Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) have been the subject of debate and discussion in the rental industry for years, with some landlords allowing them, and others not. Likewise, some tenants truly need them while others may abuse the privilege. This guide aims to provide comprehensive information on everything you need to know about ESAs, whether you are a landlord or a tenant, covering topics such as legal rights, requirements, and best practices.

What Are Emotional Support Animals?

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a companion animal that provides therapeutic support to individuals with emotional or psychological disabilities. Unlike service animals, which are trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities, ESAs offer emotional support simply by being present. ESAs are typically prescribed by licensed mental health professionals and can be any type of animal, such as a dog, cat, bird, or even a miniature horse.  

ESAs are not considered pets, and federal and state laws give them certain legal protections, such as the right to live in housing that doesn't allow pets and the right to fly in an airplane cabin with their owners.

ESAs provide comfort and support to individuals dealing with depression, anxiety, phobias, and loneliness. Though not considered service animals under the ADA due to a lack of training, ESAs can alleviate symptoms of psychological disorders by their mere presence. They are not trained to alert handlers of potential anxiety, panic attacks, or PTSD.

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Legal Rights and Requirements

As a landlord, it's essential to understand the regulations surrounding emotional support animals (ESAs). While you cannot charge pet fees for ESAs, you can require a pet deposit if it is part of your standard procedure. Additionally, if your tenant's ESA causes any damage to the property, you can seek compensation. Remember, ESAs must have access to housing with no-pet policies, and tenants must provide a legitimate ESA letter from a licensed health professional. If you have concerns about a tenant's ESA, you have the right to take legal action, but make sure you do so within the boundaries of fair housing laws. If you have any questions or concerns about ESAs, consider consulting with a legal expert or housing authority.

Best Practices for Landlords

Managing emotional support animals (ESAs) in rental properties can be a challenge, but adhering to best practices can guarantee a positive and lawful result for both the landlord and the tenant.

Landlords can require tenants with ESAs to undergo a pet screening process which typically includes providing documentation of the animal's vaccination records, behavioral history, and other relevant information. A pet deposit may be necessary to cover damages, but it can't exceed charges for traditional pets and can't be used for unrelated damages. Landlords must understand reasonable accommodation and adjust policies accordingly to accommodate tenants with disabilities, including allowing ESAs.

Landlords need to understand the concept of reasonable accommodation, which means they must make necessary changes to their policies or practices to accommodate tenants with disabilities, including allowing ESAs. When setting pet policies, landlords should consider the specific needs of their property and the impact of animals on other tenants. Handling requests for ESAs requires clear communication with the tenant and careful documentation of the request and any related accommodations. By implementing these best practices, landlords can create a welcoming environment for tenants with ESAs while also protecting their property and business interests.

Best Practices for Tenants

Under no circumstances can landlords inquire about a tenant's disability or the reason behind their need for an emotional support or service animal. Also, landlords cannot refuse ESAs or service animals due to allergies or general aversions, pet breeds, pet weight, or existing no-pet policies. Landlords are prohibited by law from imposing pet fees, such as extra rent on tenants with emotional support or service animals.

However, it is the responsibility of the tenant to cover any damages caused by their emotional support or service animals. Landlords may legally charge tenants for any pet-related damages to the property, and tenants are required by law to pay for such damages.

When requesting to rent with an ESA or service dog, it is crucial to maintain clear communication. If the landlord does not reasonably comply with the request, tenants may file an official complaint with the Department of Housing or sue for discrimination.

Common ESA Misconceptions and Issues

Landlords and tenants can face confusion and conflicts due to misconceptions surrounding emotional support animals (ESAs). Three common issues include:

  1. Potential abuse of ESA privileges. Some may try to pass off their pets as ESAs to avoid fees. However, ESA documentation must come from a licensed healthcare professional and can be verified.
  2. Fake ESA documentation and online "registries" can create confusion and undermine the legitimacy of true ESAs.
  3. Potential conflicts may arise when landlords are unfamiliar with legal requirements for accommodating ESAs, leading to misunderstandings or discrimination.

Happy Homes for All

ESAs can be helpful for people with emotional disabilities, but they also come with some legal and practical issues that landlords and tenants need to think about. By following best practices and knowing their rights and obligations under the law, landlords can better manage ESAs in their rental properties and make sure their tenants feel welcome and safe.