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How to Handle Emotional Support and Service Animals at Your Rental Property

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Navigating the hairy world of pets at your rental properties can be a bit of an undertaking. From crafting pet policies for your lease agreements to making accommodations based on local and federal laws, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to welcoming pets at your rentals.

Regardless of your own pet policies, knowing the difference between emotional support and service animals, as well as the laws you must follow to accommodate them, is crucial to responsible property management. So, let’s start by breaking down the difference between the two.

Emotional Support Vs. Service Animals

While neither emotional support animals (ESAs) nor service animals are considered pets in the eyes of the law, there are important differences to note as a property manager.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)

ESAs are defined by the NYC Commission on Human Rights as an animal, protected by the FHA, that provides emotional support or other assistance to their owner in order to help treat symptoms of a disability. The main differentiator between emotional support animals and service animals is that ESAs do not require training to perform their assistance. 

Service Animals

Service animals, protected by the FHA and ADA, are animals specifically and often rigorously trained to perform tasks in order to provide assistance to people with disabilities. Contrary to emotional support animals, service animals perform a medically necessary service. For this reason, the lawful accommodation of such animals are much stricter than those of ESAs.

But what exactly protects renters and their furry friends? The Fair Housing Act! Here’s what you should know…

The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

Introduced in 1968, the Fair Housing Act outlaws the discrimination of renters on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, family status, or disability. Key word for our purposes today: disability. That means that in the U.S., property owners and managers are legally required by the FHA to allow both emotional support and service animals at their rental properties, based on the definitions we learned earlier. 

It’s important to note, however, that property managers are only obligated to make reasonable accommodations. For example, if a resident is unable to provide verification from a medical provider, or if the animal causes destruction to the property, the manager is no longer required to provide accommodation. 

What This Means for Property Managers

So what exactly does this mean for property managers? First and foremost, it means that you can’t turn ESAs or service animals away if all requirements are met – regardless of your pet policies (because remember, these animals aren’t pets). In the same vein, while you may charge fees to allow renters’ pets, you cannot charge pet fees for ESAs or service animals at your property. 

It’s also crucial to study up on what you’re legally allowed to ask residents who request accommodations for their ESAs and service animals to avoid noncompliance with the ADA. While property managers in NYC can’t ask owners for specific documentation, they do have the right to request verification from the renter’s service provider that they have a disability, and that the animal in question helps aid said disability. There are plenty of questions that are illegal to ask residents, so research the laws in the area of your property to avoid trouble down the line. 

Finally, be sure to save and organize all documents related to the accommodation of these animals at your rental property. From verification letters to amendments to leases, be sure you have a reliable place to store this information

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