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. 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, this may not apply to service animals. 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. This is the law regardless of the breed, age, and weight of the animal. There are no exceptions for 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!