Many landlords don’t allow any pets in their rentals.
Usually, it’s because the pets might destroy the home and jack up property maintenance costs with broken lamps, scratches on the wall, and leaving their smell in the carpets and furniture… These make renovations a hassle for landlords and also eat into the tenant’s security deposit—and nobody wants either of those.
But what about emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals? Should you allow them in your rental properties? Conversely, is it legal to ban them from your rental properties, if you want to?
The answer is complicated because ESAs and service animals are technically not pets in the eyes of the law.
This doesn’t mean that you need to accept tenants with ESAs and service animals. However, it still prohibits you from denying applications due to animal assistance or implementing pet policies on the tenants.
With many regulations surrounding the topic, this article summarizes the important laws landlords need to know from the three following authorities:
- Fair Housing Act (FHA)
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
We’ll show you the landlord obligations these governing authorities have and guide you on how to approach tenants with ESAs or service animals.
Laws Surrounding Emotional Support Animals & Service Animals
ESAs and service animals are legal assistants for individuals with disabilities and special conditions based on the FHA. Though they seem similar, there is a nuanced difference between the two animals. While ESAs are companion animals prescribed by a mental health professional, service dogs are assistance animals trained to do specific tasks that help a person with disabilities.
As a landlord, you don’t need to concern yourself over differentiating between the two. The bottom line is that both are considered medical devices instead of household pets, with similar laws that protect them.
Since they’re medical devices, these are some of the implications for landlords:
You can’t discriminate against them.
Rejecting an applicant just because they have an ESA is a type of discrimination. Even if the reason is that they did not disclose their ESAs before your approval (which they’re allowed to do), you’ll find yourself in a lawsuit if you try to rescind your approval.
The only time you can refuse is if the animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. Even then, you’d need to show proof that they are indeed a threat, beyond their breed or size.
You can’t implement pet policies.
When it comes to tenants with ESAs, you can’t implement pet policies against them, because they’re still medical devices, instead of household pets. So even if you are allowing pets in your rental, you can’t charge these medical devices with extra rent, a pet deposit, or fees to cover possible property damages.
Think of it this way: You can’t charge a wheelchair fee to a tenant just because it might scratch your hardwood floors. Likewise, you can’t charge an ESA or service animal fee, either.
You can’t decline reasonable accommodations.
Regardless of your pet policies, you may have to make “reasonable accommodations” for tenants who rely on their ESAs. The situation is similar to how the ADA requires rentals to accommodate wheelchairs.
There are a lot of reasonable accommodation requests tenants with disabilities can ask for. Still, one of the most significant impacts to landlords is the obligation to waive any no-pets policies for tenants to live with their ESA or service animal.
The process typically goes like this:
- A tenant who is blind approaches a landlord with their seeing-eye dog.
- The tenant asks for reasonable accommodations on the rental property, such as lower doorknobs and light switches for their service dog to reach with its mouth.
- The tenant waits for the landlord’s response. Landlords must act promptly, as an unjustified delay is equal to failure to deliver reasonable accommodation.
- Landlords evaluate requests on a case-to-case basis, but always with the criteria that the accommodations should bring tenants closer to an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the rental.
- If the accommodations are reasonable, the landlord is then required by law to grant the tenant’s valid requests.
Another point to note is that tenants with disabilities are allowed to make property modifications for full enjoyment of the premises. For example, they can open the closed patio for their emotional support labrador to leave home and look for help in case of an emergency.
As the landlord, you won’t have much control over justified fixes that help a tenant function better with disabilities. While it might seem inconvenient, think about it this way instead—by making your unit more accessible, you’re actually expanding your potential tenant pool in the future. You’re also within your rights to make the tenant revert the unit back to its original condition upon MoveOut (at their own expense).
After scanning through laws and requirements, it seems that the simple answer is yes—you do have to allow emotional support animals into your rental property. And if you don’t, you could face some unpleasant repercussions.
The main reasons are that:
- The law prohibits you from discriminating against and denying tenants who have ESAs.
- ESAs are medical devices that tenants with disabilities need and rely on every day.
- ESAs are part of “reasonable accommodations” that landlords are mandated by law to grant.
Stay on the right side of the law and be more compassionate towards people with disabilities by welcoming ESAs and service animals as extensions of their owners—your potential renters.
Do you have any other reasons to allow ESAs and service animals in rentals? Drop your thoughts below!