HOW TO NAVIGATE EMOTIONAL SUPPORT AND SERVICE ANIMALS AT YOUR RENTAL PROPERTY
We most frequently see the issue of emotional support (ESA) and service animals arise during the application process when someone says their dog/cat is not just a pet and they want to know if they will still be charged pet rent/deposit. When partnered with appropriately, ESA and service animals are an incredible asset and provide great benefits to their owners. As such, they are an established right protected through ADA and under Fair Housing with the anti-discrimination policies.
Whether you’ve decided to allow pets at your rental or not, emotional support or service animals are not considered pets and must be approached differently to avoid potential lawsuits and risk for Landlords. Unfortunately, there are folks who take advantage of this system and are not entitled to the protections offered. To ensure we are fairly applying our policies, MOD Properties requires that prospects first submit the following to consider an animal is an ESA/service animal and not a pet:
- Verification of disability for resident (unless disability is obvious/known)
- Verification from someone in a position to know (i.e. healthcare provider) that the disability causes the resident limitations in their ability to execute normal daily living functions.
- Confirmation from the same person in a position to know that the animal will positively enhance the resident’s ability to comfortably enjoy life.
When someone requests to have their animals at the property as an ESA or service animal, they are making a request that you do not apply pet rental terms to them — including pet deposit, pet rent, etc. If the individual has the appropriate documentation, denying this request would most likely be considered in court as discriminatory based on their protected disabled class. So if a prospective or current resident provides a Landlord with the three items above, that Landlord should respond to document the request’s approval. Some folks will only offer an online certification that the animal is declared to be registered as an ESA/service animal. In these cases we encourage Lanlords to tread lightly, but it is recommended to ask for additional documentation regarding disability, etc. Always remember to document your communications to residents and to contact additional legal assistance if you have questions or concerns.
Most Landlords are unclear what they can and can’t do with an ESA/service animal, so we’ve comprised a list of what we come across most frequently that might expose Landlords to liability and lawsuits.
- Landlords CAN require your resident to sign an addendum (FREE SAMPLE of OURS HERE) that the animal be properly licensed and holds the resident responsible for the animal’s pet waste and general behavior.
- Landlords CAN require a pet deposit/rent for additional animals at the property.
- Landlords CAN require that the individual in a position to know be more than a generic subscription website.
- Landlords CAN issue the resident a noise violation if the ESA/service animal is barking or disturbing neighbors.
- Landlords CAN charge the residents for damages caused by their ESA/service animal.
- Landlords CANNOT require someone to have a specific type/size/breed ESA/service animal. We’ve seen requests for emotional support turkeys, goats, snakes, and more.
- Landlords CANNOT charge pet rent, pet deposit, pet fees, etc.; basically, you cannot charge your resident anything beyond what you would charge someone for having a wheelchair.
- Landlords CANNOT ask for proof of an obvious or known disability.
- Landlords CANNOT require a pet/animal reference for the ESA/service animal.
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