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

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

As a landlord in Nashville, Tennessee, you need to understand the laws and responsibilities surrounding service animals. While many people are familiar with the concept of having pets in rental properties, service animals are different and have specific rights and protections.

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about service animals in Nashville. 

What is Considered a Service Animal Versus a Pet?

Before delving into the details, let’s distinguish between a service animal and a pet. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is defined as a dog, or in some cases, a miniature horse, that is individually trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability.

Service animals are not considered pets. They provide essential assistance to their handlers and are trained to perform specific tasks, such as guiding those with visual impairments, alerting those with hearing impairments to sounds, or providing mobility assistance.

Service animals play a vital role in the lives of people with disabilities. They are not just companions but highly trained professionals who assist their handlers in various ways, and they undergo rigorous training to ensure they can perform their tasks effectively and safely.

For people with visual impairments, service dogs are trained to guide them through obstacles, navigate busy streets, and locate specific objects or landmarks. These dogs are incredibly intelligent and can adapt to different environments, making them reliable partners for their owners.

Similarly, service dogs trained to assist people with hearing impairments are trained to alert their handlers to important sounds, such as doorbells, fire alarms, or approaching vehicles. These dogs are trained to make physical contact with their handlers and lead them towards the source of the sound.

Service animals can also provide assistance to people with mobility impairments by retrieving objects, opening doors, or pulling wheelchairs. These tasks not only provide practical assistance but also enhance their owners’ independence and quality of life.

Service animals can also be trained to support people with psychiatric disorders. These animals are trained to recognize signs of anxiety, panic attacks, or other mental health episodes. They can provide comfort, emotional support, and perform specific tasks to help their handlers manage their condition.

While dogs are the most common type of service animal, miniature horses can also be considered service animals under certain circumstances. These intelligent horses can be trained to perform tasks similar to those performed by service dogs; however, due to their size, they are often used by people with mobility impairments who require additional support.

Can a Landlord Refuse a Service Animal?

Under the ADA, you cannot refuse to rent to or deny a resident with a service animal solely based on their disability or the presence of the service animal. The ADA requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations to allow people with disabilities to live with their service animals. That means your resident screening processes must be fair and equitable.

However, you can deny a service animal if it poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others or if it would cause substantial physical damage to the property. It's important to assess each situation on a case-by-case basis and consider any potential risks or harm the animal may pose.

Additional Service Animal Requirements

In addition to granting accommodation for service animals, landlords can also establish some requirements to ensure the well-being of all residents and the property. For example, you can require that:

  • The service animal is well-behaved and properly trained.

  • The resident keeps the service animal under control and ensures that it doesn't disturb other residents or cause damage.

  • The service animal is up to date on vaccinations and carries appropriate licensing.

  • The resident promptly cleans up any waste produced by the animal.

What Documentation is Needed for a Service Animal?

While landlords can ask for documentation to verify that a resident has a legitimate need for a service animal, there are limitations on the information you can request. According to the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords are not allowed to ask for specific details about an individual's disability or the nature of their disability.

Typically, the documentation required includes a letter from the resident's healthcare provider confirming the need for a service animal. This letter should state that the resident has a disability recognized under the ADA and that the service animal provides assistance or performs tasks related to it.

How Should Residents Submit Documentation for a Service Animal?

To streamline the process, create a clear and straightforward procedure for residents to submit their documentation. This can include providing a designated email address or a physical drop-off location where residents can submit their paperwork.

Once you receive the documentation, review it promptly to ensure that it complies with the requirements outlined by the ADA and FHA. If you need any additional information, communicate with the resident in a timely and respectful manner.

When Can a Service Animal be Added to a Lease?

Typically, a service animal can be added to a lease at any time, even if the lease originally prohibited pets. The ADA and FHA protect people with disabilities and their right to live with their service animals, regardless of any pre-existing pet policies.

While the resident with a service animal may be responsible for any damage caused by the animal, you need to treat them like any other resident and provide the necessary accommodations and maintenance as required by law.

Final Thoughts

As a landlord in Nashville, Tennessee, it’s important to know your rights and responsibilities surrounding service animals. While you cannot refuse a resident solely based on their service animal, you need to assess any potential threats or damages that may arise from having a service animal in your property. By following the ADA and FHA guidelines, you can ensure a fair and accommodating process for residents with service animals while maintaining the integrity of your rental property.

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