Man’s Best Helper: Service Animals in Rental Units
By: Rudman Winchell Attorney Allison Economy
It has long been sad that a dog is man’s best friend. But what happens when others living in close proximity are allergic to your best friend? Or your best friend decides to use your door frame as his own personal chew toy? The truth of the matter is, sometimes dogs just aren’t that “friendly.” And for that reason, many landlords choose not to allow dogs – or other pets – in rental properties. Most of the time, landlords are well within their rights to say no to dogs. But what happens when that dog is a service animal?
Absent some limited circumstances, a Maine landlord must permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a physical or mental disability. A service animal is any animal (including dogs, cats, monkeys, birds, etc.) that is deemed necessary to mitigate the effects of a physical or mental disability or is trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical or mental disability. It is not necessary for the service animal to have a special identification card, be certified or registered, or wear a harness or collar identifying it as a service animal.
The landlord must not discriminate in any way against an individual with a disability who uses a service animal, including by designating specific rental units for disabled tenants and their service animals. Further, the landlord may not charge an additional security deposit for the service animal, even if that landlord generally charges a pet fee to tenants in the building. The tenant would be liable, however, for any damage done to the rental unit by his or her service animal.
The landlord may only refuse to permit the use of a service animal when that animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, it would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others, or it would substantially interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of the property by others. If another tenant is afraid of, or allergic to, a service animal, it would probably not be considered a substantial interference, and the landlord should use his or her best efforts to accommodate all parties.