Emotional Support Animals – How Landlords Can Confirm If A Tenant Has A Real Support Animal or Not

emotional support animal

There’s no doubt that times are changing for landlords in Portland Oregon and across the United States and one of the latest trends that we’ve seen rise in the last 10 years is the increased use of emotional support animals.

What are emotional support animals? They are animals that are technically not classified as pets. ESA’s are prescribed by a doctor or mental health professional to someone who has a real mental issue and the presence of the animal helps their patient’s mental health.

emotional support animal scam

Emotional Support Animal Scams

With the rise of emotional support animals in recent years, we’ve seen more stories from around the world of people having everything from emotional support donkeys, parrots, snakes and peacocks as their prescribed “emotional support animals”.

Most of the Emotional Support Animals that we see today are legitimate but there are some people who want to game the system in the hopes that claiming that they have an Emotional Support animal will enable them to have a pet at their rental property.

emotional support animal

How Landlords Can Know If An Emotional Support Animal Is Legitimate

How can landlords determine if a tenant has a real emotional support animal or not? Any individual who has an Emotional Support animal must first be certified as “emotionally disturbed” by a mental health professional.

To be certified as emotionally disturbed, an individual must have a letter signed by their mental health professional, on the Doctor’s own letterhead. The letter must detail certain tasks in the individual’s own life which makes day-to-day tasks difficult and how having an Emotional Support Animal is a necessity for them.

Once someone has a letter that certifies that they are emotionally disturbed, their mental health professional will direct them where to buy an emotional support animal in their local area.

Tips for Renting to Someone with An Emotional Support Animal

  1. DON’T Revoke a Tenant’s Approval When They Reveal That They Have an ESA

A savvy applicant will not reveal this upfront. They are not required to. Be prepared for any applicant you approve to hit you with this little surprise after approval. Rescinding an approval at that point and for that reason is just inviting a lawsuit that any attorney would love to take, so don’t do it—unless your situation falls under one of the following exceptions. And please, consult an attorney before you do.

Exceptions to the FHA regulations on ESAs:

  1. Animal is too large for the property, such as a horse or alpaca
  2. Property has four or fewer units and the landlord occupies one of the units
  3. Single-family homes rented without an agent
  4. DO Ask to See Their ESA Letter

A qualified emotional support animal must have a letter from a qualified medical or psychiatric professional stating that the animal alleviates symptoms of an emotional or mental disability. If they do not have this letter, then it is just a pet. You do not get to judge the resume of that professional or pick a different professional. If it is valid, you must accept it.

  1. DO NOT Ask Any Follow-Up Questions about the Tenant’s Mental Health

That would be a violation of HIPAA and FHA regulations. Also, it’s none of your business. Don’t do it. They will sue you.

  1. DO Discuss and Provide “Reasonable Accommodation” for the Animal

Many of these situations are legitimate. Any pet owner will tell you that their animals do provide loving companionship and contribute to positive mental health. A healthier tenant is a happier tenant, so in all sincerity, do what you reasonably can to accommodate these animals. For example, you could designate a pet relief area and provide doggy bags for cleanup.

You have the right to require the tenant to clean up after their animal. Your other tenants and neighbors still have the right to a sanitary and safe environment and quiet enjoyment of the property. If the emotional support aardvark is interfering with that, you can evict.

  1. DO NOT Charge a Pet Deposit or Pet Rent for an ESA

These must be waived, however, if it is your current policy to charge tenants for damage beyond reasonable wear and tear, you can also charge your tenants for damage beyond reasonable wear and tear that their emotional support duck has wrought.

In fact, you might clarify in writing specifically that any damage done by the animal or human that is beyond reasonable wear and tear can and will be deducted from their normal standard deposit or charged to them some other way. The ESA letter is not a license for their emotional support pony to tear up your property.

  1. DO Ask to See Veterinary Records

ESAs can be required to be up to date on vaccines and to receive regular veterinary care.

  1. DO be on the Lookout for Signs of Neglect or Animal Abuse

As you would with any animal on the property, pay attention and record any signs or reports of abuse or neglect. ESAs are not exempt from animal cruelty laws, which are a criminal matter. If you become aware of anything like this on your property, you should take appropriate action. You are also within your rights to address bad behavior, such as excessive noise or aggression. Certainly, if the animal attacks someone, you should get it off your property immediately. All bets are off at that point.

  1. DO Understand That You May be Able to Deny a Wild, Exotic, or Farm Animal

Remember the famous emotional support peacock? If you can make a case that the proposed emotional support tiger would pose a threat to others or could not be accommodated on the property within reason, you might have a case to deny the tenant. But you would probably have a battle on your hands if you tried to deny an emotional support mini horse or monkey. Consult an attorney if in doubt!

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