What you need to know about Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals as a Landlord.

German Shepherd, Pit Bull, Miniature Horse…. These are words that would make any landlord’s heart beat a little faster and stomach flinch. Even if you absolutely LOVE these breeds and think miniature horses are super cute, you may not want them in your rental house because of liability and potential property damage. You may worry that service and emotional support animals may bring them into your life, even if you have a “no pet” policy.

I teach an entire 3-hour course on service animals for Realtors in Florida, but I am going to boil it down for you amazing landlord-mamas and get straight to the point.

Hi, I’m Becca, I make managing rental properties simple and landlord life fun.

Here are the top 7 things need to know about SERVICE ANIMALS AND EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS.

1) WHAT IS A SERVICE ANIMAL?

The term “service animal” was created by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). A Service Animal is a DOG, who has been specially trained to perform a task that directly relates to a person’s disability. The ADA applies in all public places, and this includes houses for rent (restaurant, stores, movie theaters, hotels, rental homes, etc.)

A Service Animal can perform all sorts of tasks such as guiding the blind, alerting to an oncoming seizure, reminding a disabled person to take their medicine, and so much more. Service Animals provide an incredible service and make it possible for a disabled person to live a more normal life. Read all the facts and details here about Service Animals httpss://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html

2) WHAT QUESTIONS CAN YOU ASK TO DETERMINE IF A DOG IS A SERVICE ANIMAL, AS DEFINED BY THE ADA?

This part is super important, and where good-intentioned landlords get themselves into trouble…

Here are the only two questions you can ask to determine if a dog is a service animal under the ADA, and you can only ask these questions IF the disability is not readily apparent to you:

(1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? You are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.

That is it, if the person tells you the animal is a service animal required because of a disability and the task the animal has been trained to perform, you have to allow them, period, end of story, no more documentation needed.

What about “emotional support” or “comfort animals” you may ask… That is a separate class of animals covered by a different law.

3) WHAT IS AN EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL?

The category of “Emotional Support Animal” was created by HUD to allow persons with a disability, who’s disability would be improved by the presence of an animal, access to housing. Read more about the law here httpss://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/PA/documents/HUDAsstAnimalNC1-28-2020.pdf

Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s) do not have to be a dog and do not need to have specific training related to the disability.

4) WHAT QUESTIONS CAN YOU ASK TO DETERMINE IF THE ANIMAL IS AN  ESA?

Fortunately, landlords are permitted to ask for evidence of the need for an ESA. You may ask for a letter from a healthcare provider that states the applicant has a disability, and that disability would be made better with the presence of the animal.

5) WHAT QUESTIONS CAN YOU NOT ASK REGARDING SERVICE ANIMALS OR ESA’s?

You may not ask what disability the person has. Never ask for a person’s medical details, none of your business. Just stick to the questions above, and you won’t violate the law.

6) CAN YOU CHARGE A PET FEE, PET DEPOSIT, ADDITIONAL RENT, ETC?

Simply put, NO, you can not.

7) A SERVICE ANIMAL OR ESA IS NOT A PET, IT IS A MEDICAL DEVICE.

If you have any questions about deposit, fees or limitations, simply ask yourself the question but replace the word “ESA” with “Wheelchair” in your mind.

Example:

Can you charge an extra deposit for a “wheelchair”? No

-Can you require additional insurance for a “wheelchair”? No

-Can you deny an application because the person has a “wheelchair”? No

-What if you are afraid or allergic to “wheelchairs”, can you decline the application? No

-What if your insurance provider does not cover “wheelchairs”? Get a different insurance provider.

-What if the “wheelchair” damages my home can I charge for the damage? YES

-What if the “Wheelchair” is out of control, can I require it be under control? YES

There are a ton of fake ESA’s out there and scummy people trying to pass of pets as service animals. However, there are also good people with disabilities who need access to housing. Read more about fair housing and if it applies to you here http://rebeccap5.sg-host.com/landlords-does-fair-housing-apply-to-you/

Now you know what a Service Animal is and what an emotional support animal is. Stick to the questions above, and you will help the good people have housing AND protect yourself from Fair Housing lawsuits.