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Restrictive Breeds and Service Animals in Property Management

Increasing injuries and damages caused by dog bites is a growing concern for property management. In two states, judges have ruled that the property owner or management could be held liable for a dog attack or a bite by the dog of a tenant. Last year, the Supreme Court in Kentucky ruled that a property owner can be deemed to be the dog's statutory owner, and hence responsible for the injuries and damages cause by the dog's attack or bite.

In view of these rulings property management tend to take a hard stance in their pet policies, especially against restrictive breeds such as a pit bull. The image of a pit bull even when on a leash is quite disturbing for most tenants, especially those with kids or other pets. However, there seem to be other developments and court rulings that have given the status of service animal to the pit bull breed. Hence, property management will have to again reconsider their pet policies in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Pit Bulls are Protected

According to the ADA, it is wrong to discriminate against service animals; however, the DNA of the pit bull is considered dangerous, and that does not help the case, particularly in the multifamily industry. The question is can property management ban a service animal from the property if it is on the restricted breed list. Unfortunately for property owners and property management, the answer is no. The only think that can be done is to handle the liability as best as possible.

The ADA has specified that a service animal is an animal that has been specifically trained for performing tasks or doing work for disabled person. Tasks could include alerting deaf people, guiding blind individuals, protecting a person having a seizure by alerting others, calming people with PTSD, or even pulling a wheelchair. Interestingly, the ADA has amended the Act recently and has classified service animals to include only dogs, and exclude other animals that provide emotional support.

Not just Dogs

However, the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department has included other animals in the service animals list, and a disabled individual could request for service animals other than dogs, which could include a parrot and even a miniature horse.

However, the main cause of concern is the Pit Bull Terriers who are included in breed-specific laws and are usually used in illegal dogfights. They are not allowed on most properties because they usually display aggression towards tenants and visitors. Property management can decline having a pit bull on the property only if it is a pet. However, if the dog is being kept as a service animal then there is not much property management can do, and only hope the dog is trained well enough and it does not resort to aggressive behavior.

An Understanding

Property management should state the city and council rules about animals and then form a policy about restricted breeds. However, including a breed that is used as a service animal on the list will not be of much use, since the judge is most likely to side with the disabled person. But even a disabled person will be responsible for any person that is attacked by their dog.