The End of Fake ESAs / Service Animals?

23 Replies


What's your worst ESA / service animal story? Hopefully that's well behind you...

I've long said that it will take big money lobbyists (likely from the air travel industry) to push into motion some type of regulation on ESAs, Service Animals and the likes.

Hopefully this is just the beginning of the process of getting these animals on a registry with a proper license that can be verified by anyone.

I've raised two German Shepherd Guide Dogs through the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation and have watched a shift in our culture around ESAs and Service Dogs over the last 2.5 years. Some people have abused "the system" (or lack thereof) resulting in more difficult environments for animals who are actually working for their handler.

Here's to hoping that this is the beginning of the tides changing for property owners and the beginning of the end of fraudulent ESAs and the like.

See this BBC article.

Maybe.  Only airline services seem to have any balls in this skirmish right now..  
Service Animals are trained and supply abilities and assistance to those who are disabled.  Those dogs are registered and protected.  Emotional Support animals provide no such service and are not certified registered.  The person who claims the Emotional Support animal's importance in their well-being is basically Sh!t out of Luck if they don't have a letter of prescription from a correctly licensed mental health profession with a right to practice in the state that the individual lives. 

No tickee, no washeee.  So as far as I'm concerned, those support squirrels and raccoons etc. go in the pot or get ground into dog food.

Originally posted by @Daryl Luc :

Service Animals are trained and supply abilities and assistance to those who are disabled.  Those dogs are registered and protected.  

Where are they registered Daryl? I don't know of any national registry, and like I said, I'm involved in raising and training guide dogs. The only way to verify the dogs (to my knowledge) is by calling the school they were trained at - but due to confidentiality some of those schools won't speak to you. 

 

Originally posted by @Filipe Pereira :
Originally posted by @Daryl Luc:

Service Animals are trained and supply abilities and assistance to those who are disabled.  Those dogs are registered and protected.  

Where are they registered Daryl? I don't know of any national registry, and like I said, I'm involved in raising and training guide dogs. The only way to verify the dogs (to my knowledge) is by calling the school they were trained at - but due to confidentiality some of those schools won't speak to you. 

 

Many municipalities provide the registry as a voluntary choice.  However, don't make this any harder than it needs to be...a blind man with a dog that guides him...it's a service animal.  I'm not shy, so when I'm asked about my service animal policy by a prospect over the phone, the first question: "do you represent, or are you affiliated with a tenant rights organization".  Pretty sure you can guess how to handle that answer.  Second question: "what is the disability that the dog assists with?"  If they show up in person and start asking and they don't have a dog...that's a red flag right there.

Assisting with the alert of epileptic seizures is legit.  Giving indication to someone that their sugar is dangerous...legit.  Assisting with military service related PTSD...legit.  Recovering from a divorce...not legit.  If it's not a dog...it's not legit.

 Furthermore, service dogs have behavior that is exemplary.  They don't wander, they are glued to their person and in general totally ignore anyone else's presence.  These dogs are never left alone either.  If a dog is...then there's some serious explaining to do.  In my experience, service dogs don't stand and bark at anything when outside doing their business.  Adding a 'fake service dog' clause to your lease is not illegal and having it initialed is grounds for breach if violated.

One additional thought.. schools should be freely willing to tell you whether they trained the animal or not.  That doesn't violate any HIPAA rules that I'm aware of.

Guide dogs are really the only ones that are "obvious". The other examples you gave aren't and that's why there should be a legitimate, verifiable source of animals/dogs that are trained/certified to perform a service. To my knowledge this doesn't exist and I highly doubt a municipality is out there certifying service dogs. 


Have you been to the ADA site.  It's pretty clear.  And there's no such thing as a guide dog, there are service dogs that provide any number of services to the disabled, not just mobility.  I don't understand 'obvious'...You should be better at observing your prospects.  No dog, they aren't legit. Period.  End of it.  Legitimate people with a disability aren't usually willing to hide their disability if you ask directly what it is. Many have children accompanying them or other family members.  Cars and vans have special equipment that you can observe without asking anything.  And like I said before, there are animal behaviors that are tells.

