Have you ever been in a situation where you have a rental where you have a no-pets policy, you simply don’t want pets in the house. You put it out for rent, you have lots of people coming to see it. Everything is going great. But then you have this amazing resident that comes to you and says: “I want to rent this, and by the way, I have an emotional support animal. Wait, no, actually I have two, I have a service animal too”. This is a difficult situation that sometimes landlords can get in.
If this was to happen to you, do you know what your rights are as a landlord? Do you know what the consequences are for residents who are lying about their situation?
Legal Aspects: HUD, ESA and service animals
There have been laws passed to combat this. To warn residents that they cannot simply go on the internet and print off an Emotional Support Animal certificate just because they do not want to pay pet fees/deposits or because they want to live with their pet in a no-pets policy home.
On this link you can see the most recent document that HUD put out on service animals and Emotional Support animals or ESA. This was back in January 2020. It was kind of overlooked by a lot of housing providers, so we figured we’d bring it up so we all know what is going on. We have to make sure that we are abiding by fair housing laws.
According to HUD, our obligation is to provide reasonable accommodations for someone who has a legitimate need for a service animal or an emotional support animal. Reasonable accommodation means that if we have a no-pets policy we have to make an exception. It also means that if we charge pet deposits and pet fees we cannot do it.
If it is a legitimate emotional support animal or service animal, then we can’t say no, or we are risking receiving fines for violating fair housing laws. These fines can be really high. This situation can be rather frustrating for a landlord. Knowing when the animal is a legitimate service animal or an emotional support animal and not simply a pet someone is trying to sneak in.
We’ve seen fines in the tens of thousands of dollars to housing providers for violating fair housing laws. So what can we do? Luckily and gratefully HUD was willing to listen. One thing you can do is verify.
- Verify that there’s actually a handicap
- Verify that the animal improves or ameliorates the handicap or the ability for them to perform and to do the life function is limited because of their handicap.
Who can verify an ESA or Service Animal?
You can ask, say a medical provider who is saying to you that this is actually a service animal or an emotional support animal that’s needed.
It doesn’t have to be a doctor necessarily. It just needs to be someone that knows their situation and they have actual knowledge of the handicap as well. They have to have direct information on that. There have been cases across the country where the note is from someone’s mom or it’s from their therapist.
This is a bit of a gray area. You might want to consider if it is worth pushing hard on it. We are happy to provide the forms that our attorneys have given us to help you out with this. If you want some of this information, please email us and we will be happy to provide them. There’s a questionnaire you can ask the medical doctor or the person with direct knowledge of the case to fill out.
How can you verify if it is really an emotional support animal or service animal?
Here are some questions you can ask:
- Does the resident have a physical or mental impairment, which substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities?
- Does the resident have a record of having such an impairment? or is the resident regarded as having such an impairment?
By asking this we’re getting them to verify the handicap.
When asking about the animals the important thing is that we establish a nexus between the handicap and the animal. It’s not good enough to say that there’s a handicap and that the animal is great. The animal has to actually improve the situation/condition.
In case it does not, then we don’t have to provide that reasonable accommodation. There has to be a nexus. That’s one thing that HUD has clarified, landlords are allowed to verify the animal and the handicap.
So here’s a sample question you can use to get clarification. Does this specific animal directly ameliorate or improve the limitation that this resident has that is caused by the disability?
What if a tenant lies about an emotional support animal or service animal?
It is important that when the residents are applying and you suspect it is not a real situation you don’t want to just say that to the future resident. That could get in some trouble, especially if it ends up being a real situation. But if you just have that feeling, let your residents know that it’s actually a misdemeanor now in the state of Utah. It’s a class C misdemeanor, which is nothing too serious, but it’s still a misdemeanor. It is against the law to lie about it. It’s against the law to just not want to pay pet deposit and fees and print something off the internet.
So the verification is critical and that’s key. So, this is what we do. We verify the handicap., then we verify the animal and we establish a nexus. If there’s a nexus they’re approved, if not, we can deny that claim.
We can deny the request for reasonable accommodation. If you’re unsure, you can always consult your legal counsel in different situations or talk to us. We’re happy to help out too. We hope this is helpful.