Pets and Service Animals

Do I need permission to get a pet?

Probably! If you are currently in a lease, check your lease before you get a pet. If your lease requires permission to have a pet or to add a pet, make sure you get permission from your landlord in writing and keep a copy for your records. Your landlord may just add a clause or an addendum to your lease. Make sure both you and your landlord initial and date the change. If your landlord refuses to allow you to have a pet, wait until you move to a pet-friendly apartment. (From our blog: make sure to Assert the Rights You Have and Get It In Writing)

If you're looking for a new apartment, make sure that you have permission in writing to have a pet.

What can happen if I get a pet without permission?

You could be evicted if it is prohibited in your lease. This would be a non-rent violation. The type of notice the landlord can give you, and whether you have a chance to get rid of the pet and avoid an eviction, will depend on several factors. For more information, please see Eviction. Being evicted makes it hard to find housing, can affect your credit, and does not relieve you from paying rent unless the landlord finds someone new to move in or your lease ends.

If one tenant has a pet, does the landlord have to allow everyone to have pets?

Not necessarily. The landlord may give pet permission to some tenants and not others as long as they do not discriminate against certain tenants because of membership in a protected class, such as race, religion, sex, etc., or do it in retaliation against a tenant for enforcing their rights. It is not illegal for a landlord to discriminate against certain animals or breeds, as long as they are doing it for everyone. Also, some tenants' "pets" might actually be service or companion animals, which have different applicable rules. 

What if I have a disability and depend on a service animal, or emotional support (companion) animal?

This is a special situation where the landlord's pet policy does not apply. A service animal or emotional support animal should not be considered a "pet." They should be treated, from the landlord's perspective, like a piece of medical equipment. 

Federal Laws

Because federal fair housing laws require landlords to allow reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, the following apply:

  • Landlords may not prohibit a service animal or emotional support animal from living in the unit.
  • Landlords may not charge the tenant extra "pet" rent or "pet" security deposit for a service or emotional support animal. 
  • Landlords may not apply other "pet policy" rules like breed or weight restrictions to service or emotional support animals. For more information from HUD on this, click here.

There are two exceptions, when a landlord can deny a service or companion animal:

  • If the landlord lives in the unit, and they or a member of their immediate family have an allergy to the animal.
  • If that specific animal has aggressively threatened someone. (This must be the specific animal in question, and not based on beliefs about behavior from that breed, size, etc.)

The Americans with Disabilities Act gives specific guidelines for what are and are not "service animals" and some people mistakenly believe that only service animals are protected. However, the ADA also says that "emotional support animals that do not qualify as service animals under the Department’s title III regulations may nevertheless qualify as permitted reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities under the Fair Housing Act and the ACAA." The Fair Housing Act, which addresses "reasonable accommodations" in rental housing, is available here.

State Laws

On the state level, Wisconsin law now defines an "Emotional Support Animal" as one who gives “emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship” to a person with a disability. Unlike a service animal, an emotional support animal does not need to be certified or trained to perform tasks to benefit that individual. Wis. Stat. 106.50(1m)(im), 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 28, Effective 4/18/18.

Landlords can only deny the service animal or emotional support animal if:

  • The tenant is not disabled or does not have a disability-related need
  • The tenant fails to provide requested documentation allowed by this law
  • There is undue financial or administrative burden to the landlord or the presence of the service animal or emotional support animal would fundamentally change the services provided by the landlord
  • The specific animal “poses a direct threat to a person's health or safety” that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another accommodation
  • The specific animal would cause substantial physical damage to the property that can’t be reduced or eliminated by another accommodation. Wis. Stat. 106.50(2r)(bg)4.d., Wis. Stat. 106.50(2r), 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 30

There is now a fine of $500 or more for tenants and/or health professionals who intentionally misrepresent the tenant having a disability or needing the accommodation of an emotional support animal. (This does not apply to service animals certified and specifically trained to assist the person with disabilities.) Wis. Stat. 106.50(2r)(br)5 & 6., 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 30, Effective 4/18/18.

How do I get my service or emotional support animal approved?