I didn't say municipalities certify animals, they, plus many colleges and other public institutions will provide a voluntary registry of service animals to the disabled.  Most fakers aren't going to go there.  Point of fact: if you don't want to rent to people with disabilities, or dogs...it can be accomplished without going to jail.  But, I can tell you from experience, I have rented to someone with a service animal and that dog and tenant were better than 95% of my able tenants and I was sorry to lose them.  I don't however, rent to people with emotional support animals or any other kind of critters.

I'll end with this...if you are that intimidated by your ability to sniff out the fakes...then be a management company that uses investigators that are able to give you peace of mind.

Originally posted by @Daryl Luc:

Have you been to the ADA site.  It's pretty clear.  And there's no such thing as a guide dog, there are service dogs that provide any number of services to the disabled, not just mobility.  I don't understand 'obvious'...You should be better at observing your prospects.  No dog, they aren't legit. Period.  End of it.  Legitimate people with a disability aren't usually willing to hide their disability if you ask directly what it is. Many have children accompanying them or other family members.  Cars and vans have special equipment that you can observe without asking anything.  And like I said before, there are animal behaviors that are tells.


I didn't say municipalities certify animals, they, plus many colleges and other public institutions will provide a voluntary registry of service animals to the disabled.  Most fakers aren't going to go there.  Point of fact: if you don't want to rent to people with disabilities, or dogs...it can be accomplished without going to jail.  But, I can tell you from experience, I have rented to someone with a service animal and that dog and tenant were better than 95% of my able tenants and I was sorry to lose them.  I don't however, rent to people with emotional support animals or any other kind of critters.


I'll end with this...if you are that intimidated by your ability to sniff out the fakes...then be a management company that uses investigators that are able to give you peace of mind.


 

I think you have a decent attitude about service dogs in general, but you should be careful as you are making statements that can get you in hot water and expose your ignorance on the subject. For example, service horses are federally recognized as a service animal. If a federal tester called you and you said "I wont consider anything except a dog as a service animal" you may end up fined. Of course that's a little unlikely, but can happen.

Also, ADA is not relevant in this situation (to my knowledge) as that speaks to places of public accommodation. FHA is the relevant laws to reference for housing.

Of course, nothing above should be construed as legal advice.

As usual, the fakes and manipulators have ruined it for all the legit people that truly need these animals.

As stated......HUGE difference between an service animal and an ESA. I'm a DVM and the vast majority of true service pets are pretty easy to spot from a behavioral standpoint...... they are well mannered, trained, well behaved and sociable..... you may not be able to tell what service they actually provide, but in general they are overall well mannered and sociable....

ESA on the other hand can be anything...... I've seen "ESA' that are mean as hell, cant be handled by anyone...sometimes the owner can barely control them..... they can have anxiety issues of their owner...fear aggression issues..... other health issues.....you name it......and as long as the owner can get some bogus letter stating they are ESA, there is very little you can do.

In essence ALL pets are ESA...... having them and your relationship with them is an emotional connection that makes most owner feel good.... that's why we have pets and enjoy having them.

The issue becomes defining how much the owner NEEDS them in certain situation vs how much they WANT them in those situations....and that's very hard to define and prove. Are there many situation where I would love to have my pet with me because he give me joy? Sure...... but do I truly NEED him there for those? Try proving it one way or the other....

A recent topic came up on a vet forum I frequent.....owner requests tranquilizers for plane travel for her "ESA"...... if your pet is so stressed over the travel that you need to tranquilize them, are they really even an ESA?

My family is flush with lawyers.  I'm pretty sure of myself.  If a federal tester called, my first question would root them out.  They are required to answer with the truth....at which point I can hang up.  I'm not required to talk to them.  Second, the ADA is THE source of who what where etc.  Federal Housing laws are subservient to ADA disability rulings.  Not the other way around. 

I'm sorry you're so leery of this whole can and can't do thing, but you need to get on top of it.  I've been doing this for probably more years than you, (unless you're 70) and never once had an issue.  Questions my man...you must ask the right questions.  Then rejecting prospects without issue is no big deal.  

Here's the ADA position on your mini horses....and it doesn't extend to home rentals.

The miniature horse is not included in the definition of service animal,
which is limited to dogs. However, the new ADA regulations contain a
specific provision which covers miniature horses. Businesses must make
reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures to permit
the use of a miniature horse by an individual with a disability if the
miniature horse has been individually trained to do work or perform
tasks for the benefit of the individual with a disability.

