Anyone hearing the "therapy animal" workaround for "pets?" I am !

99 Replies

I have owned and operated properties since 2007, and have always had a NO smoking and NO pets policy. As of late, I am getting a lot of requests for needing a "service animal" or "therapy animal". I don't know if this varies from state to state, as I live in Oregon, but it feels like people of finding the legal workaround the no pet policy

Obviously, if someone needs this therapy animal, I can fully appreciate it. But, why bring it up right after you get approved, or be sneaky later on? Anyone else have knowledge about this, or does it vary from state to state? Oregon seems to be "animal" friendly. Thank you!

Is there a doctor's letter that can confirm the person requires "therapy animal"? If not, people might just say they need to smoke "medical mari" for treatment and cannot show you the actual medical mari prescription. 

@Leo Poon I have learned recently that for “therapy animals” they do not need any paperwork at all now in Oregon, just their verbal to you. Its amazing how laws are slanted in the direction of tenants, and not the property owner. 

Trying to break the requirements no pets..... Often they sign up for no pets you turn around there are two service dogs and three cats.


Originally posted by @Todd Powell :

@Leo Poon I have learned recently that for “therapy animals” they do not need any paperwork at all now in Oregon, just their verbal to you. Its amazing how laws are slanted in the direction of tenants, and not the property owner. 

 Yes, that is definitely a more favorable term for the tenant in Oregon.  But can you charge more deposit for covering damage or stains that might be caused by the "therapy animals"?

@Leo Poon actually in Oregon you cannot charge ANY more deposit. Of course, you can use their security to cover any damages upon move out.  My concern is that legit "service animal" I believe is a one dog. A "therapy animal" can be any type of animal. I flipped one property years ago that had a Baboon, no joke! Anyone know Oregon well? I feel tenants are learning the "work around" for this law just to bring in their pets later.

I only use month to month leases.  If I am surprised by a tenant, it does not take long to remedy the situation.

In my for rent ad I ask "How many animals?"  in addition to some other specific questions like How much do you smoke?  They need to answer the questions to get a response from me.

I am animal-friendly where possible, but don't do surprises.  If they weren't truthful when they answered my questions in the ad or during pre-screening, then I can reject based on that and it's no longer a pet or animal issue.  

Folks need to have an animal policy these days, not a pet one. Therapy, ESAs and comfort animals are not pets.

@Terrell Garren I think that is great BUT if they pay on time, how you bounce them out ?

  IF the tenant can prove that their therapy animal was the real issue you would have winnable lawsuit against you in Oregon! Thats the issue, how to address when you do discover their “plan.”

@Todd Powell I give them 30 days notice that the agreement will be terminated.  I don't mean to imply that I've done this 10s of times. For the past 10 years, I used a 12 month lease.  Then I realized that protected the tenants, not so much me.  Tenants will generally leave when they want to leave regardless.  Now I only use month to month leases.  I can deal with misbehaving tenants relatively quickly and the important thing is they know it. 

@Terrell Garren Actually that makes a lot of sense! I do 12 month leases for my student campus properties, and that works as they are 100% committed and no one has ever bailed. However, my other properties I do month to month for your same reasons. My only thought is when the "animal" topic comes up, I think legally we would be greatly exposed with bouncing them once we find out. I think they, or their lawyer, would have my field day as its totally legal for them to have that therapy animal. Its a frustration as my places are all new and very nicely rehabbed, and pets never make them better! That's my issue, more tenants are trying to play this card.

This is definitely a problem all over.  However, I believe a "therapy animal" and an "emotional support animal" are not the same.  As I understand it based on my research, I don't think therapy animals have any protections.

I love @Steve Vaughan 's strategy of using the "lying on the app" by asking about animals rather than pets.  I changed my apps similarly about a year ago after listening to a RentPrep episode.  I, too, only offer MTM leases.

@Todd Powell I think your best defense is what Steve does as well as heavy due diligence in the form of social media and speaking with prior landlords.  Not sure what you'd do if it were an existing tenant that was all of sudden in need of an ESA or service animal.  Maybe your need to renovate the unit would coincide with their need to circumvent your policy?  

That's a tough one.  I don't have a good solution to this.  It's certainly a problem based on the volume of posts on BP lately on this very topic.  It's a real shame some selfish people eclipse those that genuinely need that kind of assistance, whom needlessly fall under undue suspicion and scrutiny because of these scammers.

@Wesley W. unfortunately the therapy animal rules in Oregon and no docs are even needed at all. I have been checking laws and with other PMs. And, I definitely screen hard up front like @Steve Vaughan stated. 

My issue is after they move in months later I have been hearing their need due to depression, and college tenants are saying they need a therapy animal to cope. I don’t see a way around it. These folks have leases, but even with month to month I believe retaliation lawsuits could follow if I need to “rehab.” And my units are all rehabbed and the nicest around, and these tenants pay on time and no other issues whatsoever. That’s the  dilemma. 

@Todd Powell take a look at this https://adata.org/publication/service-animals-booklet

@Todd Powell - South Florida may be ground zero for fraudulent service animal tags. There are a number online sites where one can purchase a service animal tag for about $60. In FL, agents aren't allowed to ask details, however associations are given significantly more leeway. Was involved in a sale (as an agent for the seller) and the buyers were clearly lying and tried the "you can't ask that" route and the association called their attorney who responded, "yes, we can". In the end, the seller was rejected (more for lying on the application than anything else).

