Have you heard the one about the person trying to fly with their emotional support animal who happened to be a peacock?
Yes, this actually happened!
Emotional support animals are becoming increasingly common. As a landlord, you need to know the ins and outs of support animals, the benefits they bring to their people, and the laws surrounding them when it comes to housing.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal is an animal that provides emotional support to someone with a mental disability. They are not considered pets, and therefore are exempt from "No pets allowed" rules when it comes to housing.
Support animals, unlike service animals, are not required to have any specialized training. They solely need to provide emotional support to someone who struggles with mental and psychiatric issues.
These animals often support people who have issues stemming from trauma, anxiety, or depression. For example, you may have heard of (or seen for yourself) people bringing their dogs, cats, and even parrots and rats on airplanes to help relieve their extreme fear of flying.
Types of Emotional Support Animals
While the most common type of emotional support animal is a dog, any animal can be one. It's really dependent on the person who needs the support and their unique situation. As a landlord, you may have tenants with any of the following support animals:
As we've discussed, a common example of when emotional support animals are helpful is during air travel, but support animals are used in other situations, as well. These can also include hospitals and retirement homes, classrooms, and even prisons.
Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Animals
A frequent question that comes up in the discussion of emotional support animals is, "Are emotional support animals service animals?"
The answer is no.
There are a few clear distinctions between support animals and service animals. First, service animals have extensive specialized training to perform tasks for their handlers. An example of this would be a seeing-eye dog who helps a person with blindness with getting around and their day-to-day routines.
Emotional support animals, on the other hand, require no training whatsoever. They alleviate at least one of the symptoms of their handler simply by being there.
Another distinction between support animals and service animals is how they are treated by the law. Service animals are covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act, while emotional support animals are supported by the Federal Fair Housing Act.
Emotional Support Animals Under The Fair Housing Act
As a landlord, you should be extremely familiar with the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
Under the FHA, landlords must allow tenants to have emotional support animals in their homes. Because support animals are not pets, they are exempt from any "no pets" clause, as well as breed restrictions put in place by both the landlord and the city or state.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development does not define which disabilities are a qualification for having an emotional support animal, nor which animals are suitable for providing support. Therefore, as a landlord, you cannot do this, either.
You can, however, request that tenants provide a letter of necessity from their doctor or therapist. It's important to note that it is not legal to ask for personal medical details of any tenant or potential tenant, though.
While it's easy to assume one of the benefits of owning a rental property is that you get to make the rules, you still must abide by the FHA. While you may be able to have a general rule barring pets from your rental properties, you cannot ban emotional support animals.
Final Thoughts on Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals can be a fraught subject in the property management community. However, if you abide by the law, you should have no issues. If you have more questions about support animals and property management, don't hesitate to reach out to us.