Informed of Service Animal in Unit Shared by College student

32 Replies

Help!

I self manage a few properties, one of which is a house that I rent out to multiple college students by room. I just received this email from a tenant: 

"I just wanted to inform you that I got a service animal and that she’ll be joining me in the room."
 -Brandon

I know this is a hot topic/issue, but this is my first time encountering it. I realize FHA will require that I accommodate this request should he provide doctors note, etc. I'm worried, however, about allergies of other tenants as well as potential damage. What have you done about this issue? I appreciate any help!

There are some loopholes that get you out.

I don't remember the exact details, but if you only own a limited number of properties, or the dog is a nuisance, be it allergies or aggression, you can get rid of the animal.

And Mike is correct, look into your state laws. You might not be required to accommodate him. It’s so annoying that they don’t ask you about it beforehand. 

Originally posted by @Jennifer J. :

I would clarify with the tenant if it’s a service animal or an emotional support animal. They are handled differently. 

That is not correct. An esa is a service animal under the Fair Housing Act.

 

@Matt Hendrickson

You can ask for the proper documentation to confirm they have a service animal.  If you read the guidelines, there is very little distinction between a service animal and an emotional support animal.  Training is the real distinction. Service animal two years to train.  I agree with@Russell Brazil this is regulated by the feds(ADA).

Be careful.

Originally posted by @Matt Hendrickson :

Thanks for all advice. Super helpful. I get confused, which rules? ADA or FHA? I'm getting confused on differentiating between the two.

FHA is what is applicable to residential housing. The ADA is not...that as applicable to public accommodations...things like restaurants, hotels, etc.

Thanks @Russell Brazil . So, in this instance I can follow the definition of FHA and ignore ADA. So, I can ask for doctors note, immunization records, ensure the animal performs a function the tenant can't do on their own, professional training, etc? Is there anything else I can or can't ask or require? Any other ideas?

Originally posted by @Matt Hendrickson :

Thanks @Russell Brazil. So, in this instance I can follow the definition of FHA and ignore ADA. So, I can ask for doctors note, immunization records, ensure the animal performs a function the tenant can't do on their own, professional training, etc? Is there anything else I can or can't ask or require? Any other ideas?

Id suggest reading HUD guidance memo FHEO-2013-01.

Also be sure to follow any state or local fair housing laws as well which can be more restrictive than federal ones.

@Matt Hendrickson this is a great question and perhaps one in which I can shed some light on. A while back I used to develop affordable housing for people with special needs. Many times I would build a single-family home. So there would be 3 heads of household in that single-family home. One day a tenant had requested an emotional support cat but we had denied her. I received a call from her lawyer who insisted that he could get "approval" letters from the other tenants stating that they are not allergic and that they are okay with the cat. My response to him was basically that sometimes the tenants are only in there for a year and then what happens when there is a turnover and the next tenant that wants to live in that house can't because they are allergic. Then there is also the issue that since these tenants were "special needs" that on occasion they would end up at the hospital. So who would take care of the cat in the event that she is hospitalized for any length of time.

I know this isn't exactly your circumstance but I think you could definitely push back if you so desire. Of course consult a RE attorney...

There is another suggestion though and perhaps one that will work out for everyone. You could charge a one-time pet proxy fee of like $100. Think of it as a security deposit for the cat. You could also charge an ongoing monthly fee for the cat. We have done this is some of our properties and it is a nice way of gaining some extra income. I usually set it aside in case of specific issues related to the cat once they vacate. In the past we have charged $25-$50/mo. extra per animal. This may help both you and the tenant and keep the peace.

@Kevin Blanchard If a tenant truly has a need for an emotional support animal,  you may not charge any "pet fee" or "pet rent". I looked into this because I had a tenant who was asking to get a dog as an emotional support animal. I also found out that you cannot restrict a tenant when it comes to breed Etc.

My tenant did up end up getting a dog without giving me a letter from a doctor or therapist. I simply ended the lease because my insurance company said that I could lose my insurance if that dog ever bit someone. This was because the dog was a breed that was on the insurance companies list of prohibited dogs. It simply wasn't worth the risk to me.

I have since been contemplating the idea of simply allowing pets and charging for them. My theory is that most tenants will likely not use the excuse that they need an emotional support animal if they are allowed to have the pet.  I believe that they use not for an excuse, simply to get a pet. If they're going to have a pet, why not be able to legally charge for it. This way I also have say as to what breed of dog they can have

Send a notice for eviction for a 3 day to fix. 

I hate and loath emotional support animals.  It’s the hill I’m willing to die on to get rid of them. 

Question, do you have a no animal policy? If so below applies

She provided no prior notice and or proof that an animal would be in the property and has not provided legal proof of it. I’d send her packing quicker then she can print a fake certificate.  I’d also not accept an online certificate.  Also I’d require proof of purchase (people try to pass their family pet off they’ve owned for years as some new ESA animal).  

   And take this for just non lawyer, anti BS advice. I’m all for anything legal.  But I won’t allow someone to break my rules because they don’t want to pay a pet fee or whatever it is.  

