Property Management Insider's Tim Blackwell looks at the legal issues surrounding companion animals in multifamily communities that don't normally allow pets—and the problems that can arise even at pet-friendly properties.

While service and companion animals must be accommodated according to fair housing laws, sometimes tenants claim their animals fit such a bill when in fact those residents are attempting to skirt the rules. So, understanding the rights of service- or companion-animal owners, and the ins and outs of fair housing laws, is critical.

Lynn Dover, an attorney for Kimball, Tirey & St. John who specializes in fair housing law, said companion animals are getting a lot of attention these days. She and the firm have handled a number of complaints from property managers wanting to know what they should do when a resident says his or her pet is a companion or emotional support animaland may even provide documentationbut it appears the animal is a pet.

“We get a lot of calls from owners and managers about people who appear to be using the laws to get around the no-pet rules or the restrictions on the type, size or breed of pets that they are allowed to have, or to get around paying a security deposit or pet rent,” Dover said. “The difficulty is if they provide verification of the disability and disability-related need for the animal, there isn’t much the housing provider can do without subjecting themselves to potential liability.”

But owners are allowed to ask for verification that the resident's pet is needed because of a physical or emotional disability, and can hold assistance animals up to conduct standards.

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