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— by Hana LaRock

Do I Have to Allow a Dog at My Open House?

Do I Have to Allow a Dog at My Open House? The short answer is, probably.

Some people love animals, some, not so much. As a real estate agent, you’ll likely have many clients along the way that have pets, and those pets play a big role in the decision-making process. As a dog-owner myself, one of the first things I think about when moving someplace new is not just whether or not the rental homes I’m looking at are pet-friendly, but if I feel that that the home and neighborhood is pet-friendly, too. I want to know if my dog will have the room to run around, if there are other dogs in the neighborhood, and how other people in the neighborhood will react to my dog. 

And, that’s just for a rental. When people with pets are buying a home, that decision becomes a lot more permanent – especially if the client relies on their dog for support in living with a disability. Therefore, it’s no surprise that some clients will want to, or need to, bring their pet – and, in many cases, their lifeline – to look at an open house.

But, as an agent, where are you allowed to draw the line? Having a dog at an open house can be somewhat chaotic. The seller may not want a dog on the property for various reasons, not to mention having to worry about deterring potential clients that may have allergies or are uncomfortable around animals. 

We’re here to set the record straight. 

Do you have to allow a dog at your open house? When must you say yes, when are you permitted to say no, and when is it okay to just let it slide?


Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals

One of the biggest confusions regarding whether or not pets are permitted usually comes down to making the distinction between a service animal and an ESA, or emotional support animal. 

According to the ADA, “A service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Note that the law clearly says “dogs” and not pigs, cats, or ostriches, though, miniature horses can also be service animals.

An emotional support animal is an assistance animal that “works, provides assistance, performs tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability.” 

Knowing these terms is important to understanding the law and contrary to what many people think, there’s actually not too much of a distinction between the two when it comes to housing laws.

Clearing Up Dogs and Rental Properties

The easiest way to understand whether or not you have to allow a dog at your open house is to take a look at the laws regarding dogs and animals and rental properties. As an agent, you should familiarize yourself with these laws anyway, because you may have a client at some point that’s looking for a rental property with their service animal or assistance animal.

First and foremost, a service animal must be allowed to accompany the tenant, no matter what. Though there are some very specific circumstances in which a service animal can be asked to leave a public entity or private business, for instance, if the animal is not housebroken, the Fair Housing Act covers service animals for residential housing situations.

Companion animals, also referred to as “assistance animals” or “emotional support animals,” must also be allowed, according to the Fair Housing Act which states that “Pet restrictions cannot be used to deny or limit housing to people with disabilities who require the use of an assistance animal because of their disability. Housing providers must grant reasonable accommodations in such instances, in accordance with the law.” 

But, it can be a little more tricky when it comes to emotional support animals. If the disability is not readily apparent, landlords can ask for proof that the person requires the companion animal, but they may not ask for proof of what the disability is. This proof must be written by a physician, mental health professional, social worker, or psychiatrist, that specifically dictates how the animal can help alleviate at least one of symptoms of the disability.

According to the American Apartment Owners Association, once the documentation is provided, tenants with companion animals must be treated in the same way as those with service animals. The landlord or housing association must lift any “no pet” policies, and the tenant would not be required to pay a pet deposit of any kind. In fact, in this case, the animal would not even be considered a “pet” and it does not matter the breed, size, or weight of the animal.

When is a Companion Animal Not Allowed? 

There are only two circumstances in which a companion, assistance, or ESA animal might not be allowed, and that’s if “The assistance animal in question poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation,” or “The specific assistance animal in question would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation.”

The landlord cannot make any of these conclusions based on speculation or what another animal may have done to the property in the past. It’s clear to see how this would be very hard for a landlord to prove, and the law favors the tenant. 

Service Animals, Assistance Animals, Agents, and Open Houses

Since an open house would be open to the public, then in general, these same rules apply, especially to service animals. But, it is a bit wishy-washy when it comes to assistance animals because not all emotional support animals have to be welcomed at restaurants, hotels, Airbnbs, etc., despite what many people might think. Since an open house is not being yet being occupied, you could technically find a reason to turn the person and animal away, but it might cause an unnecessary, complicated mess. Also, if the person is looking to move there as a renter, then eventually, they will need to be able to take their animal, anyway.

The issue with emotional support animals and not service animals is that these days, it’s easy for just about anyone to obtain documentation that they must need their animal. However, the fact of the matter is that if the person went through all the trouble obtaining these documents for their pet, then it’s evident that the pet is a very important part of their life. It will probably be well looked after, and will not cause the chaos or damage that you think. Aside from that, that’s not for you to worry about, but the landlord. And, you can present all this information on the law to them if they protest against your client.

If you’re still concerned about having dogs at your open house, then you could ask potential clients with service animals and assistance animals to simply notify you beforehand, so you can “provide the best accommodations possible” and make others attending aware. Though, keep in mind that those with service animals are not necessarily required to do that, so you should always be prepared. Also, it doesn’t hurt to be the real estate agent that’s friendly to animals and those with disabilities!

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