Factors to assist in determining whether miniature horses can be accommodated are whether:
the miniature horse is housebroken
the miniature horse is under the owner’s control
the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight

the miniature horse’s presence will not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for the safe operation of the facility

I've had a few issues in the past with tenants bringing in ESA's... They say they don't have animals and then all of a sudden show up with a ESA.   Now I check my prospective tenants social media accounts before renting to them to see if they own animals they haven't told me about. 

The only problem with ESAs and landlords, is landlords who don't know the law.

If an applicant wants an ESA, they must request a reasonable accommodation from the landlord.

Note the word reasonable.

You have the right to give the applicant your own form and then ask for the name and fax number of their medical professional who says they need one in order to live in your unit - based on their disability.  Then, you can Google the medical professional and the fax number to make sure it's legit.  

Then, you can use HUD's suggested letter which is Hud form 7399. Here it is cut and pasted:

Sample letter for Companion Animal

DATE

NAME OF PROFESSIONAL (therapist, physician, psychiatrist, rehabilitation counselor)

ADDRESS

Dear [HOUSING AUTHROITY/LANDLORD]:

[NAME OF TENANT] is my patient, and has been under my care since [DATE]. I am intimately familiar with his/her history and with the functional limitations imposed by his/her disability. He/She meets the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Due to mental illness, [FIRST NAME] has certain limitations regarding [SOCIAL INTERACTION/COPING WITH STRESS/ANXIETY, ETC]. In order to help alleviate these difficulties, and to enhance his/her ability to live independently and to fully use and enjoy the dwelling unit you own and/or administer, I am prescribing an emotional support animal that will assist [FIRST NAME] in coping with his/her disability.

I am familiar with the voluminous professional literature concerning the therapeutic benefits of assistance animals for people with disabilities such as that experienced by [FIRST NAME]. Upon request, I will share citations to relevant studies, and would be happy to answer other questions you may have concerning my recommendation that [FULL NAME OF TENANT] have an emotional support animal. Should you have additional question, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Signature

[NAME OF PROFESSIONAL]

And then, their request still has to be "reasonable".  Is it reasonable to get a puppy? Probably not.  Especially, if they won't be home all day.  A dog on a restricted breed list?  Probably not.  

I heard of a landlord who had a tenant with a letter from his shrink saying an aquarium would be good for him, and the landlord didn't allow any pets.  So, the tenant wanted a 200 gallon saltwater tank, and he said that's not reasonable.  So, they negotiated a 10 or 20 gallon tank, as I recall. 

And remember, that ESAs don't get a free pass once they're in, either.  If they make too much noise, you can give warnings and then kick them out.  3 day notice to quit the noise or get kicked out.  If they don't clean up their poop, you can give warnings and eventually kick them out if they don't clean up, etc.

It's really not all that horrible.  But, you hear all the time from landlords who complain - because they don't know their own rights.  

And you should know the process a tenant has to go through to file a complaint. HUD or the local agencies are slammed with complaints. If the complaint isn't a winning one, they aren't likely to get representation. And even if they do get some militant activist to confront you, you can always just come right back at them with the rules.

It always comes down to knowledge is power.  Know your rights as a landlord.  Be fair, when it's right and reasonable.  But, if it isn't, then stick up for your rights.  And for tenants who really need a well-behaved ESA that's not a 100 pound gorilla, treat them well and fairly and you probably won't have any issues at all.

If someone comes without an ESA when they come to look at the apartment, and then moves in with one, isnt that verification that they dont NEED one? If they did, they would have brought it with them. If they go to work and leave their dog at home, isnt that verificiation that they dont NEED one?

My $.02, I could not believe the number of dogs I saw in the airport, and on my flights, over the holidays. I was baffled...especially to hear these dogs (like a poodle) are ESA's.

Having a puppy that you like being around doesn't make it an emotional support animal.

I thought it was strange, and definitely prefer to sit next to somebody who isn't with a dog haha. Given the number of people with dog/cat allergies, I'm very surprised by how common this is.

side note, I love animals, and I'm extremely supportive of working dogs, and ESA's...when necessary, not when milking the system.

Originally posted by @Anne Smith :

If someone comes without an ESA when they come to look at the apartment, and then moves in with one, isnt that verification that they dont NEED one? If they did, they would have brought it with them. If they go to work and leave their dog at home, isnt that verificiation that they dont NEED one?

