Innovative Property Solutions handles questions regarding emotional support animals almost daily. Understanding policies & procedures, having a good handle on state and federal laws and knowing how to determine whether or not an animal has truly been prescribed for a tenant are all matters which are dealt with on a repeated basis.
Per 1968’s Fair Housing Act, and addendum was added in 1988 stating that people with disabilities or families may not be discriminated against. You might be wondering how this applies to your “no pets” rental policy. Prepare to be amazed.
Service animals are not legally considered to be pets. They are labeled “assistive devices” much like a walker or wheelchair. As a service animal is not legally defined as being a pet, you may not refuse the tenant the right to have the service animal live in your rental. That would constitute discrimination. In addition, you may not tack on additional pet fees such as a pet deposit, pet cleaning fee or monthly pet fee. If you feel the animal poses a safety threat, you must be able to prove such concerns in order to have them legally validated. Your assumptions regarding an animal’s behavior based on its breed or size are irrelative.
Speaking of which, breed, size and weight restrictions are not permissible regarding service animals with the exception that a “reasonable” accommodation request cannot be easily granted. This means the landlord/owner isn’t going to be socked a huge amount of cash or time in order to make the requested accommodations.
In 2006, HUD issued a memo stating, “if a housing provider’s insurance carrier would cancel, substantially increase the costs of the insurance policy, or adversely change the policy terms because of the presence of a certain breed of dog or a certain animal, HUD will find that this imposes an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider.”
Landlords and property managers are entitled to documentation proving that an animal has been prescribed to a tenant. Only a physician or therapist may prescribe a service animal and such proof is usually provided via letter format from the prescriber.
Proof of a tenant’s disability, type, and the request for medical records are not legal demands. You may only request proof of need for unapparent disabilities.
Unfortunately, many applicants attempt to exploit the presence of emotional support animals to get around a “no pets” policy. It is recommended that clear, consistent documentation be maintained in the event that a tenant suddenly acquires an emotional support animal. Record the first time you noticed the animal and request a letter from the prescribing physician. Be sure to record the date you requested this and the date you received it. If a week passes by and your request has not yet been met, document that as well. If the animal has truly and properly been prescribed, a letter will be easily produced.