A Rental Property Owner’s Guide to Emotional Support Animals

A Rental Property Owner’s Guide to Emotional Support Animals

"In 2019, there were nearly 200,000 emotional support animals in the US", according to these service dog statistics.

As a rental property owner, you may not have considered how the Fair Housing Act affects you. It essentially prohibits discrimination against emotional-support-animal owners who are seeking housing.

Read on to find out how you can maximize compliance, avoid discrimination charges, and create a harmonious landlord-tenant relationship.

What Are Emotional Support Animals?

Emotional support animals are often confused with service animals. ESAs provide emotional support to people suffering from depression, anxiety, or other conditions. There is no official qualification or training required for pets to qualify as ESAs.

An emotional support animal helps someone manage symptoms of their emotional disability. By providing comfort in stressful situations, they can help ease the condition. ESA owners won't be able to go shopping or out for dinner with their pets, though!

What Is an Emotional-Support-Animal Letter? Does The Tenant Need One?

An ESA letter attests to the need for an animal in relation to a disability. The letter isn't a prescription, but it does show that the tenant has a medical condition and needs their pet to cope with life. It's worth taking a look at what the Equal Housing Regulations say regarding emotional support animals.

A landlord can ask any tenant requesting a support animal to provide this document. Tenants should speak to their medical practitioner to provide them with an ESA letter.

Make sure that the ESA document you receive is legitimate.

Is the document on an original letterhead? Does it clearly state that the animal is being used as an ESA?  

What Are the Rules?

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), tenants' rights protect them from being evicted for having an ESA, nor can they be charged pet fees or pet deposits.

Some states offer tenants with ESAs further protections. For example, New York allows tenants to have more than one ESA at a time (other states limit ESAs to one animal). In Texas and Ohio, landlords cannot place restrictions on the number of pets a tenant has in their home.

What About the No-Pet Policy?

Emotional support animals are also exempt from no-pet policies. Tenants with an ESA must still abide by the terms of their lease, but landlords cannot deny them housing. If a tenant has a disability and needs to have an ESA to live safely and comfortably, the landlord may not discriminate.

There are some exceptions. If the landlord has been granted a HUD waiver, then he can legally refuse a request for an ESA. The landlord may also deny a request to have an ESA if it's a dangerous breed or if it's inhumane to keep the animal on the property. For example, keeping a pony on the 5th floor of an apartment building could be considered cruelty.

To be clear, having a pet is not an automatic right for every renter. Landlords are within their rights to weigh the pros and cons of allowing pets on their properties. It's best to ensure that you reach an understanding of the expectations before signing a lease agreement.

Dotting the I's and Crossing the T's

It is as important for you to understand your tenants' rights as it is for you to understand your own. When it comes to emotional support animals, the last thing you want is to end up on the wrong side of the law because of something that could have been avoided.

Head over to our blog for more great articles for tenants and landlords!

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