Finding your ideal rented home can be a struggle in many parts of Scotland. However add into the mix an assistance dog and you can only start to imagine the difficulty that people who are hard of hearing, blind or partially sighted face when trying to find a home.

Equality Act 2010

Time and again, people who have assistance dogs are unable to secure a property easily, due to adverts stating ‘no pets’.  However, the Equality Act 2010 gives disabled people (including assistance dog owners) essential rights, making it unlawful for landlords or agents to refuse a prospective tenant with an assistance dog on the grounds ‘no pets allowed’.

It is a landlord’s duty to ensure that they do not discriminate against people who own a dog who aid them. Landlords who prefer no dogs in their properties should state a similar message that restaurants portray, in that only assistance dogs are accepted. Assistance dogs are not pets, they are a mobility aid to help people with certain disabilities.

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Many landlords prefer not to have pets for fear of damage or smell. However, it is important for landlords to understand the intense two year training that assistance dogs receive. They are trained to not jump on furniture and to always be at the feet of their owner. The assistance dog owner is also given thorough training on how to ensure regular grooming and hygiene of their dog. The dogs are given regular checks by the vet which includes flea treatments and vaccinations. Due to these rigorous procedures, assistance dogs are viewed acceptable for restaurants and other premises that other dogs are not.

Requesting larger deposits is unlawful

It had also been reported by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association that tenants with assistance dogs have been asked for larger deposits. This is unlawful, a person cannot be singled out for extra deposit charges due to owning a dog that assists them.

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Geoff Smart, a Guide Dog owner in Edinburgh told Citylets about a bad experience when trying to find a rental property: “It was very disheartening when I was told that I couldn’t rent a property because of my Guide Dog. It made me feel very upset and frustrated. Even when I explained the laws and legislation I was still told no and that the letting agent had to take the landlord’s side. It made me very wary of looking for a rental property and I started to discount a lot of properties as the adverts stated no pets. This left me with a very limited choice of houses to pick from. The stress of finding a property is bad enough without having to explain my sight loss and why I have a Guide Dog as my mobility aid.”

Landlords should be aware of legislation

It is essential that landlords are aware of legislation and their duty in ensuring that tenants with assistance dogs are not discriminated against. Agents and landlords can do much to help and there are various ways in which they can, from providing documents in other formats such as large print, audio tapes, email (software can be used to help read it), to gaining further information into understanding how to communicate with blind, partially sighted or people who are hard of hearing.

Geoff recently experienced a more positive attitude from a landlord and agent explaining: “My landlord and landlady couldn’t have been kinder. They even asked if I needed any adjustments making to the house so that it would better suit my needs. It made me feel very at ease and like I didn’t have to worry. The letting agents were very supportive too. As soon as I mentioned my Guide Dog they told me that there wouldn’t be a problem as they understood the laws and legislation. I found the contract and information difficult to read and they offered to email it to me so that I could use my magnification software to read it.”

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Pamela Munro, Community Engagement Officer (East of Scotland) for Guide Dogs Scotland is aware that many people are unsure how they can contribute to making beneficial changes for people with guide dogs and she is happy to work with landlords in helping them make reasonable adjustments to their properties.