The Iowa Civil Rights Commission is using "testers" posing as prospective tenants to verify that Iowa landlords are not discriminating against disabled prospective tenants who require the assistance of service animals. A tester will call a property manager to inquire about an available unit, disclosing that the caller uses a service animal. A day or so later, the tester will call again, but not mention a service animal. No written application is made in either case. The telephone conversations are recorded. The commission then compares the responses to decide whether to file a complaint against the property owner and manager based on differences in the responses.
While the use of testers remains controversial and has not been addressed in a published Iowa case, courts outside of Iowa have held that the government has standing to bring discrimination claims through the use of testers, rather than requiring the complaint of a person actually aggrieved. See U.S. v. Lorantffy Care Center, 999 F.Supp. 1037 (N.D. Ohio 1998) (holding federal government had standing to bring discrimination claim under the Fair Housing Act and Civil Rights Act of 1968 through use of testers).
With regard to discrimination, a landlord may not refuse to rent to a tenant because of the tenant's disability. Some courts have held that a landlord must waive a no-pets policy as a reasonable accommodation to a disabled tenant requiring the assistance of certain service animals. The landlord has the right to verify the tenant's need for a service animal and consider whether accepting the type of animal in question is a reasonable accommodation.
Upon an inquiry from a prospective tenant who claims the need of a service animal, a landlord should begin an interactive process by asking the tenant to fill out a standard application and supply a certification of the need for a service animal. After application and certification, the landlord should then consider whether allowing the type of animal requested would be a reasonable accommodation for that property. A landlord is not required to accept a service animal that would unreasonably burden the property.
If you are an Iowa landlord, be aware of your responsibilities and educate your property managers with regard to discrimination laws.