The federal government has agreed that a Service Animal (SA) must be in the handlers control at all times. In other words, they cannot be left home alone. They are allowed to go ANYWHERE and by definition they are medically required. If someone comes to look at a property and claims Service Animal (under ADA), without their dog, they are lying. 

ESA are different. They are meant to provide emotional support, but are not required to always be with their owner. Businesses are not required to allow ESA and they are not covered under ADA. 

@Daryl Luc , I did a large amount of research into this for an article a while back. (https://www.biggerpockets.com/blog/2015-03-11-emotional-support-animals-waiver-no-petpolicieslaw-say)

Please do not ask why they need the animal. If it's obvious - seeing eye dog - you are violating their rights by asking. 

I am not in support of fake ESAs. I truly hope this is figured out very soon - the fake ones are hurting people who truly have a need, have an animal that gives them support and helps them function, and is well behaved.

Originally posted by @David Pere :

My $.02, I could not believe the number of dogs I saw in the airport, and on my flights, over the holidays. I was baffled...especially to hear these dogs (like a poodle) are ESA's.

Having a puppy that you like being around doesn't make it an emotional support animal.

I thought it was strange, and definitely prefer to sit next to somebody who isn't with a dog haha. Given the number of people with dog/cat allergies, I'm very surprised by how common this is.

side note, I love animals, and I'm extremely supportive of working dogs, and ESA's...when necessary, not when milking the system.

Keep in mind, all those dogs/animals may not have been ESAs.  People are allowed to fly with their pets (with restrictions), even if they are not an ESA.  But, if they aren't an ESA, the airlines usually charge an extra fee.   

@Jennifer, good to know. I just figured people still put their pet in a crate under the plane for that hahaha.

Originally posted by @Mindy Jensen :

@Daryl Luc, I did a large amount of research into this for an article a while back. (https://www.biggerpockets.com/blog/2015-03-11-emotional-support-animals-waiver-no-petpolicieslaw-say)

Please do not ask why they need the animal. If it's obvious - seeing eye dog - you are violating their rights by asking. 

I am not in support of fake ESAs. I truly hope this is figured out very soon - the fake ones are hurting people who truly have a need, have an animal that gives them support and helps them function, and is well behaved.

Pretty condescending of you.  Apparently you only read in my posts what you want to.  Look, I said it earlier, and don't need to share much more than this....I am in a family flush with lawyers....who don't come here looking for business.

And to the point of your blog article: "Another piece of advice I see time and again in the Forums is to consult an attorney." from the last paragraph.  If you are not consulting someone of the Bar who has had at least a few recent past opportunities to argue constitutional law, you may be getting echos being repeated of what someone else said to another, who passed it along.  My point is there is a lot of 'post office' being played all over the internet.  ADA Title III is the parent to all the derivatives of what is and isn't OK.  These are then incorporated into public facilities interpretations, housing related interpretations, transportation related interpretations and these three venues are also driven by interpretation of State and Municipal ordinances that may or may not be valid in their entirety and yet contain restrictions and definitions that are enforced by people who are less than fully informed.

So as a final statement from me about this subject: Title three does not restrict you from asking questions of anyone regarding their animal.  In fact, two specific questions are permitted as stated withing the law.  1. Do you need this animal because of a disability? 2. What work or tasks has this animal been trained to perform?  Wrong answers and you are not dealing with a service animal.  So now you move on to dealing with the fact that you are being presented an emotional support animal because they are not trained to perform work or a task.  There are no restrictions on what you can ask the individual with the emotional support pet.  Furthermore, the ADA does not identify emotional support pets with any protections in public accommodations.  Truly, there is a lot to decode when you wade into these waters...but two things I have stated before....and I'll state again.  There is no reason to be afraid of asking legitimate questions of a prospect and there are ways to deal with keeping properties 'pet' free.  Not knowing the ways is not the same as 'they don't exist'.

 

@Daryl Luc  

I am not sure what members of your family do for a profession - that you insist on repeatedly telling us - have to with the accuracy of your statements?  (And just so I don't feel left out - my friend is a really good patent attorney, but I never go to him for information on ESAs.)

