Hundreds of thousands of people have emotional support animals (otherwise known as ESAs). The number is always rising as the stigma against mental healthcare starts to dissipate.
As a landlord, you're going to encounter tenants who have their own support animals. But how do you handle them? Are they service animals or pets?
We're here to help. Read on for a brief guide about emotional support animals.
Support Animals vs Service Animals
While it might seem confusing, support animals and service animals are different (but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't accept support animals).
When someone has a service animal, it means that the animal can perform a specific task to help with the person's disability. Service animals are trained for a job and they (usually) don't start off as personal pets.
Support animals are for people with mental health conditions. They don't perform specific tasks, but they do provide companionship.
Support animals are prescribed by mental health professionals, so they're still legitimate. The Fair Housing Act requires that landlords make reasonable accommodations for emotional support animals.
Remember that while support animals aren't service animals, they also aren't pets. If you don't allow pets in rentals, support animals do not apply to this restriction. We'll discuss this more later on.
What You Can Do
When someone has or is about to get an emotional support animal, you can ask for a letter from their mental health professional. Some landlords choose to trust their tenants, and this is also an option, but if you don't already allow animals in rentals, it may be in your best interest. Most tenants will offer this letter without your request.
You can try to find a loophole in "reasonable accommodations," but the court will usually side with the tenant.
What You Can't Do
When it comes to emotional support animals, you have a lot of restrictions.
You can not prevent a tenant from living on your property because of their support animal. You also can't charge a pet rent or pet fee, as the animal is not a pet.
When your tenant provides you with a signed letter, it's inappropriate to contact the healthcare provider unless they've given you consent to do so. You also can't ask about the tenant's mental health history or ask for a specific diagnosis.
You can not restrict the type of animal that the client chooses as an emotional support animal (though if an animal will put an undue burden on your property, you may be able to push back under very specific and unique circumstances). This means that breed or size restrictions do not apply to support animals.
It's a good idea to talk to a legal professional if you're unsure of your rights (or your tenants' rights).
Remember: Support Animals Aren't Pets
Regardless of your stance on pets, tenants have the right to have support animals. As long as the tenant provides the necessary documentation, they're in the clear.
Are you looking for more help and landlord tips? Why not hire a property management company? At Homeriver Group, we help D.C. landlords maintain their properties and keep their tenants happy.
Contact us so we can start working together today.