Companion animals are also known as emotional support animals or therapeutic animals. Companion animals are a form of assistive animal under fair housing laws. As a form of assistive animal, there is no difference between a companion animal and a service animal. Recently the number of companion animal requests are going through the roof. It is important for landlords to adopt and have policies in place to deal with companion animal requests.
Companion animal requests are skyrocketing for several reasons. Money makes the world go round, and thus is the primary driver of the rapidly increasing number of companion animal requests. Because the companion animal is not a pet under fair housing laws, landlords cannot charge pet fees, pet deposits, or pet rent. Savvy tenants know this. So now Fido’s owner is much more likely to suffer from depression. Websites spread the word that tenants do not have to pay pet fees for companion animals. Websites also encourage tenants to claim their dog or cat as a companion animal by selling assistive animal documentation, for a fee. Specifically, websites will certify an animal as a “certified service animal”. Websites also sell letters (prescriptions) that document a tenant’s need for a companion animal.
The ever-increasing number of companion animal requests has everyone talking and complaining. As a whole the industry is fed up with the situation, especially because more and more of these requests appear, on the surface, to be made for the blatant reason of avoiding pet related costs. The illegitimate requests also have the unfortunate effect of delegitimizing the requests of disabled persons who truly benefit from a companion animal. Being fed up is one thing. Being committed to do something about it is an entirely different matter. Without a substantial ongoing commitment, you will never correctly handle a large number of companion animal requests at acceptable risk levels.
Commitment means devoting substantial resources on a continuing basis to ensure each companion animal request is handled timely and correctly. Correctly means granting legitimate companion animal requests, and denying companion animal requests that do not satisfy applicable legal tests. Generic or basic fair housing training won’t cut it. Your team (meaning the entire team from regional managers to assistant managers) will need to be proficient in handling and evaluating companion animal requests. The better educated your team, the less time these requests will take. If you are unsure about a situation it is always smart to discuss it with your legal counsel.