As a landlord, you may be wondering what your legal responsibilities are regarding emotional support animals (ESAs). The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against those who need an emotional support animal as a reasonable accommodation for their disability—but what does that mean for the lease agreement?
The best property management company Jacksonville offers can help property owners understand what they need to know. This blog post will look at the basics of the law and answer some common questions about how to handle a request for an ESA.
What Is a Service Animal?
The difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal can be confusing for property owners. A service animal is protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act. These animals are most commonly exceptional dogs trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability, such as guiding a person in a wheelchair or opening doors for their owner.
In addition, service animals are considered "medical equipment" because they are helpful to their owners who require assistance owing to physical, mental, or emotional impairments.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
Is an ESA the same as a service animal? Not quite. An emotional support animal (ESA) provides companionship and can help alleviate symptoms of mental illness like anxiety or depression. An ESA can be a dog, but other animals can also qualify as emotional support animals.
While service animals are trained for specific tasks, ESAs do not need any specific training to do this work. Still, a physician or other licensed mental health professional must prescribe it for the landlord to allow it on the premises. However, they are protected under the Fair Housing Act. Property managers also recommend becoming familiar with Florida laws that govern these animals and rental property owners. A property management company can help real estate investors understand what is and what is not allowed for these animals when managing renters.
Are There Any Exceptions for Refusing an Emotional Support Animal?
In most cases, a rental property owner must allow service animals and ESAs in the property if the renter requests it. This is considered a reasonable accommodation. However, property owners should be aware of their rights before feeling obligated to allow an emotional support pot-belly pig into a property that doesn't allow pets.
When a tenant lives in a no-pets rental per the rental agreement, work with a property manager to follow the law. Property managers know when to request documentation that verifies the ESA is authorized by a medical professional and is prescribed to a tenant as part of a treatment plan for a mental health issue. Simply being sad and wanting an animal to "cheer up" does not meet the qualifications of an ESA as a reasonable accommodation.
Understand the Rules
Understanding the rules can help a residential property owner avoid being taken advantage of by that tenant who simply wants a pet when they're not allowed. First, however, consult a property management company to the type of questions you can (and can't) ask to determine the validity of a request.
A property manager can tell you that there are a few reasons why an emotional support animal can be refused, including:
- The size or breed of the animal. If the animal is a dangerous breed or the animal is illegal in Florida, a property owner can refuse it.
- Lack of documentation. A property owner can refuse the animal if the resident does not have the proper paperwork. Unfortunately, a potential renter will sometimes fake the documentation to get around no-pet clauses in a rental or lease agreement.
- The animal creates a disturbance. For example, if the ESA barks constantly, scratch at doors, or otherwise causes a disruption, a landlord can ask the tenant to remove it from the premises.
- The animal is threatening to the neighbors. If an animal behaves aggressively or intimidates other tenants, a property owner can deny the animal to the resident.
An ESA should never be a nuisance or danger to property owners or other residents and neighbors.
Consider Allowing Pets In the Residential Lease Agreement
If you're already open to animals and pet-friendly properties, helping renters who need an ESA or service animal may be less stressful for you. Plus, there are many financial benefits to offering pet-friendly properties in a standard lease agreement! Since about 67 percent of American households own pets, allowing pets means a larger pool of potential renters to choose from.
However, whether you allow pets or not, it's essential to include a clause in your lease agreement about emotional support animals. Even though a property owner cannot refuse an ESA, a renter must still request the animal according to the rules in the lease. Rental property tenants must also follow guidelines in the lease agreement for cleaning up after animals and proper behavior.
A Jacksonville Property Management Company Can Guide You
Handling requests for emotional support animals on your rental property can be confusing, but a Jacksonville property management company can help guide you through it! While we are no substitute for legal advice from your lawyer, Spectrum Realty Services understands the landlord and tenant laws for rental properties and ESAs. Reach out soon to learn how our property management services can help you respond appropriately to requests for reasonable accommodation.