This topic has been debated ad nauseum (for you people without lawyer friends, you'll have to look it up) here on BP and @Andrew B. is correct.  The ADA is not the entity that is germane to this discussion, and largely does not apply. It is, indeed, HUD, for issues on this topic related to housing.

https://disabilityrightsar.org/hud-guidance-on-service-and-assistance-animals

https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/assistance_animals


Originally posted by @Anne Smith :

If someone comes without an ESA when they come to look at the apartment, and then moves in with one, isnt that verification that they dont NEED one? If they did, they would have brought it with them. If they go to work and leave their dog at home, isnt that verificiation that they dont NEED one?

 No.  ESAs are not legally allowed to go with their owner everywhere.  That's a service animal.  There is a gigantic difference and that's it - service animals can go anywhere their owner goes, ESAs cannot.  If someone doesn't bring their ESA with them everywhere, they're simply following the law.

I did a deep dive into EA's a couple of years ago when we took over an apartment complex and a tenant had an EA, who was a pit bull. And the tenant would allow the dog to be unleashed! Fortunately, the tenant did not pay the rent, and was evicted due to this.

In California the Irvine Company settled an ESA lawsuit for $175,000, after the State Fair Housing got involved...

https://dfeh.ca.gov/wp-content...

One of the plaintiffs if I remember correctly, got their dog ESA certified via the Internet. My parents got their dog certified over the Internet, dog is a brat, for not that much.

I am very happy their may be more fairness with airlines on animals on flights, but unfortunately this is totally separate from the housing ESA issue.

A photographer I know in California, mentioned they saw more dogs at complexes that were supposedly pet free, than those that were not.

At this time, there is not requirement for certification of service animals, and it may be trained by a non certified person.

And you can't even reject on breed, unless you can show your insurance would go up, resulting in an unfair financial burden.

I am glad the airlines are making an attempt to crack down on ESA's on flights. An uncrated trained service animal is not likely to be a hazard in the air like an untrained ESA is. The big issue with ESAs vs pets is ESAs have free access to the cabin while pets are expected to stay in the carrier. 

I also hope this trickles to more locations like housing but I am thinking that won't be very speedy. 

Originally posted by @Daryl Luc :
Originally posted by @Mindy Jensen:

@Daryl Luc, I did a large amount of research into this for an article a while back. (https://www.biggerpockets.com/blog/2015-03-11-emotional-support-animals-waiver-no-petpolicieslaw-say)

Please do not ask why they need the animal. If it's obvious - seeing eye dog - you are violating their rights by asking. 

I am not in support of fake ESAs. I truly hope this is figured out very soon - the fake ones are hurting people who truly have a need, have an animal that gives them support and helps them function, and is well behaved.

Pretty condescending of you.  Apparently you only read in my posts what you want to.  Look, I said it earlier, and don't need to share much more than this....I am in a family flush with lawyers....who don't come here looking for business.

And to the point of your blog article: "Another piece of advice I see time and again in the Forums is to consult an attorney." from the last paragraph.  If you are not consulting someone of the Bar who has had at least a few recent past opportunities to argue constitutional law, you may be getting echos being repeated of what someone else said to another, who passed it along.  My point is there is a lot of 'post office' being played all over the internet.  ADA Title III is the parent to all the derivatives of what is and isn't OK.  These are then incorporated into public facilities interpretations, housing related interpretations, transportation related interpretations and these three venues are also driven by interpretation of State and Municipal ordinances that may or may not be valid in their entirety and yet contain restrictions and definitions that are enforced by people who are less than fully informed.

So as a final statement from me about this subject: Title three does not restrict you from asking questions of anyone regarding their animal.  In fact, two specific questions are permitted as stated withing the law.  1. Do you need this animal because of a disability? 2. What work or tasks has this animal been trained to perform?  Wrong answers and you are not dealing with a service animal.  So now you move on to dealing with the fact that you are being presented an emotional support animal because they are not trained to perform work or a task.  There are no restrictions on what you can ask the individual with the emotional support pet.  Furthermore, the ADA does not identify emotional support pets with any protections in public accommodations.  Truly, there is a lot to decode when you wade into these waters...but two things I have stated before....and I'll state again.  There is no reason to be afraid of asking legitimate questions of a prospect and there are ways to deal with keeping properties 'pet' free.  Not knowing the ways is not the same as 'they don't exist'. 

This was not meant to be condescending, and I'm sorry you took it that way. 

You said your second question is "What is the disability that the dog assists you with?" I'm simply trying to share that this question isn't allowed to be asked. 

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