Being a landlord in New Jersey is fraught with both risk and reward.  The ADA laws are vast and can confound even the most experienced landlord, but what if you are threatened with a lawsuit for denying a Tenant’s pet llama?

For starters you should know the difference between The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (“FHA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA). The FHA created a right for disabled persons to live in the housing of their choice.  Recently, emotional support animals have been included in the reasonable living standards guaranteed under FHA.  Emotional support animals are not to be confused with service animals protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  Service animals are much more protected than emotional support animals.  Even asking too many questions to a person with a service animal can result in large fines.  The two questions a landlord can ask a tenant with a service animal under the ADA are:

1) Is the animal required because of a disability?

2) What work or task has the animal been trained to perform

Beyond those questions your inquiry about the disability and reason for the service animal is off-limits.  However, do not confuse a service animal with an emotional support animal because the protections are not nearly as sweeping.

A tenant, or proposed tenant, with an emotional support animal will probably flash a letter or a certification from either a doctor or support group asking the tenant be allowed to have his or her emotional support animal with them in places you would not suspect, such as a llama in the grocery store, or a turtle at the movies.  After asking the two questions above and hearing that the animal is an emotional support animal, business owners have the discretion to either allow the emotional support animal on premises, or deny admission.

There are two areas where emotional support animals have been specifically allowed: specifically pursuant to the FHA and the Air Carrier Access Act (“ACA”).  Both a landlord and an airline have to allow persons with disabilities to have their emotional support animals with them.  But outside the FHA and ACA, no matter how much a person needs their cuddly pet squirrel in the restaurant, the owner can legally deny them access.  Public concerns, as well as the rights of the business owners trump in the case of the emotional support animals.

So keep in mind the rights afforded to owners with service animals are close to absolute, while a business owner’s rights trump those of the owner of an emotional support animal. If you are a landlord or business owner faced with a tenant or customer with that llama on a leash, Bergmann & Good is uniquely qualified to help you sort out the “do’s and dont’s.”  Give us a call.

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