With many different laws governing service animals, it can be confusing as to which ones apply to housing providers and what questions they are allowed to ask. This article will review the different laws that come into play, highlight which ones directly affect housing providers, and share tips to help you navigate this sometimes confusing process.
By The Fair Housing Institute
Does the ADA Law Apply to Housing?
Even though the Americans with Disabilities Act is very important, it doesn’t apply to housing except for maybe the leasing office, as it is a public place. Generally, ADA laws apply to operators of public places, such as Target. The ADA also limits the types of animals providing support to dogs or, in rare cases, miniature horses, which we are not allowed to do as housing providers.
This is where some confusion can take place. The ADA limits what business owners can ask regarding the animal to: “Is that a trained service dog?” and “What work is the animal trained to do?” They are not allowed to ask for written verification.
So when housing providers ask for verification of need, often they are met with the resident referencing this law and stating that they do not need to provide proof of need. This leaves us with the task of informing them that this applies under the American Disabilities Act, but the ADA does not pertain to housing and that the Fair Housing Act permits verification when the disability and the need for the animal are not observable.
For example, if you can see that the animal is a guide dog, then you shouldn’t be asking for verification. But if it’s a dog that is a service animal for disabilities such as hearing problems or to alert someone that they’re about to have a seizure, you can’t see that when you talk to the resident. In that case, you can ask for verification. And if they say to you that’s not permitted, then you have to clarify: “I’m asking you this not under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but under the Fair Housing Act.”
HUD and Support Animals
HUD defines support animals that do work, perform tasks, provide assistance, or provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities.
HUD also clarifies the difference between domesticated animals kept in the home (traditional) and non-traditional unique animals such as goats, pigs, chickens, snakes, etc. HUD states that the resident has a substantial burden to be able to show that they need a unique animal as an assistance animal. Now, it is not impossible to justify a unique animal. Still, a resident is going to have to explain in more detail than with a usual animal why they need their snake as an emotional support animal.
HUD also addresses multiple animal requests, again placing the burden of proof on the verifier as to why one animal isn’t enough. HUD has also made it very clear that going online and getting your pet registered or certified on some website by paying money is irrelevant to the question of whether this is an assistance animal that should be approved to live in housing as a reasonable accommodation. If someone hands you one of those registrations or online certifications, you can hand it back to the resident and let them know that it is not adequate to verify their need for an assistance animal.
HUD has made it very clear it considers those websites as taking advantage of people— wasting their money—because those registrations are irrelevant to the question of whether you approve their reasonable accommodation or not.
The Fair Housing Act and Reasonable Accommodations
We have discussed how the ADA—while important—does not apply to housing, and we reviewed HUD guidelines that create the framework for how housing providers should view assistance animals and the questions they are allowed to ask. But how does that come together with the Fair Housing Act?
When we look at the Fair Housing Act and Section 504, we don’t care whether an animal is a service animal or an emotional support animal. It doesn’t matter; we don’t need to ask different questions. We only want to know if the resident is disabled, meets the definition of disability, and if that animal is necessary to assist them because of their disability. That’s all you need to be concerned with when you’re verifying a request for a reasonable accommodation.
When your property is looking at a request for an assistance animal, you need to have a very detailed procedure that all staff members follow. First of all, the process should be done in writing, complete with a section for the verifier. To be a reliable verifier, the verifier has to have personal knowledge about the resident and should be providing the resident with medical or mental health services, and not merely providing a verification letter or filling out a form.
Suppose you find yourself in the situation of turning someone down because you don’t think their verification is reliable. In that case, you need to conduct a meeting explaining why you are not going to accept or grant their request and attempt to resolve their request; of course, documenting everything along the way.
Fair Housing and Assistance Animals Final Takeaway
As we have discussed, there can be a few pitfalls to understanding the different laws that come into play regarding assistance animals and housing. Regular training is essential to help everyone know which laws apply and how to follow them to ensure fair housing compliance.
About the author:
In 2005, The Fair Housing Institute was founded as a company with one goal: to provide educational and entertaining fair-housing compliance training at an affordable price at the click of a button.
Under RCW 59.18.630, the Housing Provider is prohibited from taking actions to collect debt (including use of security deposit) or any other adverse action for rental arrears incurred between February 29, 2020 and "six months after the end of the public health emergency,"* UNLESS they have first offered a reasonable payment plan to the tenant where each installment is no greater than 1/3 of rent and the first installment is due no less than 30 days after the date of the offer.
*While the Eviction Moratorium has ended, the WA State Public Health State of Emergency is still ongoing. The moratorium ended 30 June, so Late fees can now be charged. Under RCW 59.18.625, late fees, interest or any other charges associated with non-payment of rent for all rent due between March 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021 are prohibited. Late rent fees are permitted on rent due January 1, 2022 or later.
