Landlords, Tenants and Emotional Support Animals
Can a landlord reject an Emotional Support Animal?
No landlord can reject you the right to accommodation as long as you have an ESA letter signed by a licensed mental health professional. An emotional support animal is protected under the Fair Housing Act. This act requires landlords of apartments or houses to make living arrangements for individuals with certified disabilities.
The landlord will not deny you accommodation if you meet the following requirements:
- You have an ESA letter written and signed by a mental health professional.
- When the animal is necessary for the day-to-day requirements and it will help you improve your well-being.
- You are taking good care of the animal.
- You meet all the requirements related to the accommodation.
Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), legally a landlord cannot deny you any sort of accommodation and he or she has to provide you with reasonable accommodation. But in the case of denial, you can file a lawsuit against the owner.
Is your tenant claiming that they have an emotional support animal for their mental or physical disability? And, are you a landlord who has a ‘No Pets’ policy at your property? What are you supposed to do now? Should you deny an emotional support animal and break the law or should you accept the emotional support animal and break your policy? Well, we are here to solve your dilemma.
Let’s first understand the difference between pets and emotional support animals: Emotional support animals are like therapy for people suffering from mental or emotional disorders like anxiety, depression, stress, loneliness, or panic attacks. They provide support and comfort through companionship and help alleviate the mental disability. Therefore, emotional support animals can easily get around a ‘No Pets’ policy as they are not considered as general pets but the ones who provide comfort to the disabled persons. Emotional support animals don’t have to be necessarily dogs. They can be cats, birds, fish, or other animals.
But we understand that sometimes a landlord needs to deny them and for that, we are here to educate you about your rights and how you can deny an emotional support animal without violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA) if needed under grave circumstances.
How to verify an Emotional Support Animal letter?
Without accusing someone who is suffering from an emotional or physical disorder, politely ask your prospective tenant to show you the Emotional Support Animal letter. Accusing them of lying can go against you in future if the tenant ever files a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Once you have the Emotional Support Animal letter, check thoroughly for anything suspicious.
- Their disability.
- Their medical records.
- Their medications.
- Their therapy sessions.
- Their rehabilitation programs.
- The emotional support animal’s training as neither the Fair Housing Act nor Section 504 require the tenant to provide proof of training of the animal.
- In general anything besides what is provided to you on the ESA letter.
Can a landlord deny a ‘restricted breed emotional support animal’ as it may turn out to be a liability?
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a landlord cannot deny an emotional support animal on the basis of breed, size, age, and weight.
However, you, as a landlord can deny the emotional support animal if:
- The animal is a threat to the health and safety of others.
- The animal can cause any physical damage to the property of others.
But the rejection should be based on objective evidence to prove the emotional support animal’s conduct and not on your fear about a certain breed or your past experiences. Moreover;
Can a ‘restricted breed emotional support animal’ increase the cost of the insurance policy?
It’s true that according to some insurance companies certain breeds of animals are considered dangerous. If in case the insurance carrier of the landlord cancels, increase the cost of the policy, or change the terms of the policy because of the presence of a certain breed of animal, HUD can assist you with insurance coverage or under serious circumstances, launch an investigation against the insurance company for discrimination.
A landlord can deny accommodation to a probable tenant with an emotional support animal if;
- The building has four or fewer units and the landlord lives in one of them.
- It is a single family house that is rented without a real estate agent or broker.
- It is housing owned by private clubs or organizations and is used for its members.
Keep in mind, you, as a landlord cannot charge a pet deposit fee as an emotional support animal is not considered as a pet. However, if the ESA causes any damage to the property, you may charge the repairing cost. To support this, according to HUD’s handbook for subsidized multifamily programs: A housing provider may not require an applicant or tenant to pay a fee or a security deposit to keep the emotional support animal. Occupancy Requirements of Subsidized Multifamily Housing Programs, HUD, No. 4350.3, 2-44(E) (2013). 5, if the emotional support animal causes damage to the housing unit or the common areas of the dwelling, the housing provider may charge the cost of repairing the damage.
Few things to keep in mind:
- The emotional support animal is allowed to go anywhere in the premises which include common areas of the building unless it poses a financial or administrative burden.
- A tenant can get an emotional support animal whenever there is a need for one. He/she just has to provide you with the documentation.
- If the tenant requires multiple emotional support animals, he/she is entitled to do so provided he/she verifies that with valid documentation from a licensed medical professional.
If a tenant who is suffering from emotional or physical disorders feels that he/she has been subjected to discrimination and has been denied the right to reasonable accommodation, he/she may;
- File a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) within one year of the most recent date of discrimination.
- File a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, within one year of the discrimination.
- File a complaint against you with the state’s agency.
- Sue and book you for violence.
After a thorough investigation, the HUD attorneys will litigate the case free of cost for the disabled person. If the Administrative Law Judge (ALA) decides that discrimination has occurred, you will have to
- Pay the attorney’s fee.
- Pay the Federal Government a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest. The maximum penalties that can incur are $16,000 for a first violation and $70,000 for a third violation within seven years.
- Compensate the person with a disability for actual damages including humiliation, suffering, and causing mental trauma.
- Provide injunctive or other equitable relief.
Landlords, don’t lose hope. You are entitled to consider the financial and administrative repercussions of allowing an emotional support animal onto your premises. You may have a difficult time proving the threat that an emotional support animal may cause. But, if the tenants are irresponsible and they do not take proper measures to make sure that their emotional support animal does not bother other tenants in and around the building, you can deny a reasonable accommodation or you can file for an eviction.