Before signing a lease, you should read and understand the landlord's pet policy. Texas does not have any specific tenant pet laws. Landlords can create their own rules for pets and put them in your lease. The lease might:
- Completely prohibit pets;
- Allow tenants to have pets, but only certain types or breeds,
- Allow pets after registering the pet with management and paying a pet deposit, or
- Not say anything about pets (no pet restrictions).
Can I be evicted for violating my lease's pet policy?
Yes, unless your pet is an assistance animal. Under Texas law, you can be evicted for violating any part of the lease agreement. Keeping any pet that is not allowed under the lease, even temporarily, may violate the lease. Violating the lease with an unauthorized pet can be grounds for eviction.
What is an assistance animal?
An assistance animal is not considered a pet and is either (1) a service animal or (2) an emotional support animal.
Service animals are defined as dogs that are trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.
Emotional support animals (ESA) are animals that provide companionship to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. The individual seeking the ESA must have a disability that can be verified by a doctor. ESAs do not need specialized training nor do they need to be certified. According to the Fair Housing Act, all you need is a note from your doctor saying that you have a disability and need the ESA.
Must my landlord allow my assistance animal?
Generally, yes. The assistance animal is a "reasonable accommodation" under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Even if the landlord does not allow pets, the landlord may violate the FHA if they do not make an exception for an assistance animal. Note, though, that the landlord does not have to allow an animal if doing so would cost the landlord a lot of money or if the property needs to be altered.
What is a reasonable accommodation request?
A reasonable accommodation request is when a tenant with a disability asks the landlord to make an exception to the rules so that the tenant can use and enjoy the rental property just like everyone else. Requests can be verbal or written. There are no specific words that must be included in a request.
A request for the assistance animal may include, for example:
- A request to have an assistance animal even though there is a no pets policy,
- A request to not have to pay a pet deposit or fee, or
- A request to remove any other rule as to an assistance animal.
When can a landlord deny my assistance animal?
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are only two questions that a landlord should consider when a tenant asks to be allowed an assistance animal:
- Does the tenant have a disability?
- Does the animal perform tasks for the tenant or provide emotional support in a way that helps with the tenant’s symptoms?
A "no" answer to either of the questions means that the landlord does not have to allow the assistance animal. If the answer is "yes" to both, then the Fair Housing Act usually requires the landlord to allow the animal.
However, there are times where a landlord can deny a legitimate assistance animal. According to HUD, the landlord may refuse to allow an assistance animal when:
- Allowing the animal would impose too much of a financial and administrative burden,
- Allowing the animal would require an extreme change to the rental property, or
- The assistance animal is dangerous and would be a threat to the health or safety of others.
How do I prove that I need an assistance animal?
Landlords can require tenants to provide a doctor's note that says they are disabled and need the animal. Documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional should say that the tenant has a disability and that the animal will provide disability-related assistance or emotional support.
However, a landlord may not ask for information about how severe the disability is, demand medical records, or request any other medical details.
Additionally, landlords can ask the tenant to show that their animal is healthy and vaccinated.
Is my landlord allowed to charge fees for my assistance animal?
No. It is unlawful for landlords to (1) charge additional rent, (2) demand a pet deposit, or (3) charge any fees whatsoever for an assistance animal. The Fair Housing Act guarantees this protection. You are still responsible for any damage the animal does to the property.
Can a landlord refuse an assistance animal based on breed?
No. Service and emotional support animals can be any breed or size. However, the landlord may prohibit an animal if it is dangerous to others.
Do I have to let my landlord know that I have an assistance animal before signing a lease?
No. You may tell the landlord before or after you sign your lease.
Can I be evicted for violating my lease's pet policy if my pet serves as an assistance animal?
No. Federal law does not allow your landlord to evict you for having a service or emotional support animal.
My landlord won't allow my assistance animal. How do I file a complaint?
If you believe your landlord unlawfully denied a request for an assistance animal, you can file a complaint with the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
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