We are excited to announce that you can now secure your trade show booth for our in-person conference, Trends 2022. Please visit the following link below to reserve your space:
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Please let me know if you have any questions.
We hope to see you there!
Owner, Proper Planning
Innovative Experiences, Passionate Planners!
Hearing on HB 1904, Rent Increase Notice and Tenant Lease Break Bill, on Tuesday, January 18th at 8:00 am
Hello WLA Members:
Below is the Call to Action on our opposition of HB 1904, protecting tenants from excessive rent and related fees by providing at least six months' notice for rent increases over a certain amount, allowing tenants the right to terminate a tenancy, and limiting late fees.
The bill is schedule for a hearing on Tuesday, January 18 at 8:00 a.m. in the House Housing, Human Services Veterans Committee. We need all our members to sign in OPPOSE on the bill.
Currently there are over 400 people signed up PRO. We need our members to take action right away.
Chester Baldwin, Attorney at Law
Public Affairs Consulting, LLC
Cell: (360) 688-4588
Fax: (360) 841-7062
Please Note: You cannot sign up to provide verbal testimony after 7:00 a.m. on January 18th. You can provide written testimony up to 24 hours after the hearing concludes.
HB 1904 - Bill Summary:
· Requires housing providers to give between 180 and 220 days notice for all rent increases over 3%
· The bill specifies the increase notice applies to "base rent" and does not apply to utility costs.
· Requires housing providers to inform the tenant when they receive the notice of rent increase that they may terminate the tenancy at any time and cannot be held liable for rent after vacating.
· Removes the 20 days notice requirement for a tenant to terminate a tenancy if a rent increase notice of 3% or more is given.
· Allows a tenant who pays the increased rent after not receiving the proper notice to sue the housing provider for the excess rent, damages, and attorney's fees
· Caps late fees at 1.5% of the monthly rent.
· This bill puts an unreasonable expectation on housing providers to predict the rental housing environment over 180 days in advance.
· The bill incentivizes housing providers to regularly increase their rents and punishes housing providers for not increasing rent each renewal.
· Giving tenants the ability to terminate a lease at any point after receiving a rent increase steps between a private contract between two parties. Tenants would be able to violate or break the lease unilaterally which leaves housing providers concerned if their lease will be upheld.
· Housing providers need time to find a new tenant once their current tenant decides to vacate. Allowing tenants to vacate, whether on month to month or a fixed term lease, without 20 days notice leaves housing providers liable for their own bills without the assurance of rent. More often then not they will be unable to find a new tenant before their bills are due the next month.
· Late fees are designed to incentivize tenants to pay rent on time. A nominal fee provides little incentive and invalidates the purpose of the fee.
Written criteria for Applicants -- written by marcia gohman, Head of the National tenant Network (NTN)
I don't want to be a Grinch, especially so close to Christmas, but I've just heard about another landlord who is in trouble because they didn't have written criteria and the applicants are very annoyed to be denied.
You are required by law, in both Oregon and Washington, to have written criteria. This criteria should inform the applicant about the requirements needed to be accepted for the property. It should also inform them about things that could result in a denial.
Your criteria should have details about rent to income standards, credit standing, verification of employment and rental history and criminal history.
Yes, you need to have written criteria even if you are not charging a screening fee. Otherwise you leave yourself open to disputes that could be costly.
It's one piece of paper that should be included with every application, and one which will save you a lot of headaches!
I suggest you have the applicant initial or sign the criteria sheet to signify that they have read it before completing an application.
*Any Rental Owner's Association should have one you can purchase. Don't write your own; you could get yourself in trouble.
If you need help finding a good Criteria Sheet, please call or email me and I'll be happy to direct you.
Now I'm going to try to get rid of this angry green tinge I've got, and get back to my holiday happiness.
Grrrrrrrrrrr! I mean, Merry Christmas!
NTN - Northwest
503-635-1118 or 888-989-1686
*PLEAE NOTE: WLA has a Tenant Criteria Sheet that landlords can use. It is located under FORMS>Tenant Screening Forms. The PDF is titled: 2. Notice to Applicant for Tenancy Sample. You will need your 4-digit passcode to access the FORMS page.
We are moving to a new software program for 2022. Currently, we are having a new website being built that is compatible with the new software. We appreciate your patience while we improve our services.
Dues renewal is around the corner! The Dues for 2022 will be $75. The dues renewal notices will be sent out via email in January of 2022. While the website it being worked on, you can contact any of the four WLA offices to make a dues payment. If you already made a dues payment for 2022, please disregard this message.
The Washington Landlord Association
A new state law says landlords must have a “good” or legal reason for not renewing a rental agreement, ending (terminating) a tenancy, or evicting a tenant. This new law (House Bill 1236) went into effect on May 10, 2021. The new law lists what counts as a “good” reason to ask a tenant to leave the rental unit or to evict a tenant.
Please see the PDF below to view the list of "good" reasons for asking a tenant to leave.
