Help tenant issue- Emotional support animals

40 Replies

Need help with tenant issue-

We have an older duplex that my husband recently remodeled that is an up/down duplex in the historic district of our city which is close to the university. The upstairs has 3b/2bath approx 1000 sq feet, all wood floors, no yard. The current tenants (all university students) had 1 dog on the lease. 2 of the 3 tenants just gave us notice that they now both have emotional support dogs that they are bringing into the upper unit and have letters for their ESA. One happens to be a new puppy that one of the tenants already bought!

We would not have allowed 3 dogs to be in this unit as it is an smaller upper unit with no yard. The tenants down below can hear all the dogs barking and running around very easily which makes it a noise and nuisance issue for the tenants below.

The main floor unit is a 2bed/2bath and is currently available to rent. We have a mom and daughter who are interested in renting that do not have pets. I am very concerned this is going to cause them to move into a living situation that is loud and quite annoying. Especially since one of the dogs is a new puppy which I am sure is not trained. I am a dog lover and know how much noise and damage new puppies can make.

I’m not sure how to handle this situation as it actually poses an issue to renters in the lower duplex. We just received notice of these dogs/puppy today. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

@Monte Blunk I would think the first step would be to contact a local attorney to make sure you aren't stepping out of bounds on laws. I am more concerned about the tenants than I am about the dogs. It seems like they are very in tune with how to break the rules by using legal loop holes. Did you screen them? Did credit come up ok? Eviction history? 

Monte,

I would really take a hard look at these letters they provided. Most people try and pay for them online to avoid a “no pet” or not pay a pet deposit. The letter must be from a physician that it currently treating them. You can ask to have their physician fill out your own form, this sometimes helps smoke out the people who are taking advantage of the system. I am happy to share my form with you. 

Definitely request the letter directly from their physician. Do not accept a copy from them directly. Check into your state laws to see if and when said letter was written. After they got a dog? Can you now evict for said violation? When does their lease end? It appears to me some tenants are about to get a zero dollar deposit back due to the condition of the unit. Terminate lease if MTM. Rents need to be raised if possible. 

Note to any magazine article writers that hate landlords: I am advocating following all state and local laws to "protect" any and all precious tenant victims. 

I saw an article a while back about a blind girl that can't get taxi drivers to pick her up. They see a dog with a vest, assume it's yet another person who ordered one of those phony kits online, and keep driving.

As a landlord, a sometimes-renter, and someone with a family member that actually qualifies for an ESA (a real one with all the special training), it annoys me to no end to see people abusing the system like that. 

Those who actually need these accommodations tend to have severe anxiety / panic disorders. They aren't exactly the best equipped to deal with the stress of pulling out a doctor's note, knowing that it'll be viewed with instant suspicion, and I'm sure a lot of them just go without instead of dealing with that. 

@Russ B. I don’t have a problem allowing ESA pets. My concern is suddenly there are 3 dogs now in a small upper unit and the nuisance they may cause to tenants who are paying rent below. We allowed a dog in the unit that was not an ESA. That tenant followed the rules and guidelines we have for renting to tenants with pets. The dog is crates and quite. The other 2 have online papers from out of state saying they need the animal for support. And just brought in a untrained puppy!!!

For all those who really do need service animals or an emotional support animal I am all for following the guidelines. For those who are scamming the system they are going to make it much harder for those who really need them.

I inspect my rental units 2-4x/year.  To check smoke detectors.  Check ceilings and under sinks for potential leaks.  But I also look for tenant...or animal...caused damage.  It doesn't matter if an animal is an ESA or not.  If they have caused damage to the unit, you can require the tenants to pay for the damage NOW.  Not blow it off that it will come out of the security deposit.  At least that can help to possibly curb damages if the animals are causing those kind of problems.

I definitely agree that you want to get damages paid for (and fixed) as they happen.

Being good about screening is a big help too. Somebody with solid credit and income is less likely to let your building be damaged (animals or no), than somebody without. They have more to lose by getting sued or evicted. 

Having an ESA does not mean they can let said animal destroy the unit or disturb the neighbors. I'd follow the others' advice to get more verification, but ultimately it sounds like your main concern is the noise/damage. I would let them know they are still responsible for the noise and any damages that may occur(even though you won't/can't collect a deposit beforehand). Then after the 1st call i'd give a cure a quit notice.

In Washington we have to accept ESA with no additional funds and it over rides any no pet policy. Yes, we can ask for a letter but have to be fairly careful. I have so far not had this issue raise its head so haven't scrutinized what I can and can't do. I would make sure to understand your state laws. I think all states require you allow a trained assistance animal but ESA (since they don't have to be trained) may fall into a different category. I know for businesses there are some very strict laws about what you can ask and do regarding service animals. 

I know you have to be very careful and not discriminate against a tenant based on their ESA, but what about not renewing the lease after it is up?

Lets say you have a tenant that is month to month, no ESA, another tenant shows interest in your property and you decide that this new person is a better fit. Since you contract is month to month, you should have no problem giving your current resident a 30 (or 60) day notice and move them out. Right?

Now add an ESA to the mix. What changes? If you dont explicitly state that you are not continuing business with that person due to their ESA - should be no issue. Right?

P.S.

I have never dealt with this issue, thus i have no experience. I could be completely wrong. Just looking for input.

Thanks.

@Monte right! Do property owners have any rights any longer? I run and maintain with integrity, but some tenants can lack honesty.

For example, they can lie to my face and then pull esa trick on me to work around laws. Further, if I try and bounce someone on a one year lease, I am handcuffed. But, if my tenants want to leave early its just a mere one and half months rent break fee. And, thats if you can even get them to pay you. How is this fair to landlords?

You have 2 issues here. Pick your poison. Either results in the departure of one of the tenants.

Tenants have a right to quiet enjoyment, and as soon as the downstairs tenant complains for breach of contract, you will be forced to remedy the situation with the potential for lost rent.

or you can kick out the upstairs tenant, and you still have lost rent.

Having an ESA doesn't mean they can ignore the terms of the lease contract.

You should disclose the possible noise issue to your prospective tenant. Some might be ok with it, or not.

I think many of you are confusing ESA (EMOTIONAL Support Animals) with Service Animals. The latter are specialized trained animals and if it's a dog, it doesn't bark. They are basically 'working dogs' to help with people with disabilities and you're not supposed to pet them. 

ESA is a completely thing altogether. Anyone can have ESA, and the "A" can be just about anything: dogs, parrots, etc. Somebody just tried renting my place with an ESA that is a cobra snake.

So basically you cannot refuse SERVICE animals, also not allowed to charge anything extra (no pet deposit, no additional monthly, etc.) since they are not considered pets.

ESA on the other hand, you can treat as pets. You can ask for deposit and charge additional rent.

@Monte Blunk

Consider paying the tenants to leave. $1,000 or $2,000 may get them to jump.

Jim

Originally posted by @Puri Indah :

So basically you cannot refuse SERVICE animals, also not allowed to charge anything extra (no pet deposit, no additional monthly, etc.) since they are not considered pets.

ESA on the other hand, you can treat as pets. You can ask for deposit and charge additional rent.

This is not correct at all. ESA are still covered as a need for some disability but are not the highly trained version of a service animal. If a tenant has anxiety and their Dr. prescribes them an ESA, you have to still treat it as you would a wheelchair and cannot charge a deposit, fee, etc....