Landlords have a lot of decisions to make about their properties, and one of the biggest concerns pets. Some property owners don’t want to deal with the hassle and potential for damage, so they don’t accept tenants with pets. Others charge a premium for pet owners, require a non-refundable deposit, and/or require renters insurance. Pet ownership is not a projected class, so landlords can accept or deny pets at their discretion.
But what happens when the animal isn’t a pet, but is a service or emotional support animal? Here’s what you need to know:
Service and emotional support animals are protected under federal law. That means landlords cannot deny residence or charge extra fees to a potential tenant with a service or emotional support animal. Though the landlord may not charge a fee upfront for a service or emotional support animal, they may charge tenants for any damage caused by the animal. A landlord may also ask the tenant to vacate the property if the animal is causing damage. Similarly, a landlord can require removal of the service animal if it is disruptive to other tenants.
Service or Emotional Support. What’s the difference?
Service animals are specifically trained to perform functions that disabled individuals are unable to perform – activities such as retrieving items, guiding, or alerting people to upcoming dangers. Service animals can either be trained professionally or by their handler, and once trained, they are registered and provided with documentation.
While service animals are more commonplace, and the laws concerning them are pretty black and white, emotional support animals occupy more of a gray area when it comes to rental housing. Additionally, their recently increased popularity means landlords are seeing an increase in the number of requests for emotional support animals.
The bottom line is that the Fair Housing Act does protect the rights of tenants to live with their emotional support animals in most situations. The exceptions include:
· Buildings that have four or fewer dwellings, of which the landlord is the occupant of one
· Single family accommodation rented without a real estate broker
Any tenant with an emotional support animal requesting a waiver of either a no-pet policy or pet-related security deposit should be able to provide documentation from a licensed health professional that attests to the animal’s necessity. And, as with service animals, landlords have the right to charge the tenant or ask them to leave if their emotional support animal damages the property or disrupts other tenants.
Do your due diligence
While most requests are legitimate, it is possible that a tenant will try to skirt a no-pet policy or pet deposit by claiming a service or emotional support animal is necessary. While you should respectfully consider every request, it is entirely reasonable and within your rights to do due diligence with any special request. If a tenant provides a letter or certificate from a healthcare professional, you may call to verify its authenticity. Fair housing laws require that the person providing the documentation be a person “who is in a position to know” about the tenant’s disability.
The laws surrounding service animals and emotional support animals can be complicated. Be sure to understand them completely, and consult an expert like an attorney if you receive a request for this type of accommodation.