My leases say no animals without prior written approval of the owner. If an animal is found on the property then eviction notice is posted and fees are applied.  200 per animal nonrefundale fee plus 20 per animal per month of lease retroactive.  My leases aren’t friendly to people that don’t communicate before.  

The whole asking for forgiveness instead of permission stuff doesn’t work for me at all. I run a rental business not a animal shelter. 

@Jeff Lehman that is very interesting. Do you remember where you came across that information? I would be interested in reading through whatever you found. If true, it would make sense to be proactive and allow for pets with a pet proxy fee and a monthly fee

@Kevin Blanchard

I got most of my information from my real estate agent. He sat through a class about discriminating Etc. and they gave him the notes to the slideshow that they used for the class.

In my case, I knew that I could evict my tenant for getting a dog without my permission but I didn't feel like this was the right way to go. First, what if the need for an emotional support dog was real? If I tried to evict her and then she showed up in court with legitimate paperwork that proved that she needed the dog, I would then be forced to allow her to stay with her dog. A dog that my insurance company did not want on the property. It was a pitbull end was on the list of breeds that are prohibited by my insurance company. They said that if there was a claim, they would pay it but then would drop me as an insured. Not only would she have potentially been able to stay in the apartment but I could potentially  have also been sued as well.

There is a little light at the end of the tunnel in regards to this matter. It is my understanding that in Pennsylvania it is actually a crime to claim you need an emotional support dog/paperwork if it is not legitimate.

Starting to educate myself in this topic, am not a RE attorney, haven't consulted mine yet. My understanding is an ESA does not have to be trained for a specific task, they do not even have to be house trained! And legally, they are not "pets", so a Landlord cannot charge a pet deposit or pet rent (can deduct for damages). We are restricted in what can be asked about the disability. There is a lot written online, especially about who the certification letter can be from (ruling can be widely interpreted). See naahq.org online, they have produced a 67 page "NAA Toolkit, Emotional Support Animals: A Practical Guide to Readonable Accommodation Requests" that includes federal memorandums, scripts for Landlords, sample policies and forms. ESA certification letters are widely available online for a small fee. Animal breeders are encouraging and giving information to buyers, and word of how easy it is to do is spreading among tenants. Another thought, if you do Section 8 in your rental, the HUD rulings may apply, not just FHA (FHEO-2013-01 Notice mentioned above and printed in NAA Toolkit, first page of Notice, toward the end of footnote#2). There is a lot to sort out on the ESA topic. I still have a lot of studying to do. Hope something here is helpful. Good luck with your situation.

@Matt Hendrickson

Considering you’re getting a lot of varying opinions and your decision may have legal ramifications, I would reach out to your local/state apartment association to find out for sure what your legal obligation is in this instance. The one I belong to provides a landlord handbook updated annually that spells out exactly how to legally handle service animal requests.

Originally posted by @Jeff Lehman :

@Kevin Blanchard

I got most of my information from my real estate agent. He sat through a class about discriminating Etc. and they gave him the notes to the slideshow that they used for the class.

In my case, I knew that I could evict my tenant for getting a dog without my permission but I didn't feel like this was the right way to go. First, what if the need for an emotional support dog was real? If I tried to evict her and then she showed up in court with legitimate paperwork that proved that she needed the dog, I would then be forced to allow her to stay with her dog. A dog that my insurance company did not want on the property. It was a pitbull end was on the list of breeds that are prohibited by my insurance company. They said that if there was a claim, they would pay it but then would drop me as an insured. Not only would she have potentially been able to stay in the apartment but I could potentially  have also been sued as well.

There is a little light at the end of the tunnel in regards to this matter. It is my understanding that in Pennsylvania it is actually a crime to claim you need an emotional support dog/paperwork if it is not legitimate.

 This is one of the landlord loopholes. If there is a breed that is prohibited by your insurance, or would cause undue hardship, you can deny an ESA.

Double check that though.

Man, college kids.. some think they can do whatever they want.

@Account Closed

Hey Eric. Does it have to be a newly purchased animal tho? I think people actually can have the "old" family dog as a emotional support (animal) dog.

Correct me if I am wrong but I cant find any info of it needing to be "newly" acquired dog for it to be an ESA.

In the FHA guidance issued in 2013 in regards to this issue it states a landlord can deny an emotional support animal if the accommodation "would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider's services." I'd be interested in hearing other's opinion, but in my case - since I have multiple tenants living under the same roof who have signed leases under the assumption there would be no animals and could possibly have allergies and other health issues to animals - that accommodating a service animal does change the nature of my services. Currently, the tenants who have signed leases for the upcoming school year have signed leases under the assumption there are no animals. They have no idea an animal now could be there and now may have allergy issues or other health concerns that they never felt they needed to mention. As @Kevin Blanchard stated, this could also affect my “service” down the road as other tenants that sign leases in the future could have allergy sensitivities or other animal related issues. Never mind the fact that the animal could bite another tenant and if it is not immunized could cause bigger problems. 

Am I wrong here?