"Good" Reasons for Ending a Tenancy - PDF LINK
Web Link: WashingtonLawHelp.org | Helpful information about the law in Washington.
After 19 months, the state’s pandemic-related eviction moratorium will end Sunday (October 31st, 2021). Gov. Jay Inslee confirmed Thursday there will be no more extensions.
“We’ve done about all we can do,” Inslee said during a news conference. “We’ve given [counties and cities] millions and millions of dollars of cash, and it’s up to them to get it distributed.”
Some counties have done better at that than others, said Jim Henderson, lobbyist for the Rental Housing Association of Washington. For example, Pierce County has been touted at the federal level as one of the most efficient counties in the country at disbursing the rental assistance funds, he said.
Many of the agencies distributing aid across the state have “picked up the pace,” Inslee said, adding that his bridge program will provide a right to counsel for tenants and prevents anyone from facing immediate eviction.
Last month, Inslee extended the moratorium, which started in March 2020, through the end of October. At some point it needs to come to an end, he said.
“We can’t have an economy, ultimately, where nobody pays rent,” he said. “You have to have some transition and we are moving to that transition.”
That transition has yet to come for the renters in Seattle, where the moratorium has been extended through Jan. 15. It had been set to expire Sept. 30 after being activated over a year and half earlier, on March 14, 2020.
Now that the state moratorium is over, Henderson said, landlords can begin the process of connecting delinquent renters to resources and information so they can get the assistance they need.
Mediation and dispute resolution centers, which are part of the state's Eviction Resolution Pilot Program, connects tenants to resources who may have yet to navigate the assistance system.
“This doesn't mean the assistance doesn’t go away,” Henderson said of the expiration. “When you have a resident that is unable to pay rent we can give them all this information which helps them get help."
Source: Puget Sound Business Journal | Article Link: Washington state eviction moratorium set to end Sunday after 19 months - Puget Sound Business Journal (bizjournals.com)
What to look out for when you are screening applicants during the Winter months!
by Marcia Gohman - Head of the tenant screening company, NTN-Northwest
Greetings! I’m sending out this note because the “Silly Season” has kicked off EARLY!! In normal times we see maybe two or three sex offenders in a month. Today I encountered my FIFTH one for this week!! It’s crazy!
Be sure you have written screening criteria, and make the applicants sign it. You can be fined if you fail to give the applicant written screening criteria. Criteria helps the applicants to know that you will be checking all of their information carefully.
Now, back to our regular “Silly Season”…
Trying to rent your place any time between Thanksgiving and the New Year? Be very careful! This is the time of year that we call, “The Silly Season”. If you think about it, who would want to move this close to Christmas? Nobody in their right mind! That's who! Many of us already have Christmas Decorations up; we have purchased a tree or lights and other assorted decor for our homes, front porches, and lawns.
So why would someone be moving this time of year? Because they HAVE to!
Typically the applications we see from December to January 1st have the most inventive information and the most interesting Criminal reports we see all year.
So what do we do? We take things very slowly. Pay more attention to how the application is filled out, check picture ID more carefully, and ask for a recent pay stub. If the applicant is in a BIG Hurry, you tell them it will take you five days to complete your verification process.
And no matter how tempting, remember that almost everyone who offers to pay you six months’ rent in advance is a recreational pharmaceutical salesperson. (Drug Dealer)
Verify all telephone numbers. Just today I have found that one phone number was a family member, and one was to a friend who runs a storage facility. The applicant listed that she lived in #6. How did I find that? Google Earth. It's a great tool for landlords! Plug in the address and see what comes up!
Does it appear to be an apartment community? A house? Or is it a strip mall or office complex?
If you are given what appears to be a single-family residence address, you can find the county tax assessor and get the owner's name and address. Many counties have a Tax Assessor web site where you can enter the address and find the owner. You still have to find the phone number; use Whitepage.com or Truepeoplesearch.com which might be even better, and I'm considering using them more than the other options.
You can also just Google the phone number.
If the applicant gives you a number for his/her employer, you can internet search it and see if the number belongs to the company or is a friend's cell phone number. After searching up the company info I call them directly rather than the number provided. Many employers also have an email for HR on their web site.
One of my favorite tricks, when I know I’m going to talk to a friend or family member, is to call and ask about the rental I heard they have. The family member automatically says, “What?!? We don’t have rentals!”, and bingo. You have verified a fib on the application.
I know, I know. This sounds like a LOT of extra work. But it will pay off in the end. You don’t want to start out your New Year looking for lawyers, or stuck with a bad tenant, because you didn’t verify that “One little Thing”..
There are good people moving, so don’t lose hope. Yes, we have all the COVID stuff, and we’re still working with people displaced from the fires last year. Just be careful and take things slowly.
Once we get to January the company transfers go out and the better applicants re-appear. Until then, just remember. ‘Tis the Season!!
WLA Office Staff