Do Landlords Have to Allow Support Animals If They Have a No Pet Policy?

With changing regulations, subdivision restrictions, municipal ordinances, state and federal laws, landlords certainly have a lot to keep up with today to make sure they stay compliant in their rental business.   I’ve been in the business over 40 years, have an interest-and a fair understanding of- laws that affect real estate, yet still find it challenging to stay updated. Given this, I can only imagine the challenge faced by someone with a full-time career who also owns rental properties as an investment. Perhaps, this might be a compelling reason to consider hiring a professional property manager for your rentals. However, that decision brings its own complexities, which I’ll delve into in a future article.

A recurring issue for landlords, which prompts many questions from agents in our firm, clients, and other landlords, revolves around service animals. The question is usually framed something like, “I don’t want any pets in my rental properties, so I have a strict no-pet policy but am I obligated to allow dogs or other pets if the tenant claims it’s a ‘service animal’?” Before I go further, let me remind you, I am not an attorney, this isn’t legal advice—in fact, it’s not advice at all. I’m merely sharing what I’ve learned on the topic to heighten awareness of the issue and to encourage those that are not familiar with it to learn what they need to learn or to seek out proper legal guidance to avoid problems.


With that disclaimer addressed, here’s my understanding of the topic.  There are several things that come into play here. Firstly, there’s the Federal Fair Housing Act which includes, among other things, protections for tenants with disabilities and require the need of a service animal.  Next would be state laws which if they exist and specifically address service animals most likely parallel the Federal Fair Housing Act but you should confirm for the state your rental properties are located in.

Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA):

The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating based on disability. This means that if a tenant has a disability and requests a reasonable accommodation, such as allowing a support animal, the landlord generally must grant the request, unless it would pose an undue financial or administrative burden.
The FFHA covers most types of housing, with a few exceptions like owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.
Emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals are both covered under the Act. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically recognizes service animals, the FFHA recognizes both service and emotional support animals. ESAs don’t need special training like service animals.
Landlords can ask for documentation of the disability and the need for the support animal if the disability or need is not readily apparent.

Missouri State Law:

As far as I know, Missouri doesn’t have a distinct state law specifically governing emotional support animals separate from federal law. Therefore, the FFHA provisions would apply.

Illinois State Law:

The Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) also protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in housing. The Act closely follows federal law in this regard.
Illinois passed the Assistance Animal Integrity Act in 2020. This Act allows landlords to ask for “reliable documentation” of the tenant’s disability and their need for an assistance animal if it isn’t readily apparent. This documentation must come from a healthcare or mental health professional.
The Assistance Animal Integrity Act also outlines penalties for people who knowingly provide false documentation for an assistance animal.

Exceptions and Considerations:

If the animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others that can’t be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation, or if the animal would cause substantial physical damage to the property, the landlord might not need to accommodate it.

  • “No pet” policies: If a landlord has a “no pet” policy, they might still be required to make an exception for support animals under the FHA.
  • Landlords cannot charge a pet fee for support animals but can potentially charge a tenant for damages caused by the animal.
  • It’s advisable to ensure that the request is legitimate.  Unfortunately, some try to take advantage of these rules by falsely claiming their pets are support animals. If you are unsure about a tenant’s claim, it’s crucial to understand what documentation can be legally requested and to consult with legal counsel to avoid potential discrimination claims.  This is why consulting an attorney familiar with these laws is important.

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