As a Landlord are you up to date with the latest changes in Landlord Tenant Law? Do you know what an Assistance Animal is and whether you have to allow one on your property? Can you increase rent or charge a pet fee for the animal, or what about the damages the animals may cause? These are important questions for Landlords that the new law in the WISCONSIN ACT 317 (generally effective with leases signed after April 16, 2018) addresses. As a Landlord it is important to keep up with the new rules that govern your landlord tenant relationship so you know what rights you can enforce as a Landlord and how to stay out hot water in front of the local Judiciary. Below is a quick summary of the new law involving Assistance Animals and how they apply to residential

Landlord/Tenant relationships.

Assistance Animals.

As a Landlord you need to know there are two distinct categories for animals that help people with disabilities, Emotional Support Animals and a Service Animals. If a tenant has verified need for either one of these it is discrimination under Federal law and Wisconsin law if you deny residency based on that need, evict someone for using one of these animals or charge extra (including pet fee) for allowing that animal to stay in the residence you are renting. The distinctions between the two animals are subtle and Landlord needs to understand these differences below:

     -Emotional Support Animals provide “support, well-being, comfort, or companionship for an individual” who has a disability-related need for that support. If a tenant is seeking to have an Emotional Support Animal you may request the tenant provide documentation that the tenant has a disability and that disability-related need for an emotional support animal from a licensed health professional.

     -Service Animals are animals that “do work or perform disability-related tasks for individuals with disabilities.” A common example of this would be a vision impaired tenant using a trained seeing eye dog. If a tenant is seeking to have a Service Animal you may request the tenant provide documentation that the tenant has a disability and a disability-related need for the animal, UNLESS the disability is NOT readily apparent or the disability-related need fulfilled by the Service Animal is NOT readily apparent.

Tenant Responsibilities.

It is important to know that tenants are responsible for sanitation of the animals they keep and any damage caused by these animals. Exceptions. Nothing in the new law prohibits a Landlord from denying a tenant the ability to keep an Assistance Animal if:

  • The tenant cannot or will not provide the proper documentation
  • Allowing the animal would impose an undue financial and administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of services provided by the Landlord.
  • Allowing a specific animal in question poses a direct threat to health or safety that cannot be reduced by a reasonable accommodation.
  • Allowing a specific animal in question would case substantial physical damage to the property that cannot be reduced by reasonable accommodations.

Landlords should understand that they may be violating both Federal and Wisconsin Law if they misstep in this area and just inquiring about a legitimate request in and of itself can be tricky and a potential violation, let alone a full outright denial based on one of the exceptions provided by law. The Bottom line is that as a Landlord you almost always will have to allow a legitimate request by a Tenant to keep an Assistance Animal in their leased residence but determining the legitimacy of that request is not always the easiest of tasks. This where an experienced Attorney in Landlord Tenant law can help you successfully navigate these tricky waters and get you to the right result.

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