Emotional support animals are special animals that are kept to provide their handler with comfort and relief from the symptoms and effects of their emotional disabilities. These animals are not considered pets and are generally not limited to any species. They are, therefore, not bound to any restrictions typically leveled towards pets and their owners. Here are 5 essential things every landlord should know about support animals.
1. They have a legal right to full access.
By governing law, emotional support animals are medical tools. They are, therefore, exempt from any restrictions landlords may have instituted in their buildings. Under Federal Fair Housing Laws, these animals must be given full access to apartments, and must not be subject to any pet-related fees or rent collection.
These animals are often used by people with emotional disabilities like post-traumatic stress disorder and severe anxiety. On many occasions, these animals make the difference between life and death for their handlers. They must, therefore, be given full right of way.
2. The tenant will have a signed letter.
Support animals are assigned to people by their psychotherapists. These licensed mental-health professionals diagnose their patients and recommend that the patient get an animal companion. Your tenant will, therefore, bear a signed letter from their doctor.
Many doctors are welcoming and open to communication, and may leave a note for landlords to email or call in should they need any clarification. During such a call, remember that it’s illegal to ask about the tenant’s medical history. And unless the tenant offers written and signed consent to make the call, it’s also unlawful to reach out to their health-care provider.
3. Remember the tenant’s rights.
Support animals are supposed to cater to anyone that falls into the spectrum of an emotional disability. If your tenant is disabled and meets the qualifications to have a support animal, you must restructure your rules and building policies to accommodate them. If the tenant had already signed a lease agreeing not to keep any animals in their home, they could still bring in a support animal if their doctor signs off on it.
Tenants have rights, and it’s illegal to terminate their lease based on their need to live with their disability. It’s also illegal to discriminate against a client and reject their lease application because they own a support animal.
4. There are possible exceptions.
Although the law bends over backward to accommodate disabled persons and their support animals, there are a few exceptions to the rule. For example, although these animals are generally not restricted by breeds, landlords tend to get the final say when a tenant has an exceptionally large companion- like a horse or llama.
If the tenant’s support animal has a history of harming other residents, you have the leeway to reject their application for tenancy. Wolves and other undomesticated species do not count as support animals. Remember, you have to give priority to the safety of all your tenants.
5. They are different from service dogs.
Service animals are specially trained to perform specific tasks that help relieve their handler’s disability. For example, a service dog owned by an ex-soldier plagued with PTSD could be trained to enter rooms first and switch on the lights. Blind people also count on service dogs to lead them around as they go about the day’s business.
Support animals are a different breed altogether. They aren’t necessarily trained but are used by their owners to alleviate the symptoms of their anxiety and other emotional disabilities.
Providing reasonable accommodation to emotional support animals
Although the Federal Fair Housing Laws call for landlords to provide reasonable accommodation to support animals, they shouldn’t pose a heavy burden on your time and finances. That said, it would help to be proactive by doing things like providing doggy bags and ensuring your tenants vaccinate their animals.
You can also make it a requirement for the tenants to clean up after their animals. This way, all of your tenants will remain comfortable, and won’t be inconvenienced by their neighbor’s support animal.