Service Animals: Everything Landlords Need to Know in Memphis, Tennessee

Service Animals: Everything Landlords Need to Know in Memphis, Tennessee

As a landlord in Memphis, Tennessee, you need to understand the rules and regulations surrounding service animals. Service animals play a crucial role in the lives of people with disabilities, and it is important to provide reasonable accommodations for them.

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about service animals in Memphis, Tennessee. Let’s dive in!

What is Considered a Service Animal Versus a Pet?

Let’s start by distinguishing between a service animal and a pet. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is defined as a dog that is individually trained to perform tasks or do work for a person with a disability. These tasks must be directly related to the person's disability and help them with daily activities. Service animals are not considered pets and are afforded certain rights and protections under the law.

Service animals are highly trained to assist their handlers in a variety of ways. For example, a service dog may be trained to guide a visually impaired person, alert a person with hearing loss to sounds, or provide stability and balance for someone with mobility impairments. These tasks are specifically tailored to meet the needs of the individual and enable them to navigate the world with greater independence and confidence.

While dogs are the most common type of service animal, other animals can also be trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. These may include miniature horses, which are sometimes used as service animals for people with mobility impairments due to their strength and size.

Unlike service animals, pets do not undergo specialized training to perform tasks for people with disabilities. Pets are primarily kept for companionship and emotional support. While pets can provide comfort and improve well-being, they do not have the same legal rights and protections as service animals. It is important to respect the distinction between service animals and pets to ensure that those with disabilities can fully benefit from the assistance provided by their service animals.

In addition, service animals are not limited to helping with physical disabilities; they can also be trained to assist people with psychiatric disabilities. These animals, known as psychiatric service dogs, are trained to perform specific tasks that help their handlers manage their mental health conditions. For example, a psychiatric service dog may be trained to interrupt self-harming behaviors, provide deep pressure therapy during anxiety attacks, or create a physical barrier between their handler and others in crowded spaces to alleviate social anxiety.

The training process for service animals is rigorous and time-consuming. It typically involves extensive obedience training, task-specific training, and public access training to ensure that they are well-behaved and able to perform their tasks reliably in various environments. Service animals also undergo regular evaluations to maintain their skills and behavior.

Can a Landlord Refuse a Service Animal?

As a landlord in Memphis, Tennessee, you may be wondering if you have the right to refuse or deny a service animal. The answer is no. Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, including allowing them to have a service animal in their rental property, regardless of any pet policies or restrictions that may be in place. This means that as a landlord, you cannot refuse to rent to someone or evict a resident simply because they have a service animal. In other words, your resident screening processes must be entirely fair and equitable.

However, there are certain exceptions to this rule. If the presence of the service animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others or if the animal's presence would cause substantial physical damage to the property, you may be able to deny the accommodation. However, these cases are rare and require proper documentation and evidence.

Additional Service Animal Requirements

While landlords cannot refuse a service animal, there are certain requirements the resident must meet that are in place to ensure the safety and well-being of all parties involved.

What Documentation is Needed for a Service Animal?

Landlords have the right to request documentation verifying that the resident has a disability and requires the use of a service animal. However, they are not allowed to ask for proof of the specific disability or for detailed medical records.

The documentation should come from a healthcare professional or a reliable third party who has direct knowledge of the person’s disability. It should simply state that the individual has a disability and requires the use of a service animal for assistance.

How Should Residents Submit Documentation for a Service Animal?

As a landlord, it is important to inform your residents of the process for submitting documentation for a service animal. Encourage them to submit the documentation as early as possible to give you ample time to review and approve the request.

Residents should provide you with copies of the documentation, preferably in writing. Make sure you maintain confidentiality and keep this information separate from the regular lease file.

When Can a Service Animal be Added to a Lease?

Residents who require the use of a service animal can request to add the animal to their lease at any time during their tenancy. This request should be made in writing and accompanied by the necessary documentation.

Ensure that you respond to these requests in a timely manner. Failure to approve a valid request for a service animal can result in legal consequences and violations of the FHA.

Final Thoughts

Knowing the rights and responsibilities surrounding service animals is crucial for landlords in Memphis, Tennessee. By familiarizing yourself with the rules and regulations, requesting the necessary documentation, and providing reasonable accommodations, you can ensure that you are meeting your obligations as a landlord and creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all residents.

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