As a landlord, whether or not you allow pets in your rental property is entirely up to you. However, when it comes to tenants with emotional disabilities, it’s important to know how to respond to a tenant request for an emotional support animal. Emotional support animals are different from service animals, because they can be of any breed. Not to mention, they don’t have to be trained to perform tasks.
Breaking Down the Domestic Animal Question
Writing an animal policy can be complicated, because there are multiple factors to take into consideration. Pet owners love their animals, but they can cause major problems for landlords. Neighbors may complain about noise or aggression, and the unpredictable nature of animal behavior is such that you may have to deal with extensive damage to your property.
Many landlords mitigate these risks and drawbacks by requiring a pet deposit or fee – but in the case of service and emotional support animals, the law requires the fee to be waived. So what, precisely, is the difference between a service animal, an emotional support animal, and a pet?
Let’s take a closer look.
For many pet owners, an animal provides more than simple companionship; it’s part of the family. However, as a landlord, you don’t have to allow an animal on your property if you have any concerns about the animal or if your tenant refuses to provide vital information.
It is well within your rights to ask for documentation for up-to-date vaccinations and spay/neuter procedures. Additionally, feel free to request a letter of reference from a previous landlord. You can also inquire about how well an animal is trained. You can ask for proof that a dog has completed a training class, or require enrollment in a training program prior to a tenant’s move-in date.
• Service animals. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Because service animals perform specified tasks as designated by healthcare providers and their owners, they are legally protected by the ADA.
Service dogs can perform a number of tasks depending on their type of training. While Seeing Eye® dogs most commonly come to mind, service dogs aren’t exclusive to blind people. They may pull a wheelchair, alert a person to a sound, or assist someone with a seizure disorder.
Titles II and III of the ADA dictate that service animals must be allowed in public facilities. Further, according to the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords are legally required to allow service animals, even if there is a no-pet policy in place. Service animals are not considered pets.
• Emotional support animals.
While the delineation between service animals and pets is obvious, emotional support animals can present a complicated middle ground. Legally speaking, an emotional support animal cannot be a considered a service animal, because it has not been trained to perform a task.
The difference can be difficult to understand. For example, someone with severe agoraphobia may only feel comfortable leaving the house if their dog accompanies them. This would classify the dog as an emotional support animal. But if a person experiences severe dissociative episodes to which the dog is trained to recognize and respond (whether by nudging, barking, or other action), this dog would be classified as a psychiatric service animal.
Although they are not awarded the same legal protections as service animals in public places, the FHA requires landlords to accept the presence of documented emotional support animals. As with service dogs, landlords must also waive pet fees or deposits for owners of emotional support animals.
Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities
While you must legally allow an emotional support animal, you don’t have to acquiesce to their presence if they present significant problems. This is tenuous ground, however. Here’s a basic outline of what you should know.
• You have the responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations to a tenant with a disability.
• You have the right to require animals to be up-to-date on vaccines and other veterinary care.
• You have the right to request documentation from a physician prior to allowing an emotional support animal to live on your property. However, you are not allowed to request information about the nature of the disability; the document only needs to certify the owner’s need for an emotional support animal.
• You have the right to address bad behavior, such as aggression or biting people. An animal’s status as an emotional support animal does not excuse these problems.
• You have the right to require tenants to pay for damages, even if pet the fee or deposit is waived. Notably, service animals go through enormous amounts of training, but emotional support animals don’t. Always document any damage or problem in case it needs to be addressed later.
It may be worth your while to seek legal counsel about your rights and responsibilities. You must waive a no-pets policy unless the person cannot follow general rules of tenancy or if allowing the animal would cause a major financial or administrative burden. Tread carefully; to date, no landlord has been able to disallow a mentally disabled person from having an emotional support animal.
Rely on Green Residential
If the rules and requirements around animals on your property have your head spinning, don’t worry – Green Residential can help. We have a proven track record of successfully managing rental properties for more than 30 years, mediating dialogue between tenants and landlords with care and attention to come up with a solution that works for all parties.
If you need help dealing with tenants, writing a pet policy, addressing damages, or anything else, we’re here to help mitigate your responsibilities and alleviate stress. Contact us today to speak with one of our experts and learn more about how we can help you, no matter where you are in the process.