What Hampton Landlords Need To Know About Emotional Support Animals

Osprey Property Management   |   date August 2021

What are emotional support animals (ESAs), and how do they differ from service animals? Property owners need to understand the differences to follow the law when managing rental property tenants and creating a residential lease agreement. 

If you’re not sure how to handle a request from a tenant for reasonable accommodation with an animal, keep reading to learn more from our Hampton property management experts!

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal can be a companion pet that provides therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship. This may help with emotional or psychiatric disabilities or medical conditions. However, unlike service dogs trained to perform tasks directly related to the owner's disability, emotional support animals receive no specific training. 

Portrait of young woman holding cute siberian cat with green eyes

For example, a psychiatric service dog is an emotional support animal that has been trained to assist its handler with emotional disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, and so forth. The primary difference between emotional support animals and therapy pets is that emotional support animals provide companionship but aren't necessarily specifically "taught" behaviors like therapy pets. 

Why Rental Property Owners Need to Understand the Difference Between an ESA and a Pet

Why should property owners be aware of the differences between emotional support animals and service animals? When responding to a tenant’s request for an ESA, the wrong response or denying the animal for the wrong reasons can lead to legal issues for property owners. 

Most states require real estate investors to allow emotional support animals under certain conditions. If you decide not to allow emotional support animals, but your tenant has one, you could be liable if something happens because it's considered discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

However, investors can keep in mind that while tenants are legally allowed to ask for permission to have an emotional support animal in a property, not all ESAs are “truly” emotional support animals. A property manager can help you review a request and follow the right process to allow reasonable accommodation or determine that a renter is attempting to have a pet under the guise of an “emotional support animal.”

Handling Reasonable Accommodation Requests

A request for an emotional support animal from a tenant should be treated like any other reasonable accommodation request. If the tenant does not have a letter or prescription from a doctor but claims to need an emotional support pet because of a disability, do not immediately assume it's a fake. Instead, be empathetic and talk with your renter about the animal and their need for it. 

However, be careful how you approach the conversation to avoid violating the Fair Housing Act. When faced with a request for an emotional support animal as your tenant, you're more than likely going to want proof of the disability that qualifies them for this kind of accommodation under fair housing law. This can be difficult because emotional support animals have very little legal definition beyond the fact that the owner has a doctor's note or prescription for an emotional support animal.

Work with a property management company to work through acceptable forms of proof that your tenant needs some sort of mitigating measure to lessen their emotional distress, even if the emotional stress or anxiety can't be cured entirely. 

Here's What You Can Do To Protect Yourself

How can landlords protect themselves from doing the wrong thing with pets or ESAs that become destructive animals? Follow these tips. 

Check the Standard Lease Agreement

The lease should outline the rules for pet owners and how to request an accommodation for an ESA or service animal. Remember that while you can charge pet fees or a deposit for “pets,” property owners can’t enforce those fees for emotional support animals. However, owners must follow the rules when owning an ESA, including picking up after the pet, making sure they don’t violate noise ordinances, and ensuring they’re not destructive or disturbing to other residents or neighbors. 

(Cautiously) Verify the Need

If you're worried about emotional support pets because of safety concerns like allergic reactions, health conditions that may worsen with exposure to a pet, or issues with other renters that may be triggered by having an animal around, it's best to ask for an emotional support animal letter from your tenants and their licensed mental health professional first—but proceed with caution to avoid a discrimination lawsuit. If they provide this documentation as required under fair housing laws, you should allow their emotional support pet as long as it doesn't constitute a danger to other residents.

Rental agreement document with keys and pencil

To stay on the right side of the law while accommodating renter requests, work with property management experts! 

Hire a Hampton Property Manager to Handle Renters and Animals!

The right property manager helps landlords follow the law and operate rentals that are enjoyable for renters with animals. Osprey Property Management is here to answer questions, enforce lease agreements, or handle tenant management! Reach out soon to learn more about our residential property management services. 

Learn more about solid lease agreements! Download our free resource, the “How To Create a Custom Lease Agreement Checklist.”


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