What are Emotional Support Animals? Or ESA in short.
If you don’t know what an ESA is, here is a short explanation.
As the name suggests, ESA is animals/pets that stay with people to provide them emotional support. Some people confuse ESA with service animals which are originally there to assist disabled folks for example they act like guide animals or guide dogs in case of a dog. Service animals are trained to do certain tasks, unlike emotional support animals. ESA is prescribed by a mental health professional and a medical doctor.
ESA isn’t, trained just as service animals are but they have legal protections and are not considered as pets. This makes it very hard for landlords to deny pets to tenants that they bring as ESA. And on top of that it’s incredibly easy to register ANY PET as an ESA on the internet regardless of - if you have any mental illness or not.
Tenants can bypass your ‘No Pet’ Policy
You must now allow tenants to bring pets as Emotional Support Animals, and you won’t be able to charge them because they are coming as medical aid. Why? Because do you charge extra for a wheelchair? The answer is No.
So, how are you going to protect your property against this growing ESA problem?
With that being said, let’s go back in time to 1968 and see how housing legislation was formulated. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was primarily came into effect in 1968 and later amended in 1988. This law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.
There are however exemptions:
Houses used for members and are owned by organizations or clubs and are primarily used for members are exempt from this law.
Single Family homes are owned by an owner that owns no more than three single-family homes. (That owner would essentially not use a real estate agent) and is thus exempt from this law.
Multifamily property that has four or less than four units and one of the four is occupied by the owner himself.
Guidelines to follow dealing with an tenant having an ESA
If you are not any of those three cases that are exempt from the law, these are some guidelines that you can follow when dealing with a tenant that comes with an ESA
Don’t Deny a Tenant’s Approval Because of ESA
This is quite obvious, that a tenant will not bring this up during the application process as they are not required to, by any policy. And for landlords, it is a surprise when tenants bring their ESA with them. Denying ESA at that time is a greater risk as it may end up with a lawsuit. It is advised not to do it. And if you are thinking about it, discuss the matter with your attorney before taking ANY step. The reason you should not revoke approval at that point is that having an ESA is legally valid and you have to accept it.
People with ESA can even fly with these pets. Airlines are bound by law to allow them to fly with Emotional Support Animals. Such as American Airlines Allow Emotional Support Dogs, Emotional Support Cats, and even Emotional Support Miniature horses.
Remember Daniel Turducken Stinkerbutt, or Daniel the duck who went viral in 2016?
Daniel was an Emotional Support Duck that went viral in 2016, while it was seen on an airplane having red shoes and Captain America Diapers, that was flying from Charlotte to Asheville, N.C.
Ask for an ESA Letter
What you can do in this case, ask for an ESA Letter. Because one can not just have a pet and call it an Emotional Support Animal. ESA is prescribed by a medical or psychological professional and they give them a letter that allows people to keep a “pet” regardless of the pet's policies. These letters state that this animal can provide companionship to this person and can help alleviate the mental or emotional disability of the person. If an “ESA Owner” does not have this letter in the possession and it is just a verbal claim, then this is just another pet.
Inquiring the person
Some people end up asking questions about the mental health of the tenant and try to figure out if the person is actually having an emotional or mental disability. Asking questions can again put landlords in a risky position where they can face the lawsuit. It is considered as challenging the Emotional Support Animals Laws. This can result in fines that are far greater than the damage the ESA may do.
Landlords are required to provide reasonable accommodations to tenants just like we do for wheelchairs under Federal Housing Act (FHA). One should not be rude to a tenant having emotional instability or emotional trauma. An Emotional Support Animal can be legit in such a situation. And an ESA does stay with people like a loving friend, and this adds to their positive mental health and can help the person recover from trauma.
Landlords that are willing to accommodate can make the tenants even happier. However,
It is your right to instruct the tenant to clean after their ESA because your other tenants have the right to have a clean environment and a safe and quiet environment. If a dog is messing with that quiet peaceful environment, you can challenge or even evict backed by law.
In 2010 an ordinance was passed, under which dogs can not bark for more than 20 consecutive minutes during the day and 5 minutes during the night annoying the entire neighborhood. Later this ordinance was amended and the duration was shortened to 10 minutes during the day and still 5 minutes during the night before a neighbor can file a complaint against the dog owner. The dog owner will be issued a written warning to resolve the issue within 5 days (unlike back in 2010 where it was 7 days) and if he/she fails to do that, they have to pay a fine of $50 on the first offense and a fine of $75 on the second. For the third time, they are summoned by the judge.
Pet Deposit or Rent
Remember, we talk about laws that protect these Emotional Support Animals?
ESA Laws does not allow any landlord to charge their tenants a Pet Deposit or Pet Rent. But you can charge your tenants for the damage they or their pets cause that is beyond normal.
ESA Letter is a license to have a pet as a tenant. It is not a pet license that allows you to damage your property. Therefore, you can charge your tenant if the ESA damages your property beyond normal.
To ensure the safety of other tenants, you can ask your tenant to make sure ESA gets proper veterinary care and have their pets vaccinated regularly.
Zero Tolerance Policy
If the ESA happened to be a dog, and it is not a nice one. You can choose to evict because you are not bound in that case.
For example, if a dog shows signs of aggression and makes noise. You can take action and it is your right to take action. You do not want a pet or an ESA in your apartment complex that attacks other tenants every now and then.
There are many cases where ESAs were denied, which includes the case of the famous peacock named Dexter which was denied entry to United Airlines on a flight from New Jersey to Los Angeles. The airline's reason was the size and weight of the wild bird.
You May Deny a Dangerous Animal
Yes there are situations when you can dis-approve an ESA.
People do bring Wild Animals as an ESA just like the one mentioned above. Another case was noticed in 2014 when a woman brought her “Emotional Support” Pig named Hobie created an unwanted situation on the US Airways. The women and her companion Hobie were escorted off the plane. There are a ton of other examples where people bring animals that should not be anywhere near a residential area like monkeys. If you face such a situation, you can deny the tenant. However, it is advised to discuss the matter with an attorney before making any decision. Because the laws won’t allow someone abusing the law. Look at it this way, would a tenant that is going to live in your property on good terms would start with an aggressive move?
The answer is NO!
Because the renter is looking to live there for a year or two on the minimum and no one wants to have trouble. Ask for the letter and other necessary documentation and talk to your attorney about it. After all, it's better to spend a couple of hundred dollars on an attorney than pay a fine in thousands of dollars.
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