept pets or not is up to you. There is an argument for accepting pets, especially in the single family home market, however service animals are quite different. There are some significant differences between Pets and Service Animals. Since most of the confusion has to do with service animals, let's talk about pets first.

Pets

Pets are domesticated animals that people keep for pleasure. Seattle loves it's pets. In fact, according to Buildium, people would rather pay pet rent or slightly higher rent so that they can have an animal. If you are willing to deal with some of the possible damage, there is a premium market for allowing pets. In Seattle, pet rent is allowed. However, pet deposits cannot exceed 25% of rent, per pet. If you have specific rules for pet waste, make sure to articulate those in the Pet Addendum. Please make sure to use the proper pet addendum for your situation. Those in Seattle must use the Pet Addendum (Seattle) and everyone else can use the regular, non-Seattle Pet Addendum. RHAWA is known for it's extensive library of forms and this is another area where we have tried to make handling pets in your rental as easy as possible. For pets, it's also great to review any classes or certifications that they might have. A well-behaved pet makes for a great 4-legged tenant! Dogs are very popular in Washington, especially in the Western Washington market. There are some great things you can do to make sure that your rental is ready for pets:

Getting Ready for Pets:
  • Make sure all fencing is in good repair and the yard is closed
  • If you're replacing floors, use laminates and other scratch resistant flooring
  • Ask your tenants to put dog bowls on a plastic tray (saves from spills)
  • Simplify any landscaping that might get dug out
Service Animals

Service Animals is an umbrella classification that includes companion animals, therapy animals, and comfort animals. You may see/hear any or all of these names. You've probably already seen a service animal working at an airport or with someone who suffers from seizures or blindness. However, due to more veterans and others using animals as a help to function with PTSD and other mental health concerns ranging from anxiety to various challenges, Animals working in an emotional capacity are now common in rental housing. A service animal isn't a pet and can't be treated as such. This is also an area where you cannot discriminate as disability is a protected class. Breed, size and weight limitations also don't apply. However, this is an area of reasonable accommodation. If the accommodation can be made easily then it's considered reasonable. A 2006 HUD memo states that "If a housing providers insurance carrier would cancel, substantially increase the costs of the insurance policy or adversely change the policy terms because of the presence of a certain breed of dog or a certain animals HUD will find that this imposes undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider." That being said, RHAWA recommends that if someone approaches you and applies with a service animal (or has a need during the tenancy) then you should accommodate them. If animal behavior becomes a problem, you can issue a 10 day Comply or Vacate Notice. The animal is an extension of the tenant and the animals actions can be regulated in a similar manner.

Here's what you can do:
  • You can ask for doctor's verification of disability as long as the disability isn't obvious to you (this covers emotional support, comfort, and companion animals)
  • You can ask if the animal has any training or certification
  • You can issue a 10 Day Comply or Vacate Notice if the service animal is causing damage or other problems
  • Call RHAWA or an attorney for advice
Here's what you can't do:
  • You can't restrict tenancy based on service animals
  • You can't deny someone because they have a service animal