Emotional Support Animals

June 27, 2023

Samantha and Seamus discuss Emotional Support Animals on this week’s episode of Be A Better Landlord. There are several reasons why landlords are not fond of Emotional Support Animals, and she explains how they differ from regular pets and service animals. The Be A Better Landlord series will cover various aspects of landlording, landlord-tenant law, how to market your rental property, and best practices to help you get the most out of your investment.

Video Transcript

Seamus: I’m Seamus Nally, the CEO of TurboTenant, joined today by Samantha, Landlord Experience Specialist at TurboTenant. And Samantha here is going to make me a better landlord. So, Samantha, I’ve got a question about a topic that I think there’s a lot of misunderstandings about, and honestly, I don’t know which way is up and which way is down, ESAs. So first, what’s an ESA?

Samantha: An ESA stands for emotional support animal. It’s an animal that’s medically prescribed to an individual to offset the impacts of a mental disability like depression or anxiety.

Seamus: Okay, so a service animal?

Samantha: No, not a service animal. A service animal is an animal that is trained to do a specific task to help their owner or their handler, whereas an emotional support animal is not trained to do a specific task but can offset the impacts of those mental health issues. So when you’re looking at an applicant, if they have an ESA, what should I know about that?

Samantha: In order to request a reasonable accommodation, the renter should be able to provide you with a medical letter from their doctor or medical provider with information about why the animal would help with the disability and state that the medical provider is familiar with the renter’s situation and the mental disability that they have.

Seamus: Gotcha. Okay, so I can call that doctor and learn more about that to verify?

Samantha: You actually can’t call the doctor, but in the letter, you’ll have a license number so that you can verify that they do exist.

Seamus: Do I have to accept them regardless of whether or not I accept general pets at the property?

Samantha: If you don’t accept pets, you don’t automatically get to not accept emotional support animals. You have to make a reasonable accommodation for that renter to be able to enjoy the home with their emotional support animal. So that’s why we have that paperwork that you would qualify the renter, make sure that it is actually medically prescribed to them, so you can have them at your rental.

Seamus: And then does it change the fees that I charge? Like, I have a pet deposit. Does that get charged for an ESA?

Samantha: You can’t charge for a pet fee, pet deposit, or pet rent. But at the end of the lease term, the owner is still fully liable and responsible for any damages caused to the home, even if it were from the pet.

Seamus: Gotcha, so no change in my move-out security deposit return process, correct?

Samantha: Yes, that’s all the same. What happens, though, if a landlord doesn’t accept an applicant with the ESA?

Seamus: That could be considered discrimination, and it could be a violation of the Fair Housing Act. So there needs to be a certain set of reasons why a landlord would say no or deny a request for reasonable accommodation. And that would be that it puts an undue stress, whether that’s financial or business-related, on the business; if it is a health or safety concern or a threat to other animals or residents in your community; or if you are exempt from the Fair Housing Act.

Samantha: Can any animal be an ESA? Are there any sorts of restrictions as to what can qualify?

Samantha: There are no restrictions as to what type of animal could be an emotional support animal. So it could be a dog, it could be a cat, it could be a rooster. They can still make that emotional support animal reasonable accommodation request.

Seamus: So if I’m hearing you loud and clear, ESAs have to be accepted, or at least you have to make reasonable accommodations for ESAs, regardless of what your property’s current pet policy might be and certainly regardless of what your individual opinions on that given animal are.

Samantha: Absolutely, that’s correct. It all makes a ton of sense to me. Why do some landlords hate ESAs so much?

Samantha: A lot of landlords are of the opinion that renters use emotional support animals to get away with something. They want their pet at a pet-free property, or they want to avoid a pet fee by having an emotional support animal instead of a pet. And it’s kind of a bummer to think about it that way because I’m a person who’s had an emotional support animal before that’s helped with anxiety and depression, and I wouldn’t have been allowed to have my pet at the property where I lived. So I would have had to reconsider my housing decisions if I weren’t accepted with my emotional support animal.

Seamus: Kind of a strange question, but what if an individual has an ESA that is a dog and that dog has puppies? Are they also considered ESA animals?

Samantha: They are not. No, only the original animal who was prescribed to your tenant is necessary as an emotional support animal. The others are just puppies, as they would be if it were a pet.

Seamus: Gotcha, so I handle them just like I would any other pet, whether the pets are allowed, or it ends up being a lease violation?

Samantha: That’s correct.

Seamus: Are there any ways that you have to deal with service animals differently than ESAs?

Samantha: They’re treated pretty much the same with a reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification request as it relates to your management of your property. The one thing to note is a key difference is that emotional support animals are protected under the Fair Housing Act, which is part of the Housing and Urban Development, whereas your service animals are going to be under the Americans with Disabilities Act. So they’re protected under different parts of the law.

Seamus: But from a landlord’s perspective, it’s best to treat them actually the same?

Samantha: That’s correct, yeah.

Seamus: Awesome. Well, thank you, Samantha. I now feel a lot more confident dealing with ESAs and potential applicants. Thank you for making me a better landlord.

Samantha: You’re welcome.

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