Know your state's (and if applicable, federal) laws. 

@Todd Powell not sure what the concern is on retaliation for ending a month-to-month lease.

Granted, a tenant may not like their lease being ended but a M2M contract only lasts a month. You don't need a reason to cancel and you just need to give proper notice which is dictated by your state laws.

I'm not an attorney but a tenant won't have much of a case against a landlord for not renewing the lease unless Oregon has some laws I might not be familiar with. I do know your state is one of the strictest in the country so I wouldn't be surprised if there is some provision for tenants.

@Todd Powell I am insensed when I find that my new tenants paid $10 to $25 online to obtain a Comfort Certificate for a animal to live and damage My investment. As you have stated, there are laws protecting legitamate use of this therepy. However, it has been becoming an issue with misuse and outright fraud of the system. That being said, here’s my remedy. After finding out there is an unauthorized animal on my property, I send a demand letter to the tenant stating their violation of the lease agreement. They then present their Comfort Animal Certified Online it’s Legitimate (RIGHT!) proof of authenticity. I then forward them a letter stating that I will be exercising my lease right to inspect the property from time to time per our lease agreement. I then give them a 24hour notice that I will need to inspect the property. If I find any damage, I take puctures and notify the tenant that I will return in three days to inspect the repairs they have made. If damages have not been repaired then I contact a repair company to correct the issue. I then send a demand for payment for the repairs caused by their Comfort Animal. If the repair bill is not paid then I file a small claims suit to recover my repair cost. It’s quicker and less expensive than an eviction process since in Ohio an LLC has to hire legal council to represent the company titled property in eviction proceedings. I now inspect monthly before damages escalate.
@Todd Powell I recently had a tenant present me with an ESA letter AFTER I had busted them with an unauthorized animal. I would never accuse someone of lying about something like that, but the letter was very clearly a form letter and the reviews on the doctor’s website said they sold them online for $35. Fast forward six weeks and the support bunny is dead and I have a new (and much more legit loooking) ESA letter for a massive black retriever. Michigan is working on legislation to make it more difficult to get an ESA letter, but I don’t think it’s passed.
@Leo Poon asking for a document for a medical condition stating you have a medical condition is a violation of HIPPA Privacy laws . Then the next problem is there is no certification for service animals so any animal can be a service animal . Since there is no recognized certification process for certifying an animal , there probably isn't a process to show you are in need . Airlines have issues with this all the time . Service animals have a gray area .. probably not worth the battle . (Not a subject matter expert , just my 2 cents from what I've gathered from others that dealt with it )
@Leo Poon yet there's federal law that protects service animals which is why they fly all the time ! So ...that's why I don't think it's worth the battle , violating someone's federal "constitutional rifhts" blah blah blah ... I'd make them pay the pet deposit and any damages incurred by the pet when leaving etc .....

Unfortunately, you can't legally refuse the service animal or do anything about it.

I had few times a call from a "Tenant" who totally was undercovered agent of housing authorities.

They ask stupid questions about the Rental which is already stated in add and then:"BTW, I have a service dogs"

Sure, I answered that I welcome the dogs and there won't be pet security deposit, however, they have to pass other requirements. Never heard from them again.

As for Tenants who move in "emotional support" after lease was signed, I treat it as if they'd had a baby. You can't evict someone because a baby was born during their tenancy. Kids damage property much worse than pets but there is no way to refuse because of kids. Same with pets.

Good news - people with pets make longer term Tenants. Why wouldn't they - no pet rent or extra security deposit - just buy a piece of paper for few $$

I would never deny a tenant because of a service/therapy/comfort animal. Just as I would never deny a wheelchair, nurse, eyeglasses or O2 tank. 

However

If during quarterly inspections I found a hole in a door because a wheelchair backed into it, a Hole in a wall a nurse punched, a burn mark where glasses caught the sun and burned a hole in a carpet, a broken stair where an O2 tank was dropped or a chewed up molding the result is the same. There is a scheduled repair and the cost is added to the next months rent. Do not wait until the end of the lease. If there is no damage to the property then I don't care if they have 90 therapy animals or 90 pairs of glasses, but damage is assessed quarterly while looking for leaks, worn window seals, furnace filters, cracked outlets etc. 

If a person truly has a service animal there should be no concern about renting to them.  As mentioned above, please check this out:  https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.htm...

These links may also be helpful: https://www.miamiherald.com/living/pets/article125...

I know the ADA is legit, but not 100% sure if the second link provides good legal advice.  This is a sticky issue but I have spent hours looking online and have found that (apparently) an ESA "certification" must be signed by a mental health professional IN THE STATE OF THE RENTAL PROPERTY.  If true, that eliminates a lot of potential tenants who ordered their "certification" online.  

Good luck!

@Todd Powell we see this big time in Chicagoland area. Know the law on this. Check out hud.gov for the guidelines on this. They provide the proper questions you can ask - there are only two! Anything else is discrimination... smh.

Create Lasting Wealth Through Real Estate

Join the millions of people achieving financial freedom through the power of real estate investing

Start here