A recent survey showed that 87% of pet owners experience mental health improvements from owning pets. These figures are key in the landlord versus emotional support animals (ESAs) debate.
Though there's no official training to qualify pets as ESAs, ESAs offer emotional support to people with mental conditions. As a landlord, you must understand the laws that protect these animals and the relevant exceptions. Here's a navigation guide to get you started with this topic:
What Qualifies as a Support Animal?
An emotional support animal offers therapeutic benefits to people with psychiatric disabilities. The therapeutic benefits may include companionship, comfort, and emotional support. People with PTSD, anxiety or depression may have a support animal.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t protect ESAs since they don’t need training. It only applies to service animals, which get training to help people with disabilities or health issues. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) has various provisions that protect ESAs.
The Fair Housing Act Provision on Support Animals
Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords must adjust to accommodate tenants with disabilities. One of the adjustments includes making an exception to their no-pet policy. With this exception, a person with a medically-prescribed ESA can rent and use the rental property.
Tenants can avoid eviction for having an ESA under this law. The law also protects them from paying pet deposits or pet fees.
The FHA provision covers most types of housing. Its exemptions include housing run by private clubs or religious organizations that limit occupancy to members. The rule also doesn’t apply to rented single-family houses and owner-occupied buildings with fewer than four units.
How an ESA Letter Works
An ESA letter helps confirm that a person needs a support animal for a certain disability. It suggests that the pet can help the person cope with their condition.
Landlords can ask new tenants to provide this document before renting a house. As a property owner, you can verify the letter by running the license number of the healthcare professional on the state licensing database.
The FHA provision on ESAs prohibits you from contacting the therapist and asking them about the tenant. Instead, you can request the tenant to have their therapist fill out a form for the accommodation.
What Happens When a Landlord Violates the Fair Housing Act Provision?
Tenants can file a complaint with the HUD if you deny them housing because of their disability. Consequences for the lawsuit or complaint are usually severe. You'll pay damages for financial losses, pain/suffering, humiliation, and emotional distress.
The No-Pet Policy and Support Animals
You can enact a no-pet policy and expect your tenants to abide by the terms of their lease. The policy will only work if you have a HUD waiver on ESAs. In such a case, the landlord may deny a tenant keeping an ESA that endangers others on the property.
Need Professional Property Management Help?
Understanding your tenants' rights to support animals is important as a landlord. It helps you avoid legal consequences that come with violating these rights.
If you need property management services in Nebraska, count on Aksarben Property Management. It's a one-stop shop for tenant screening, marketing, and rent collection, among other services. Get a free property consultation today.