Recently during a routine inspection, we found that a tenant acquired a dog. A 3-day notice to perform or quit was served since the tenant was in violation of her rental agreement. The lease clearly states no pets were allowed at the property and the tenant had to obtain owner’s written consent prior to getting a pet. Upon the receipt of the notice, the tenant called to let us know that she bought a puppy and that the puppy is an Emotional Service Animal. According to the tenant due to ADA rules she didn’t have to provide any information regarding her service animal. Three years ago, I wrote an article providing the difference between a service animal and a companion animal. Considering just how many people are abusing the service animal rule, I thought it best to address this issue again.
The decision regarding accepting Emotional Support Animals (ESA) is guided by State and Federal Fair Housing laws. Many people confuse these laws with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA applies to public spaces such as restaurants and businesses. According to the ADA National Network, a service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability.
An Emotional Support Animal is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefits, such as alleviating or mitigating some symptoms of the disability, to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability.
Under the Fair Housing laws, an ESA or other type of medical support animal does not have to be individually trained. All that matters is that the tenant has a disability within the meaning of the Fair Housing laws and that the animal ameliorates the effects of the disability in some way. This is the main difference between a service animal and an ESA. According to ADA, the Service animal must be individually trained as stated but an ESA does not require training. This is where many people take advantage of a benefit that is meant to assist those in need.
The required paperwork for a tenant seeking to qualify an ESA is a letter from a medical professional familiar with the tenant’s condition that attests to the tenant’s disability, and to the role the animal plays in treating the tenant’s disability.
Not all landlords have to accept ESA if they have a strict no pet policy. This is the surprising fact that not all tenants know. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules. If you are a tenant and have an ESA, honesty is the best policy. Always disclose this fact up front. Tenants who hide the fact that they have an ESA and later state we didn’t know that we had to disclose the fact could face consequences of their own actions.