Most of the time, a service animal is a dog, and there are Missouri State laws protecting the rights of both the tenant and the dog.
As a landlord, it’s possible that you may encounter a tenant or a prospective tenant who utilizes the services of a service pet. Familiarizing yourself with these laws and regulations will help you navigate any situations you may find yourself in.
What is a Service Dog?
According to Missouri State law (sections 209.150 – 209.190), the term “service dog” means any dog specifically trained to assist an individual with a physical or mental disability by performing necessary tasks or doing work that the person cannot perform. These tasks can include (but aren’t limited to): pulling a wheelchair, retrieving items, carrying supplies, and search and rescue of an individual with a disability.
Any service animal is specially trained to perform certain tasks for the individual it supports, and service dogs can be categorized in the following ways:
- A guide dog, which typically assists a blind or visually impaired person
- A hearing dog, trained to assist a deaf or hearing-impaired person
- A mobility dog, trained to assist a person with a physical impairment or physical disability
- A medical alert or respond dog, trained to alert a person with a disability that a medical event is about to occur (such as a seizure)
- A therapy dog, trained to provide specific therapeutic functions and who typically works in an institutional setting or a community-based group setting
- A search and rescue dog, trained to search for or prevent a person with a mental disability (such as verbal and nonverbal autism) from becoming lost
All of these categories are protected under Missouri State laws and regulations.
Can a Landlord Deny a Tenant Access Due to a Service Animal?
A short and sweet answer: no.
Even if your housing units are “no pet” units, if a tenant or tenant prospect has a mental or physical disability that requires him or her to have a service animal, both the tenant and the canine have rights and are protected under Federal Law and you must grant them access. A few of these rights include:
- Access to housing, even if the policy is “no pets”
- Exemption from monthly pet fees
- Exemption from a higher deposit
Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) does not put breed or weight restrictions on service dogs. This means a landlord must supply housing to a tenant with a service dog regardless of the breed, age, and weight of the animal, and regardless of any policies limiting other pets in this manner.
All that being said, if a tenant’s service dog causes damage to the property or disruption to other tenants, you can ask the tenant to leave the building. This is a very sensitive area. However, be aware tenants can file discrimination suits if not handled properly.
If you find yourself in a situation like this, consult a legal opinion before taking any action. Still have questions? Contact us!