Service Animals & Emotional support- Is animal restriction dead?

71 Replies

Hey guys,

Is anyone noticing a huge uptick in the amount of people applying for apartments who have service and emotional support animals?  In just the last 3 months, I swear 7/10 people have had one of the two.  I even had one applicant tell me they had 4 service dogs!  Literally a small gang of dogs surrounding them at all times.

I have no issues with people who have these, but it feels like it's getting to the point where EVERYONE has one.  We even have to disregard our insurance companies strict breed restrictions and risk being canceled if there's ever a claim.

What's everyone doing to offset the risks that are being forced upon us with this new phenomenon?  Obviously animal proofing during the rehab is one, but what else?

I am waiting for the one landlord to be steaming pissed and sue and take it to the high courts. The amount of abuse from these things is ridiculous. The best part is when I call up the social workers (majority of which) who write up these letters and they tell me how much it's needed, they have no idea I know a licensed psychologist with a psyD, who would never write these letters.

The latest nonsense is an A+ tenant I have who is going to school to become a psychologist. She has asked me for pets for years and knows I don't allow them. She met another tenant with a ESA. She now went online, paid $20 for some non-nonsensical license or letter and told me she has an ESA. I allowed it because she is a great person but it's just a perfect example of the amount of fraud that goes on with these.

I think most landlords are far too lenient with it because of the Fair Housing boogeyman. 

@Peter T.

Yeah, I have a friend who did the same thing with his two small dogs. Paid for the cert and there's literally nothing a landlord can do to contest it.

I'm all for people having animals, especially if they help them get through the day. It just sucks when they're being forced down our throats without any real regulation in force to weed out the fake from the real.

My wife has a legit need for a service animal due to a debilitating disease, but the ease of getting an emotional support animals is ridiculous. Someone can literally go online, as Peter mentioned, and have a certificate in no time at all. The animal doesn't even need special training. 

Unfortunately, I don't see this trend changing because someone who wants to own a pet, but isn't allowed due to apartment restrictions can just go out and get a certificate. 

@Kevin Green

I agree. I feel as though the fee + rent increase protections are going to be a thing of the past.

What can be done to hedge against it? Are there any insurance policies that can be required that include animal damage, loss of rent due to quiet enjoyment being violated, or insurance cancellations because a certain breed is in the house?

Originally posted by @Michael Ablan :

@Kevin Green

I agree. I feel as though the fee + rent increase protections are going to be a thing of the past.

What can be done to hedge against it? Are there any insurance policies that can be required that include animal damage, loss of rent due to quiet enjoyment being violated, or insurance cancellations because a certain breed is in the house?

This is more a question on top of yours.  Could a landlord require them to cover the cost of the increased in insurance?  Can’t limit the ESA, but maybe not allow animals to go to the bathroom in the yard and fine it each time an animal craps in the yard install some cameras and just make it so painful and expensive with fines   

@Eric C.

I don’t think you can charge more but you can and should enforce your (reasonable) rules. ESA or not, the animal can’t endanger or disturb others excessively.

Rules were made for honest people to follow!

This is out of hand. No pets means no pets. My friend has a tenant with a service dog and the tenant is taking him to court.  The dog ***** all over the house and the entire triplex stinks. He told her "this place stinks worse than a zoo. Everyone in the building will need a service animal just to cope with the stink coming from your apartment". Now he's insensitive..lol.

@Domenick T.

The issue is that these situations increase the time a PM has to spend mitigating a situation. It also increases the chance of eviction, early termination and thus, turnover. I get that we are protected by basic rules, but that doesn't pay for all the expense that a wrongly prescribed ESA can cause.

How do we mitigate expense without violating fair housing?

I have been reading a lot about this and it seems that landlords can request documentation from a health professional like the persons primary care physician or their therapist, and not accept the online certificate. If it has to be from a brick and mortar location that’s at least one small thing that’s in the landlords favor. I don’t mind accommodating a legitimate need but the online certification is ridiculous. 

They have a 1 year lease , when it comes time for lease renewal , raise the rent .

Originally posted by @Jennifer J. :

I have been reading a lot about this and it seems that landlords can request documentation from a health professional like the persons primary care physician or their therapist, and not accept the online certificate. If it has to be from a brick and mortar location that’s at least one small thing that’s in the landlords favor. I don’t mind accommodating a legitimate need but the online certification is ridiculous. 

That's interesting!  Any clue if this is an official ruling from Fair Housing?  I'd be scared to stick to my guns on this one, considering the applicant can call the state and open a lawsuit free of charge.

I’ve been in the weeds in these forums all day, and that has come up a couple of times. Maybe somebody else will chime in! 

