As many renters with pets are aware, it’s not uncommon for a landlord to impose a no-pet policy on their rental property – and it’s their right. A no-pet policy establishes that a tenant isn’t allowed to have any type of pet in the unit or specifies which animals or breeds are restricted. If the tenant violates the terms of this clause, they could face eviction.
However, as a landlord, you may encounter tenants that require an emotional support animal (ESA) to help with mental health conditions such as severe depression, anxiety or PTSD. Unfortunately, some people claim their pet is an ESA to work around a no-pet policy. Here’s everything you need to know about ESAs and when you have the right to deny them.
ESA versus service animal
While both ESAs and service animals provide comfort and support to their owners, there are a few key differences in the law’s eyes. A service animal is an animal that has been trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability. Service animals get legal protections through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that allows them to go where their owner goes due to necessity.
ESAs are animals that simply provide comfort to their owners by being around. An animal doesn’t require any specific training to be an ESA. So, while a service animal can also be an ESA, an ESA cannot be a service animal without specialized training.
What protections does an ESA have?
Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, individuals with disabilities have protections from discrimination, including those who require an ESA to function. It states that landlords cannot refuse a potential tenant based solely on their disability and must make reasonable accommodations for them.
Reasonable accommodation includes anything that doesn’t put a financial hardship on the landlord. If you have a no-pet policy on your property, but a tenant medically requires an ESA, allowing the ESA would be a reasonable accommodation.
When can a landlord reject an ESA?
If the tenant has a disability and the ESA does not cause financial hardship, then it is a reasonable accommodation and you must allow the ESA. However, a landlord may be exempt from renting to a tenant with an ESA if:
- Buildings have four units or less where one unit is owner-occupied.
- The animal is too large for the specific accommodation.
- The animal places financial hardship on the owner.
- The animal causes damage or poses a threat to other tenants.
ESAs provide substantial comfort to those who need it most, but it’s in your rights as a landlord to verify that they are necessary. If it is a proven and reasonable request, you must allow the ESA on your property.