Service Animals: Everything Landlords Need to Know in Birmingham, Alabama

Service Animals: Everything Landlords Need to Know in Birmingham, Alabama

As a landlord in Birmingham, Alabama, it's important to understand the nuances and regulations surrounding service animals.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore what qualifies as a service animal versus a pet, whether landlords can refuse or deny service animals, additional requirements that may come into play, and more. By the end of this article, you will have a complete understanding of service animals and the guidelines that pertain to them in Birmingham, Alabama.

Let’s dive in!

What is Considered a Service Animal Versus a Pet?

Before delving into the specifics, it's crucial to distinguish between service animals and pets. A service animal, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is an animal that is individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. These tasks may include guiding those with visual impairments, providing medication reminders, or alerting their owners to oncoming seizures. In contrast, pets are kept for companionship and do not receive specialized training to perform these tasks.

Emotional support animals (ESAs) and therapy animals are not considered service animals under the ADA. While ESAs and therapy animals provide comfort and support, they do not undergo the same extensive training as service animals and thus have different legal protections and restrictions.

Can a Landlord Refuse a Service Animal?

In general, under the ADA, landlords must make reasonable accommodations to allow people with disabilities to have service animals in their rental units, even if the property has a strict "no pets" policy. Landlords cannot charge additional pet fees or deposits for service animals either. Your resident screening criteria also must not discriminate against residents with disabilities.

However, there are cases where a landlord may have valid reasons to deny a service animal. If the animal poses a direct threat to the safety or health of others, such as aggressive behavior or causing significant property damage, the landlord may be able to refuse it. Additionally, if the animal is not housebroken or is out of control, the landlord may have grounds for denial.

It's essential to consult the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and seek legal advice before denying a service animal to ensure compliance with federal and state laws.

Additional Service Animal Requirements

In addition to the basic regulations surrounding service animals, there are a few more requirements that may apply. Firstly, the ADA only recognizes dogs and miniature horses as service animals. Other types of animals, such as cats or birds, do not qualify under federal law. Secondly, service animals must be trained to behave appropriately in public settings. If an animal exhibits disruptive or aggressive behavior, the owner may be asked to remove it from the premises.

It's also important for landlords to understand that they cannot require service animals to wear special vests or markings, nor can they inquire about the specific nature of a resident’s disability. Landlords are only allowed to ask whether the animal is required due to a disability and what tasks or functions it is trained to perform.

What Documentation is Needed for a Service Animal?

Landlords may request documentation to verify that an animal is indeed a service animal; however, the type of documentation they can request is limited. Under the ADA, landlords are only allowed to ask for "reliable documentation" if the disability and the need for the service animal are not obvious.

While there is no specific requirement for what constitutes reliable documentation, it may include a letter from a healthcare professional or a certification from a recognized service animal training program. Landlords cannot request proof of training or certification for the service animal itself, as there is no legally recognized national certification for service animals.

How Should Residents Submit Documentation for a Service Animal?

If residents wish to request accommodation for a service animal, they should follow a specific process to submit documentation. Firstly, they should notify the landlord in writing about their disability and the need for a service animal. While there is no specific timeline for notification, it's in the best interest of the resident to inform the landlord as soon as possible.

Residents should also include any reliable documentation supporting their request that clearly establishes the need for the service animal due to a disability. Sharing information about the tasks or functions the animal is trained to perform can further strengthen their case.

It's advised for residents to maintain copies of all correspondence related to their service animal request for future reference, if necessary.

When Can a Service Animal be Added to a Lease?

If a resident decides to add a service animal to an existing lease, there are a few key considerations for landlords. Firstly, landlords cannot charge additional pet fees or deposits for service animals. Additionally, landlords cannot require residents to obtain additional liability insurance specifically for the service animal.

However, if the service animal causes damage to the rental unit beyond normal wear and tear, the landlord may still deduct the cost of repairs from the security deposit. Residents must ensure their service animal is well-behaved and does not cause excessive damage to the property.

Lastly, if a resident violates the lease terms or fails to control the service animal, the landlord may have grounds for eviction. It's crucial for both parties to uphold their respective responsibilities to create a harmonious living environment.

Final Thoughts

As a landlord in Birmingham, Alabama, it's crucial to be well-informed about the rights and responsibilities surrounding service animals. Understanding the distinction between service animals and pets, knowing when a landlord can refuse or deny a service animal, familiarizing yourself with additional requirements, and knowing the necessary documentation and procedures to follow will help you navigate this aspect of rental property management smoothly.

By being knowledgeable and respectful of the laws and regulations surrounding service animals, you can create an inclusive and accommodating environment for people with disabilities, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy safe and comfortable housing in Birmingham, Alabama.

Looking for a Birmingham property management company to assist with all the above? Contact our local team today!