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Applying the Rule of Justice

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Distinguishing ordinary pets from emotional support animals or trained service animals is the main controversial issue when a landlord is deciding to allow a tenant to keep a pet. An animal which is meant to help a person in certain daily activities should be classified either as an emotional support animal (ESA) or a trained service animal. For example, it is a service animal if it should guide a blind or low vision person or to provide assistance in pulling items such as a wheelchair. Emotional support animals are used by people with psychological problems such as those suffering from depression.

It is important to note that an animal does not need training in order to be considered for accommodation. There are animals which have learnt to perform certain tasks as a result of living for a long time with an individual in the house. Such animals are mostly the ones considered to give emotional support due to their close relationship with the owner. The rule of ‘no pets’ is mainly applied in order for the tenants not to become a nuisance to neighbours by making noise or when the animal is thought to be a health threat to other tenants. Accommodation may also be denied if the animal has a potential of damaging the rental properties.

However it is possible for a tenant to eliminate potential threats from a pet or to reduce the threat and therefore convince the landlord to allow accommodation. There are tenants who keep non-service animals for companionship purposes; restriction of accommodation for such tenants should be based on the potential threats of the animal to other residents and also on animal’s size. Therefore, while practicing the reasonable accommodation of tenants with pets the land lord should consider the purpose for which the tenant keeps the animal. The size of the animal should also be put in consideration; however, tenants with a permission to keep pets should hold sole responsibility for any harm that the animal may make either to the neighbours or to the rental property. For instance, it is the responsibility of a tenant with visual disability to prevent his/her service dog from repeated barking which is a noise nuisance to the neighbours. It is also the sole responsibility of a tenant to ensure that emotional support animals such as a cat, a lapdog, or a bird do not walk around the neighbouring houses.

A German shepherd may become a noise nuisance to other tenants because of its barking and should be removed from the apartment. However, if it serves as a service animal to the owner, it can stay as long as it does not make unnecessary and repeated barking. A small housecat may be retained as a pet in cases where it serves as an emotional support animal; but  its small size enables it to move from house to house, the owner should restrict its movements to avoid disturbing neighbours. A tiny well trained lapdog may be excluded from the ‘no pets’ rule if it serves as a service animal or an emotional support animal. However, the owner has a responsibility of ensuring that it does not destroy rental properties since it is known to play with items such as carpets and if it does, the owner hold the responsibility to compensate the damage caused. Tiny pets such as gerbil may be exempted from the ‘no pets’ rule since they can be caged to restrict their movements into other tenants houses. In addition, they do not pose noise threats.  

The ‘no pets’ rule is mainly meant to ensure the welfare of other tenants and to protect the rental properties. Therefore, if a pet poses no threat to the two mentioned things or the threats can be minimized or eliminated, it can be excluded from the rule. A tank of tropical fish for instance in most cases are kept for emotional support and do not pose risk to the other tenants if the refuse from the tank are disposed off safely. Therefore tropical fish may be considered safe to retain and excluded from the ‘no pets’ rule. A tarantula pet may have to be removed from the apartment because of its known potential health threat from its venomous secretions. It is not kept for companion purposes or as a service animal or even as an emotional support animal. People usually keep it for hobby purposes and therefore it should be included in the ‘no pets’ rule.

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