Tenants can be required to provide the landlord with documentation from a physician, psychologist, social worker, or other health professional, licensed in Wisconsin and acting within the scope of their certification, showing they have a disability and their animal is needed as an accommodation. NOTE: Tenants are still protected by HIPPA laws, and the law does not require the tenant or the health professional to disclose the nature of their disability or other medical details. Wis. Stats. 106.50(2r)(bg)2. & (1m)(mx), 2017 Wis. Act 317, Secs. 29 & 30, Effective 4/18/18.

Applicants are not required to state anything about having a service or emotional support animal on an application.

If the landlord refuses to allow the service animal or emotional support animal, you may contact:

How do I find landlords that rent to pet owners?

Check the regular rental listings–many landlords advertise that they allow pets. Some humane societies also keep lists of landlords who rent to people with pets. If you are looking for an apartment in Dane County, contact the Dane County Humane Society. You can also search rental websites for units that allow pets. 

How can I convince a landlord to rent to me and my pet?

Negotiate with the landlord

Contact the person who has the authority to grant you permission. This may be the resident manager, property manager, or owner of the building.

  • Use some of our negotiation suggestions.
  • Ask why the landlord has a no-pets policy. By asking up front about your landlord's concerns, you can learn more about how to best present your own request. Considering your landlord's position will encourage them to be more open to yours.
  • When negotiating with your landlord, be careful about waiving or agreeing to give up some of your rights in order to get permission for a pet. If the landlord seems unreasonable, you may want to keep looking for another apartment.

Present yourself as a good pet owner

Prepare a "pet resume" and include proof of your claims. Include the following in the resume:

  • Good rental history. Write about your pet's great rental history. Since some landlords require pet references, include letters of reference from current or previous landlords who can verify that your pet did not damage the apartments, and letters from neighbors who can attest to your pet's good behavior and your own sense of responsibility.
  • Training. Mention that your pet is well-behaved. If your cat is litter box trained or uses a scratching post, be sure to say so. If your dog does not bark when left alone or has attended obedience classes, mention this and include receipts or a graduation certificate.
  • Veterinary records. State in the resume that your pets are well cared for and include copies of health certificates showing that your pets are spayed or neutered, free of fleas and ticks, and up-to-date on their vaccinations.
  • Renters insurance. Depending on what kind of pet you have, you may be able to purchase liability insurance for any damage your pet may do. If you have this insurance, mention it in your resume and include a copy of your policy.
  • Interview. Invite the landlord to "interview" your freshly groomed, well-behaved pet at your current home to show that your pet has not caused any damage.

Check out more detailed information and sample dog and cat resumes, or contact the Humane Society in your area.

In addition to presenting a pet resume, offer to sign a pet addendum to your rental agreement that makes you responsible for possible damage to property or injury to others.

Be a good pet owner

  • If you have a dog, make sure to clean up its waste.
  • Consider crate-training if you feel your dog may be destructive while you are not at home.
  • Make sure your cat has access to a scratching post and that one or more litter boxes are readily available. If your cat is scratching something it shouldn't be, try putting aluminum foil or double-stick tape in that area to deter the behavior.
  • Talk to a veterinarian or other pet owners for advice on behavior issues.

Can landlords charge pet owners higher security deposits?

Effective 12/21/11, the State of Wisconsin imposes no limits on security deposit amounts. Landlords may charge pet owners more, but they must follow all the same laws about returning it. "Non-refundable" pet deposits are illegal. Check our our About Security Deposits page for more information on security deposits!

Can landlords charge pet owners more for rent?

Yes, landlords may charge a monthly pet fee of whatever amount they choose. It is always worth trying to negotiate if you feel the extra amount is unreasonable. However, you should plan some extra time for this, and get everything in writing. See the section above on convincing landlords to rent to you and your pet for specific things you can mention if you negotiate with your landlord.

Can landlords automatically withhold money from pet owners' security deposits?

No, landlords may only charge for actual damages. If your pet did damage the apartment, the landlord may charge you for the repairs. If you are paying additional rent for your pet and being charged from your security deposit, make sure you're not being double-charged. If your landlord charges for pet damages, you can ask them (or a judge) to credit you for the amount you've paid in pet fees. Ask to see receipts for charges a landlord claims. If you feel you are being charged unfairly, contact the Tenant Resource Center for more information, or see About Security Deposits

Where can I get more information?