As a landlord, it is important that all the rules and regulations of the rental property are followed closely.
These restrictions are in place to prevent things like property damage, wear and tear, and general liability.
However, there are some cases where the landlord must shift the rules in order to accommodate the law. One of those cases in which the landlord may need to negotiate with the tenant is with emotional support animals.
Similar to service dogs, an emotional support animal provides a service to the tenant in the form of emotional care. Both of these animals have different protections and rules surrounding them, more of which will be discussed below.
In this guide, we will be going over everything a landlord needs to know about emotional support animals, including the consequences if the landlord does not comply.
To begin, let's go over what an emotional support animal is.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal is a service animal that provides service to the owner in the form of emotional care and companionship. This means that these service animals are not trained in any way to deal with a physical or mental impairment.
Also, many people think of emotional support animals as being dogs or cats. However, emotional assistance animals can actually be any animal. Since there are no specific breed and weight restrictions to qualify, any animal can qualify as an emotional assistance animal.
Some people also tend to confuse emotional support animals with service animals. In the next section, we will be going over some of the major differences between emotional support animals and service animals.
Emotional Support Animal vs. Service Animal
The key difference between an emotional support animal and a service animal is that the emotional support animal does not assist with any mental or physical disability. This means that it is not likely trained to do any specific job that the owner can't perform.
In contrast, a service animal, typically a service dog, is seen legally as "medical equipment" that can perform specific services for the owner. These service animals are typically appointed by a licensed mental health professional and are trained to provide assistance to those with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. They typically assist the owner in performing major life activities, like navigating the house or retrieving items.
Another important difference is that emotional support animals are only protected by the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Service animals, however, are protected by both the FHA and the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). This is important because it means that the service animals will be subject to fewer restrictions under federal law when compared to emotional support animals.
So, now that we know about the differences between the two types of animals, let's move on to how a tenant can prove that their pet is an emotional support animal.
How do Tenants Qualify for Having an Emotional Support Animal
Although it is easy to define which animals qualify as support animals, it is a little more difficult to define which tenants qualify to have one. The most common cases are tenants who suffer from a diagnosed disorder or disability.
These disorders include learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, intellectual disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and motor skills disorder. Support animals do not need special training but they still perform critical or life-saving services.
But, just because a tenant claims that they have a disability doesn't mean that the landlord should believe them. Support and service animal laws state that an emotional support animal letter must be signed by a licensed mental health professional. This means that if the tenant does not have a signed letter, reasonable accommodation does not have to be made.
When can a Landlord Deny Emotional Support Animals?
Although it is very difficult to deny, say, an emotional support dog, there are some animals that can be comfortably denied. For example, wild, exotic, or disease-carrying animals do not qualify under emotional support guidelines. This means that landlords can deny reasonable accommodations to animals that can pose a threat to the general public.
Also, there are some dog breeds, like pit bulls and rottweilers, that are restricted by pet policies. These policies, however, do not apply to emotional support animals. This means that virtually all domesticated dog and cat breeds qualify.
Emphasis on the word "domesticated". This means that a landlord can refuse to house animals like wolves or raccoons, for example. There are also some other reasons that a landlord may deny a reasonable accommodation request from a tenant, explained below.
Tenant Does Not Submit Emotional Support Animal Letter
The quickest way to have an emotional support animal denied is by not having an emotional support animal letter. If the tenants cannot comply with this administrative burden, the landlord will likely deny their request.
The Tenant Submits a Fake Emotional Support Animal Letter
In some cases, the tenant may try to submit a fake support animal letter to admit the pet into the property. This happens many times because, due to restrictive laws, the landlord is limited to what they can ask about the disability or disorder. This means that it can be very tricky for landlords to spot fake documentation.
The Pet is Illegal
Another good reason to deny an emotional support animal is that the animal is actually illegal in the state. Some examples of illegal animals include raccoons, skunks, porcupines, and hedgehogs. If a tenant has a letter for one of these animals, they can be safely denied housing.
Another reason to deny housing to an emotional support animal is that it is destructive to the property. This typically happens after the pet has been admitted into the property. If the property managers or landlords see that the pet is overly destructive, the pet can be kicked out.
Displays Threatening Behavior / Is Too Large
Lastly, the landlord can deny the tenant's pet housing if the animal is too big or displays threatening behavior. For example, if the tenant is requesting to house a dangerous breed within the home, the landlord can respectfully deny the request. On that same note, if the tenant requests to house, say, an emotional support pony in a 25th-floor apartment, they will most likely be rejected.
Even if the rules are very clear, there are still landlords that will not want to comply. Below, we will be going over some of the consequences of not complying with these rules.
What if a Landlord Does Not Comply
In some cases, the landlord has a strict no-pet policy in place at the rental property. When this happens, there could be a large amount of dispute between both parties.
The most important part is to make sure that both parties are communicating respectfully. It is also important that all communications and actions are on record in case of a lawsuit. If the tenant has already spoken to the landlord about their protections under the FHA, the landlord may still continue to deny the pet.
In these cases, the landlord is subject to a lawsuit on the grounds of discrimination. This could be an extremely costly lawsuit for both the tenant and the landlord, especially if the landlord doesn't have discrimination insurance. Want to find out more about property management insurance? Read about all kinds of insurances here.
Also, the tenant may file a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This goes on the landlord's record and is an undesirable outcome for all involved.
Many states also have a government agency that investigates discrimination claims. The tenant can also complain directly to this agency, causing damage to the landlord's business and reputation.
In conclusion, just like with any other landlord-tenant interaction, it is important for both parties to have patience with each other. This could be a long and complicated process but it requires commitment from both groups of people in order to make it work. And finally, be respectful to your tenants, as that animal may mean more to them than you may think.