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What Morrisville Landlords Need to Know About Emotional Support Animals

Cropped shot of a senior man showing a female nurse his dog in a nursing homeHave you noticed a lot more service dogs lately? Service animals, emotional support dogs, companion animals…Why are there so many more service animals?

Emotional Support Animal (ESA; not to be confused with service animals) certifications are up 279% since 2011, and news reports about ESAs are up five times during the same period.  It is highly unlikely that the incidence of mental health problems has grown this much in four years.  A more likely explanation is that pet lovers have found a loophole in the law to force property owners with a “no pets” policy to accommodate them.  Unfortunately, there is little a property owner can do without risking expensive legal action from violating the Federal Fair Housing Act.

Unlike service animals that are defined as “a dog who has been trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability…” and certified by state regulatory agencies, an emotional support animal requires no special training.  In fact, an ESA can be virtually any type of animal that serves as a companion for those suffering from the effects of mental disorders or who experience anxiety or emotional instability.

Therapy Dogs on sidewalk receiving attention from passersbyHow do you know if an animal is truly needed for emotional support?  If the disability is not obvious or apparent, you cannot ask about the disability.  However, you may ask “Do you have a documented medical need for an emotional support animal, and can you provide it in writing.  If the answer is no, you may object to the request.  A “yes” is problematic.  You cannot inquire about the nature of the disability, but you can require documentation from a health professional.

There are many online sources for “Registered Emotional Support Animal” certification that cost as little as $59.00.  These certificates do not meet the documentation standard mentioned above. Real Property Management Excellence knows the difference between these bogus forms and real documentation from a health professional and you can rely on us to vet the situation appropriately.

You can expect more tenants to claim a need for an emotional support animal.  So the question becomes…

Do you, as a Morrisville landlord, have to rent to a resident with an emotional support animal?

To start with, let’s observe the dissimilarities between service animals and emotional support animals. Service animals shielded by the Americans with Disabilities Act, are those that are separately trained to supply assistance, to do work, or carry out tasks for persons with disabilities, they also are able to identify and act upon certain medical conditions. An emotional support animal (ESA) is one that assists somebody who needs either emotional or psychological support and is protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act. These animals are noted by the close, emotional and supportive bond between the animal and their owner.

A Morrisville Tenant Moving In to a Rental Home with her Emotional Support Animal

So as to enjoy the advantages of having an ESA, a resident must obtain a letter scripted by a medical professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker, although any medical professional can furnish the letter. The letter must specify that the animal is necessary, as well as what kind of animal the individual uses as their ESA. Additionally, a resident requesting to have more than one ESA must have a separate letter for each individual animal.

The most usual conditions that ESAs assist with are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, fear or phobias, panic disorder or panic attacks, mood disorders, personality disorders, seasonal affective disorder, and social anxiety disorder. However, ESAs are not restricted to these conditions. Any animal can be an ESA as long as the resident has a letter of endorsement from a licensed mental health professional. Even current pets can become ESAs if the medical professional can attest that the patient’s current pet is providing vital mental support to the patient’s well-being.

Not like standard service animals, Emotional Support Animals are not needed by law to have any sort of special training or experience to be permitted to help an individual that requires support. However, they are considered a reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). You as a landlord cannot reject a verified ESA owner’s request for reasonable accommodation unless you meet guidelines set in your state as a resident landlord owner such as renting out the basement of your home wherein you live on the main floor. Moreover, you cannot charge an early deposit or additional fees for ESAs with the exclusion that the ESA owner tolerates the animal to be a bother or damage is done to the rental house, much as with any occupant or guest in a rental situation.

In Conclusion

The above is a broad overview of FHA guidelines for ESAs, but you will need to examine state guidelines as well as there may be additional state-specific guidelines on ESAs. Real Property Management Excellence is well-versed about the Fair Housing Act requirements and how they concern you as a Morrisville landlord. We can assist you in handling these requirements to ensure that you are in compliance when renting to individuals with Emotional Support Animals.

Curious about learning more? Please contact us online or call us at 919-827-1107 for more information.

We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.

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