Emotional Support Animals Questions

13 Replies

I have been notified by a tenant that ive had for a while that they have designated a pet a Emotional Support Animal.  Is this allowable even after being in a lease?  Can the tenant have multiple animals under this regulation?  Im unfamiliar with this fair housing rule and wondering who out there has had experience and could expand on the subject.  What are the landlords legal rights to ensure this doesn't go overboard and get out of hand?  

@Jason Crowe

Legal questions should be directed to an attorney that specializes in such matters since I am not one. 

With that being said, you have to be very careful with how you treat individuals with ESA's. It is my understanding that these animals are not classified as pets so any language in your lease about pets would not apply. 

Under the Fair Housing Act, a landlord has the right to ask for proper documentation for an emotional support animal to prove the owner is in need of an emotional support animal. This document is in the form of an Emotional Support Assistance letter from a mental health professional. I don't think there's a limit on how many ESA's a tenant can have, but there must be signed letters for each one.

Yes, they can add an emotional support animal at any time. The ridiculous laws are totally in favor of the tenant. If you discover your tenant snuck a dog in six months ago without permission, you can serve them a lease violation notice. But if the tenant comes back and claims it's an emotional support animal, then the law requires you to give them time to provide the paperwork, which means they can then hunt for a doctor that will write the letter. It's a complete fraud, everyone knows it, but our politicians refuse to do anything about it because it doesn't affect them.

The law does say that they can only have one animal per disability. If they claim two dogs for depression, that doesn't fly. They could have one for depression and one for seizure alerts.

I highly recommend you read the HUD guidance: https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfil...

I also recommend you consider using petscreening.com to screen all animals. They stay current on the law and know how to identify and weed out a lot of the scammers. Unfortunately, the process is designed to teach tenants how to comply.

There has been quite a bit written about Emotional Support Animals.  Good articles out there for landlords.  While you cannot ask the medical reason for the ESA you can require documentation for the need of such from the APPROPRIATE medical provider.  Key word is appropriate.  This does not mean the tenants dentist, chiropractor nor one of many online sources that will, for $99, send fake documentation of the need for such.

Some landlords will provide their own forms for the tenant to take to the appropriate medical provider for approval.  In one case a landlord scared the beejeebees out of the provider by including the statement that if the ESA proved to be so aggressive as to attack others the provider might be held accountable for their part in approving this animal.

It is also important to understand that while an ESA is not considered a pet the tenant may still be help financially responsible if the ESA causes damage to the rental unit during the occupancy period.

For about $10 anyone can get something like this. (Note: I photoshopped the original to make it more humorous for some of my real estate friends) We've had about ten residents present us with this sort of graphic from this web site. This "evidence" does not comply with HUD guidelines.

Unfortunately it's often not the landlord or apartment complex that believes a certain breed of dog is dangerous but rather the insurance company that will refuse to provide coverage for certain (or in some cases all) breeds of dogs.


Originally posted by @Eric Weldon-Schilling:

Not all online letters for these are scammers. Especially now that telemedicine is becoming more common. And telemedicine is incredibly easy to use for therapy because you don’t have to physically examined. I’ve been seeing a therapist and psychologist about my adhd and autism and anxiety since long before the pandemic. She doesn’t even live in Texas but she is licensed and a valid provider. That’s where I got my esa letter. Because my dog does make my life easier by helping to minimize the affect those conditions  have  on me. And I am not going to give him away just because some landlord or apartment thinks huskies and husky mixes are dangerous when they categorically are not and mine has not a dangerous bone in his body. And I can’t really afford to throw away $300 or $500 extra to move in somewhere. 
I would gladly pay an extra $20-$25 a month pet rent but these pet fees and breed bans and charges are bs and an unnecessary added burden. 

At the same time, if a person is a renter, its just plain stupid for them to choose an emotional support animal that is uninsurable.  Why not choose a retriever, a lab, one of the breeds known as family pets, one that does not have a reputation as a fighter, biter?

Why should the landlord be responsible because the tenant chooses an uninsurable breed?  Why should the landlord be required to take a financial risk for someone else's choice?

Originally posted by @Lynnette E. :

Why should the landlord be responsible because the tenant chooses an uninsurable breed?  Why should the landlord be required to take a financial risk for someone else's choice?

Because they want a pet in their rental without paying the fees and are using the ESA law to cheat the system. There is a high percentage of renters with ESA dogs that are large "dangerous" breeds. I've even seen tenants get high-maintenance breeds that bark, shed, dig, scratch, and otherwise behave in a manner that is more likely to cause stress than reduce it.

It's all a sham. Why would a renter pay $100 to an online "therapist" to be diagnosed and get a "certificate" instead of just visiting their family doctor or a counselor? Because fraud is easier over the phone than it is face-to-face. I could call any doctor in the country, provide a list of symptoms found on the internet, and be diagnosed with anxiety disorder and prescribed an ESA. Ridiculous.


@Nathan G. Did you know that petscreening.com only validates emotional support and not service animals?  If the tenant is smart enough to call it the right worD, per screening only asks them two questions - Do you have a disability that requires the accommodation of a dog?  What task does the dog do to assist in your disability?  If the tenant answers these, the dog gets classified as a valid service animal. I just had one family who had a pitt and a bully.  They claimed both were service animals. The husband submitted one and the wife the other. They claimed the dogs retrieved their asthma inhaler an both were considered valid with ZERO documentation. Virginia allows us to validate any assistance animal - service or support. Pet screening refuses to validate service, claiming that they are just deferring to federal law that only allows the two questions. How long will it take for word to get out and everyone will have service vs support animals. SMH. 

Originally posted by @Patti Robertson :

I learned about that recently but I'm not too concerned. Emotional support animals are the con of the day and the issue we need to fight. True service animals are harder to come by so fewer attempts are made.

@Nathan G. - My applicant had an internet purchased card. Total scam yet they got an approval from pet screening. I find that most of the public defaults to “service animal” rather than emotional support in their verbiage, because the term has been around longer. Most people who call the animal an ESA have a legit need and can verify it in my experience.