A Guide to Pets, Service Animals, and Companion Animals for Your Grand Rapids Property

Nov 25, 2022 | Owner Education, Property Management Education

Pets do not have any legal rights when it comes to rental housing, and neither do pet owners. You can decide whether or not you want to make your Grand Rapids rental property pet-friendly or not. 

Many owners recognize the value of allowing pets. It’s easier and faster to place tenants because a majority of the renters in your tenant pool have at least one pet. But, there are always concerns about property damage caused by pets and the liability that comes with having a dog on your property. Some owners choose to keep their homes pet-free. 

That’s fine. 

However, service and companion animals do have rights. Rather, their owners have rights. 

Most Grand Rapids rental property owners understand the basics of fair housing laws. However, things can get more complicated when we talk about service animals and companion animals. How are they different from pets? 

If you’re not up to date on fair housing and discrimination laws, you could find yourself making a serious mistake when it comes to these types of animals. Most of the owners we know do not intentionally discriminate against tenants with disabilities, but treating a service animal or a companion animal like a pet can lead to some expensive problems. Making a mistake is easy, and those mistakes that violate the Fair Housing Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act can be expensive. 

Fines are more than $10,000 for a first offense. 

Our experience leasing Grand Rapids rental properties has given us a lot of insight into how to protect your property from potential pet damage and how to navigate the laws and protections that require you to allow service and companion animals. 

Here’s a basic overview of what you need to know when it comes to pets and service animals. Emotional support animals are the most common sort of companion animal, and in this blog, we’ll also talk about how those protections at least allow you to verify that a tenant needs such an animal. 

If there’s any doubt at all, contact a Grand Rapids property management company before you address a tenant’s request for a service or support animal. We stay up to date on the latest laws surrounding this topic, and we can provide some advice and resources that will protect you and your property.

Pets in Grand Rapids Rental Homes

Pets are easy because you can allow them or not allow them. 

As we said earlier, there are no laws in Michigan or in the federal statutes that protect tenants who want to move in with their pet dog or cat or saltwater fish. As property managers, we understand why owners might hesitate to allow pets, but we always encourage you to at least consider them on a case-by-case basis. Here’s why:

  • Your home will rent faster, reducing vacancy loss.
  • Your tenants will usually stay in place for longer, reducing turnover costs.
  • You can earn more on your property by charging pet fees and pet rent.

Any risk that comes with allowing pets can usually be mitigated with the collection of that pet fee as well as your security deposit. Only rarely have we seen pets do so much damage that it’s expensive to repair.  

Service Animals and Companion Animals 

While you get to decide whether or not to allow pets, you don’t have that flexibility with service animals and companion animals. If a tenant needs them, you have to allow them. Even if you have a strict no-pet policy for your rental home. 

Often, there’s some confusion about what qualifies as a service animal and what’s considered a companion animal. Here are some of the key differences. 

  • Service Animals

Service animals are always dogs. They are used by tenants with a physical or intellectual disability. Typically, these disabilities are easy to detect, and you won’t need to ask what the service animal is for. No landlord should ever ask a tenant with a visual impairment why they need a Seeing Eye Dog. 

Service animals are certified to provide particular services, and they’re also trained. Sometimes, they wear something identifying what they do. 

  • Companion Animals

Companion animals also serve people with disabilities, but they are not trained or certified in any way. These animals can be emotional support animals or therapy animals. While they are similar to service animals in the way that you cannot prohibit them in your rental property, the law does treat them a bit differently. They also may not be dogs; they can be any sort of animal. You may have heard about the extremes; emotional support peacocks have been allowed on an airplane, for example. 

You are permitted to ask for documentation if the tenant’s disability is not immediately apparent. In these cases, you can ask your tenant for documentation from a medical professional explaining the disability and why the animal is required. Don’t be confrontational about it. Asking for documentation is permitted, but being difficult or expressing doubt can get you into legal trouble. Your tenant will likely have a form that they submit from their medical professional. You can even call the doctor to verify it if you choose.

Grand Rapids Tenant Responsibilities 

house key tenantWhen you allow a tenant to move in with a pet, you can require a pet fee or a pet deposit, and you can also charge a pet rent every month. Most tenants will be willing to pay a bit more for the privilege of moving in with their furry family members. You should screen the pet and require pictures and vet records so you know the animal is safe and healthy. 

With service and companion animals, you cannot ask for extra pet rent, a pet deposit, or a pet fee. You should still collect a security deposit, however, and you can use that deposit at the end of the lease term if there is any damage from the service animal. The tenant is still required to clean up after the animal and ensure it isn’t a nuisance to other tenants or the property. 

This is sometimes a confusing area for rental property owners to navigate. If you’d like some help, please contact us at Short South Realty Group. We can help you apply these laws to your Grand Rapids rental property.