Houston Landlord’s Guide to Pets, Service and Companion Animals

Houston Landlord’s Guide to Pets, Service and Companion Animals

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You may see a dog as simply a dog, but is it a pet or a service animal or a companion animal? This is an area of the law that’s extremely detailed and in some cases confusing. Houston landlords have been grappling with how to handle tenants who need service animals, emotional support animals, or other accommodations for physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities.

We can help clear up some of the confusion. As professional Houston property managers, we deal with service animals, pet policies, and everything in between on a daily basis. We’re discussing the difference between these animals, and what they mean for your Houston rental property.

Pets and Houston Rental Properties

Pets are easy. First, you have to decide if you’re going to allow them in your rental property. There are no laws that require you to do so, and tenants do not have an inherent right to move into a rental home with their pets. Typically, it’s a good idea to allow pets because it will reduce your vacancy time and allow you to earn more on your rental property. More than half the tenant pool in Texas has at least one pet. If you decide not to allow them, you’re eliminating more than half of your potential renters.

Charge a pet fee that’s non-refundable. This will give you a little extra insurance against the risk that pets can bring. You can also charge a pet rent every month, which increases your income and cash flow. Allowing pets also contributes to better tenant retention. Your tenants aren’t going to want to leave at the end of the lease term because they’ll only have to pay another pet fee elsewhere.

As long as you have a consistent pet policy in place, renting out a pet-friendly Houston home is typically more lucrative than not allowing pets.

Service Animals and Federal Law

While you do have the choice to allow or not allow pets, you have no such option when it comes to service animals.

Service animals are governed by two specific federal laws: the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Both of these laws protect people with physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities against discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas. According to these laws, you cannot deny a tenant the use of a service animal and you have to allow that animal into your property if the tenant is qualified to rent it. These animals are accommodations according to the law, not pets.

If you’re trying to wrap your head around that, think about service animals the same way you think about wheelchairs. You cannot say “No wheelchairs” when you’re renting out a home. This is the same reason you cannot say “No service animals.”

When you allow pets in your property, you can charge a pet deposit or a pet fee. You can also charge extra rent every month and call it pet rent. These additional charges are not permitted when your tenant has a service animal. You also cannot restrict breeds or put limits on the size or age of the animal.

Companion Animals vs. Service Animals

Service animals are trained to help a person do a specific task. They are always dogs, and it’s usually obvious what that animal is needed for, so you can’t ask for details or specifics. Asking a person to prove they need a Seeing Eye Dog is silly.

Companion animals are different. They’re often emotional support animals or therapy animals. These can be cats or dogs or even rabbits or other animals. They aren’t trained or certified, but they do support and comfort the person who owns them, and they’re acquired at the direction of a healthcare professional. You can ask for documentation if the disability is not immediately apparent and your tenant is requesting an emotional support animal or a companion animal.

Service animalsIt’s easy to make a mistake, and fair housing mistakes are expensive. If you have any questions about Houston property management or you’re uncertain about how to handle pets and service or companion animals, please don’t hesitate to contact us at OmniKey Realty. We work with rental property owners in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and surrounding areas in Dallas County, Collin County, and Houston County.

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