Emotional support animals can be a challenge and landlords and requests may catch a property manager off guard so here are some options to think about.
By Holly Welles
Owning a rental property presents many challenges landlords may not anticipate until they become reality. Landlords may not think about certain kinds of insurance until it’s too late, or value community outreach until tenants leave online reviews when their leases end.
It’s also common for landlords to feel caught off-guard when presented with their first emotional-support-animal (ESA) letter.
Many communities, including those that don’t allow pets, find themselves home to individuals who need support pets to live their daily lives. It may challenge landlords to take a second look at their rules and guidelines while they figure out what is or isn’t allowed under each lease.
Read on to learn everything landlords should know about emotional support animals. After brushing up on federal guidelines, the options available to tenants and landlords will become apparent, and will make the conversation easier for everyone involved.
Tenants Need a Signed Letter
Landlords unfamiliar with emotional-support animals may wonder if some tenants want to circumnavigate no-pet rules when they don’t actually require the support. If they present a signed letter, it means they’ve visited with a licensed mental-health professional and have received a diagnosis that requires a companion.
Legally, landlords cannot call the health-care provider unless they receive written and signed consent from the tenant. The doctor may also leave a note welcoming landlords to call him or her with any questions or concerns. During that call, rental management cannot ask for someone’s medical history, even if the tenant gives written consent.
A signed letter means a potential tenant had a visit with a licensed mental-health professional and a diagnosis that requires a companion emotional assistance animal. Photo credit Lady-Photo via istockimages.com
Emotional Support Animals Don’t Count as Pets
Some landlords may struggle with allowing an emotional support animal on their property because they’ve already established a no-pet policy.
According to guidelines from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), assistance animals don’t count as pets because they work to provide service, tasks or assistance to make life easier for people with disabilities.
Whether a person has a dog, cat or another kind of animal, if they’ve received a verified letter from a medical professional, landlords must make changes to accommodate them on the property.
Emotional support animals are not pets. Photo credit fcscafeine via istockphoto.come
Tenants Have Rights
As long as a tenant meets the definition of being disabled, they’re allowed to have an emotional-support animal. When they require one, landlords must change their policies and services to accommodate them. This includes strict no-pet communities.
Even if a tenant has already signed a lease and agreed to having no animals in their unit, they can still bring home an emotional-support animal if it’s verified. It’s illegal to nullify a lease based on a person’s need to accommodate their disability or reject a potential candidate because they require a service animal.
Liability Insurance May Increase
Because emotional-support animals don’t legally count as pets, they’re not required to meet any community rules regarding restricted breeds and weight limits. It’s one less barrier for people in need to worry about, but it can cause some concerns for landlords.
Restricted breeds and animals above the required weight limit may increase the property’s liability insurance, causing landlords to pay more or lose their policy altogether. Property managers struggle with this, and it’s often the reason a few of the rare emotional-support-animal cases go to court.
If the court is to rule in a landlord’s favor, the landlord must prove that the increased or lost insurance creates an undue administrative or financial burden. Although this is a legal route for landlords to take, these cases rarely result in rulings in their favor. Most of the time, tenants are allowed to keep their emotional-support animals as long as they have their verified letter from a mental-health professional.
Rules Landlords Can Follow
To help navigate these sometimes-tricky situations, HUD has issued an assistance-animal notice to clarify the terms and legal allowances for emotional-support animals. It guides both landlords and tenants by getting into the finer details of common questions regarding what is and isn’t legal.
Landlords should also be aware that they may need to navigate these waters more often. Emotional-support companions are becoming more common each year, causing people to worry that this allowance will be taken advantage of. Federal law has already considered this because it limits one service animal per person, although in some cases people are allowed to have two or more depending on their disability.
As long as the emotional-support animal doesn’t have a documented history of harming others, landlords cannot reject it from living on their property. Any shown history of threats to other tenants must contain overwhelming evidence to hold up in court.
Look to the Future of Pet Policies
It’s smart for landlords to look to the future and plan for pet-policy changes as the rental landscape adjusts to the needs of tenants. More young people are living in rental units for more extended periods, including when they start families. As their families expand, individuals in their unit may require emotional-support animals and an understanding landlord.
If property managers have any questions or concerns regarding their rights or the rights of tenants, they can look to the assistance-animal notice recently published by HUD for more clarity. It covers most situations that could occur so disputes may find a resolution without the need to go to court.