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A Quick Landlord's Guide to Support Animals in Rental Properties

A Quick Landlord's Guide to Support Animals in Rental Properties

Most landlords know all about service animals, but did you know that support animals are different? While many people think that they're the same as pets (and thus follow the same rules), that's actually not true. 

Emotional support animals serve similar purposes to service animals, but they support their owner's mental health rather than their physical health. But what does that mean for you as a landlord?

We're here to talk all about support animals in a rental property so you can stay compliant with Fair Housing rules. Read on to learn more. 

What Are Support Animals? 

Support animals (otherwise known as emotional support animals) are companion animals. They're not the same as pets or service animals.

Unlike service animals, emotional support animals don't need to receive any extra training in order to do their "jobs." They support their owners and they're often "prescribed" by mental health professionals. 

These animals do not have legal protections in the workplace or at private businesses (though there are exceptions), but they do have protections when it comes to housing. 

Basic Rules and Guidelines for Emotional Support Animals

Any time you interview a tenant for your property, you should know that it's unacceptable to ask them about their disability. There are other questions that you can ask if you choose to do so. You also can't ask for a certification or registration document (or proof of training) for the support animal.

If you normally charge pet rents or upfront pet deposits, you can not do this with an emotional support animal. Allowing animals without extra fees is crucial in this case. This is true even if your property has a "no-pets" rule. 

Some landlords try to skirt around the laws regarding emotional support animals by claiming "undue burden." While you can do this, keep in mind that courts often rule in favor of the person with the support animal. It's best to allow the animal, unless someone else on the property has a documented serious allergy to the animal. 

Asking for Documentation

In recent years there has been a big surge in the news about emotional support animals, particularly with airlines. This has confused property owners even more with regards to how these animals must be handled.

Although you can't ask for legal documentation, you can ask for a written letter from a mental health professional. The letter should mention that someone in the household has a disability and that the animal helps with that disability.

Most potential tenants will have these letters ready when they get ready to apply for apartments or rental homes. Asking for this documentation should be done properly in order to make sure there is no discrimination taking place and no Fair Housing laws are being broken.

Tenant Responsibilities

Even though the support animal isn't a pet, your tenant is still responsible for it as if it was a pet. The animal should be housebroken; the tenant should clean up any messes that it makes, and the tenant is responsible for any damage that it causes to the property or other tenants.

You may have to modify your lease agreement to state tenant responsibilities for support animals.

Our Pet and Animal Policy

We have developed and adhere to a strict policy regarding service animals, emotional support animals and pets. Having this policy in place and by keeping this process consistent for all residents and their pets, we protect our property owners from possible legal issues and certify that support animals are legitimate. 

We use a third-party screening service that specializes in animals to take a thorough look into the background of each pet and its owner. Every tenant that lives in a property we manage must complete this part of the screening process regardless of whether they have a pet.

For tenants without a pet, this ensures everyone living in our properties understand our rules regarding pets in the home, whether it is their pet or that of a guest. If they do have a pet, they must provide pictures and detailed information, including shot records, and answer questions revealing their habits as a pet owner.

Tenants who submit a reasonable accommodation request for housing will go through a comprehensive legal review process that adheres to HUD and FHAct guidelines.

During the review process, our third-party provider's Assistance Animal Review Team contacts the support animal owner’s (Requester) third-party health care provider to validate the document’s authenticity and never inquires about the specific nature of a disability.

(The FHAct provides that reliable and credible documentation that meet the test of reasonableness may be requested. Documentation must affirm the animal owner has a disability and a disability-related need for the animal. A letter from a medical doctor, social worker, or mental health professional are acceptable sources of documentation.)

Support Animals Aren't Pets

Regardless of whether or not you allow pets in a rental property, it's your responsibility to accept emotional support animals. As long as the tenant can provide a letter stating that they need the animal, it's in your best interest to allow it. 

Remember: support animals have special animal rules. Breaking them can open you up to legal trouble down the line. Many property owners think this is something they can overlook but we can assure you, the risk of legal trouble by not having proper procedures in place is legitimate. 

Are you looking for help with your rental property in Oxford, Mississippi? Are you concerned that you don't know and understand all the Fair Housing laws? At Cissel Management Company, let our experience as a property manager work for you. Contact us so we can start working together today.