This is from an older forum. 

@Michael Ablan

I've noticed the trend too. Maybe we just up the rent in our ad by $30-$40/mo. and say in the description "pets and ESA's welcome, no additional fee." :)

Luckily I have not run into the issue yet but I plan on directing tenants to petscreening.com to check vaccination records, possibly known history (landlords can document pet history for future landlords), and legally validating if the animal is an assistance animal.

@David Stumpf -  This is my first time hearing of this website!  Seems promising!  Have you used it?

@Michael Ablan I have not. I'm stuck between "I can't wait to try it" and "hope I never have to."

People (LANDLORDS) need to stop lumping Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals together when talking about them. Anyone who knows the difference is going to look at you like you are clueless or a jackass who hates disabled people. 

Service Animals are highly trained and somewhat rare to encounter. They are the equivalent of a wheelchair or grab bar or blood sugar measuring equipment for a disabled person. They are a safety/mobility/medical device. 

Emotional Support Animals are 98% a scam. They make you feel better. There are people who legitimately benefit from having a pet around, but most just want a pet.

The only way this ESA abuse is going to stop is if Congress passes a law or directs HUD to outline true requirements for an animal to be called an ESA. Who here has written their Congresscritter?

Originally posted by @Greg M.:

People (LANDLORDS) need to stop lumping Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals together when talking about them.

I just read this thread and only @Anthony Rosa was in the least unclear as to what they were talking about. I will go out on a limb and say a dog such as he mentioned that craps all over the house is not a highly trained "Service Animal" and he was mistaken about it's official status.

We are considering having a larger security deposit since you can charge a pet deposit with ESA’s. The owners are liable for any damage the animal causes, but a poorly trained animal can ruin a house and even a large deposit might not be enough to cover it. 

Ugh, CAN’T charge a pet deposit with ESA’s. 

Originally posted by @Jennifer J. :

We are considering having a larger security deposit since you can charge a pet deposit with ESA’s. The owners are liable for any damage the animal causes, but a poorly trained animal can ruin a house and even a large deposit might not be enough to cover it. 

During the application process I ask if they have any ANIMALS, if they check no and bring in Bobby the pit bull,  Chihuahua now, toy poodle, whatever and try to pass it off is a ESA I will evict them not for the animal but for falsifying their application.   I’ve seen somewhere also that people put addendum‘s in their lease that says no animals can be on the premises without prior knowledge to the owner. This allows you to turn down any animals that magically show up. 

 Honestly my answer is always do you turn down the applicant for some other reason that doesn’t make them a case for violating  fair housing laws.  

The tenants are smart enough to take advantage of the fair housing / emotional support animal law, yet as landlords you don’t know how to? there are 101 reason to deny an applicant or to not renew a lease, don’t use those reason that are restricted by law.

By the way, they do the same thing with the airline. Buy a $20 certificate online instead of paying hundreds for animal transportation service. Lol, maybe I should get emotional support animal certificates with the kids name on it. Then they all will get to fly for free with me.

@Jennifer J. you can't charge a deposit, no pet rent, nothing.

I've studied this issue for almost ten years and it's definitely getting worse and the government is doing nothing to help. Some states have instituted penalties for anyone falsely claiming an emotional support animal or service animal but they provide no guidance on how to file a complaint.

The easiest solution is to hand this over to www.PetScreening.com and let them deal with it. Their service is 100% free to the Landlord so why not let them do the work? They are experts in the law and will at least weed out most of the fraudsters, which takes care of about 60% of them. The remainder may make it past the screening but at least you'll have their animal information on file and can ensure it's kept current.

Virtually anyone can "prescribe" an emotional support animal. Psychologist, family doctor, family counselor, marriage counselor, and even a pastor. It needn't be a licensed medical practitioner and they're not required to have any medical training that qualifies them to identify the emotional "disability" that the individual suffers from. You feel sad? Get a dog! Things going poorly at work? Get a dog! You heard someone died in the war zone 27 miles from your location? Get a dog!

The most interesting part is that these people suffering from disabling emotional problems are usually not seeking any form of treatment. They see a doctor or counselor once, get a dog prescription, and then never go back. Why? Because they don't actually have a disability and they're not actually trying to heal anything. They just want their pet. 

Even though the animal is essentially considered a medical device in the eyes of the law, they still have to meet basic responsibilities like keeping it leashed, not allowing it to damage the property, cleaning up after it, keeping it quiet, not letting it threaten others, etc. I recently kicked someone out because their ESA lunged and snapped at two different people on two different occasions. If the animal does not abide by the rules, you can absolutely require them to remove it.

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