Doctor's note for cats?!

49 Replies

There seems to be a LOT of confusion on this issue, and it stems from the fact that two different laws are in play regarding allowing people to have animals, and these laws are interpreted by two different government agencies in different ways.

Under ADA, public establishments must permit a disabled person with a trained service animal.  A trained service dog isn't a pet by law.  So if you run a restaurant, you can ask if the person is disabled and if the dog is trained. If yes, then you are done asking questions and the dog stays without proof.  But their iguana that reduces their anxiety waits outside.

HOWEVER, as a landlord you are subject to Fair Housing laws (Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988).... and HUD has interpreted Fair Housing laws MUCH more liberally than DOJ interprets the ADA. As a result, tenants have more protection in favor of allowing companion animals with minimal documentation.

If an animal serves a disability, it is no longer a pet.  

A mini-horse to alleviate anxiety?  A parrot for emotional support?

No pet fees.  No pet deposit.  No additional rent.

Not even if you normally require those things from a pet owner.

A "pet" lives with you for love and affection.  An "Emotional Support Animal" provides therapeutic benefit and does not require specific training.

You can ask the tenant "to present documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker or other mental health professional that the animal provides support which mitigates at least one symptom of a disability".

But you can't charge, can't require training, and can't ask about their disability.

You CAN charge them for damage after the fact... but that's about it.

Recently a Florida condo association paid $18k to settle a denial of a emotional support animal.

So proceed with caution anytime someone says "Oh no, this isn't a pet. It's for my disability."

I wonder if this "emotional support animal" may be an indicator of a professional tenant...

First, I would actually call the doctor that gave the note and verify that the doctor is licensed properly and that they do indeed need the animal(s). I find it hard to believe that a legit doctor would sign off on "2 therapy cats" and if they did they might think twice when you call or further investigate. There is nothing wrong with you verifying this and it may show that you are concerned with following the letter of the law in the case of any future legal issues.

Second, it would seem that your husband (the property/business owner operator) being allergic to cats would be enough to deny accommodation. Or perhaps you could allow the animal if the tenant agreed to pay your husband's Allergist bills for the duration of any issues in the future (i.e. until you no longer own the property) thus showing that you are prepared to offer reasonable accommodation.

Originally posted by @Nick B.:

I wonder if this "emotional support animal" may be an indicator of a professional tenant...

Whether it is or it isn't such an indicator, you can be accused of discrimination for disallowing them due to the "emotional support animal" ...

This is a very touchy area for landlords. Although the lease in which your tenants are under do not allow cats you must comply with this accommodation request. You will have to complete your own due diligence though. I always require such requests to be fully documented by having the resident provide a service animal request form which can be obtained through any real estate attorney in your state. This form is to be completed by the resident and returned along with the doctors note. The form contains a release for you can then follow up with the doctor for verification.

(Note: You cannot email medical documents under the HIPA Act.)

Fun Fact: Did you know service animals can include not only Cats but also Ponies? I'd say let them have the cat, waive the fee and just be thankful you do not have a Pony walking through your halls.

I would ask the tenant how their employer likes having the emotional support cats at work ?  Since they are necessary for the person I would assume that these animals would go with the tenant everywhere . 

@Christian Carson    that lawsuit you referenced a couple times, I believe the lady was out 10k (not 100k). Not that I'd want to be out 10k but a 100k is a lot more scary.

@Marcus Curtis   do you have a sample therapy animal accommodation request for you can upload to this website?

I think the fact the posters husband is allergic to cats would be an undue burden and sufficient reason for denial and am interested to know if an attorney would agree with that, I don't think the guy should have to get allergy shots!

How many tenants out there are claiming to have therapy animals? How prevelant is this? So far I've only run into one person who claimed her dogs were therapy dogs after I said we only took one small dog, then suddenly they were therapy dogs. When I said fine, we would need the required paperwork from her medical provider she disappeared.

@Account Closed  you can definitely say no cats and still allow dogs in your properties if you want. I have a number of owners who have issues with cats, so we only allow dogs. Some of the dog friendly owners will only allow them up to a certain size. You can have any restriction you want as long as it's not a fair housing violation. 

Thanks @Steve Babiak  !

@Marcus Curtis   I would still be interested in the release you referred to, since that gives authorization/release for the landlord to discuss the condition with the doctor.

Originally posted by @Kimberly H.:

@Christian Carson   that lawsuit you referenced a couple times, I believe the lady was out 10k (not 100k). Not that I'd want to be out 10k but a 100k is a lot more scary.

And it was. You're correct that the civil rights commission ordered a fine of $12k, but also required the defendant to pay the other side's attorney fee and the cost of holding the commissioner's hearing. Here's the breakdown, roughly:

Actual damages award: $12,000
Punitive damages: $10,000
Attorney fees to Ohio Attorney General: $46,225
Attorney fees to Fair Housing Resource Center: $34,405
TOTAL: $102,630

@Christian Carson  

 I just looked at the article a third time and the only numbers I see are,"

Ms. Grybosky was ultimately fined $100 for her “discrimination”—and $9,000 to pay the attorneys who prosecuted her."  It makes sense to me that unless she was pro se that she had her own legal fees, are the rest of the numbers you provided in some other link somewhere?? Can you share that link? 102k, holy wow!!!

@Christian Carson Thanks! I googled this type of thing for the Chicago area and found landlords or real estate offices having to pay between 65k to 120k as a result of discrimination found in by HUD testers.

Therapy animals MUST be accepted.  A letter from a doctor is enough.  By law, you must accept the pet with no deposit fee, no extra monthly fees, no other request of other document.  

To do other wise COULD result in a very big penalty for you and a nasty law suite.

Yes, you are screw.  To do any things else MIGHT be your biggest loss.

I have hear of therapy or ESA animals being a dog, or cat, or mini-horse, or monkey, or bird.   I'm just waiting for the first time I hear of an ESA pit bull.  It could happen.

Just thought I'd provide an update: 

My tenant has still not provided documentation that his TWO kittens are ESAs. We posted a 24 hour notice of entry yesterday and today my husband found the two cats as well as an ashtray full of cigarette butts (we have a no-pet/no-smoking policy). Since the tenant has failed to provide documentation, I posted two letters of rental agreement violations. One for smoking, saying the next occurrence his lease will be terminated and one for the cats, asking one last time for documentation. That unit smells SO bad. 

Oh the joys of land-lording :).

Originally posted by @Debra Leeson:

I have hear of therapy or ESA animals being a dog, or cat, or mini-horse, or monkey, or bird.   I'm just waiting for the first time I hear of an ESA pit bull.  It could happen.

 Debra, They already did.  See the following link, in PG County where there was a pit bull ban in place, the judge ordered it returned to the tenant.

I still wouldn't be happy with the cats, and would, personally, rather have the pit bull (with proper documentation from a doctor, of course).   My husband and daughter are both allergic to cats, and I'd have to decontaminate every time I had to go in there.   So far, I've been lucky to only have to deal with one cat-urine soaked house, and I'll go to great efforts to never have to do it again.   I do tell all prospective tenants that we don't allow cats due to allergies, and usually that makes them more understanding of why we don't allow them.  

Also, service animal or not, if the man is damaging your property from cat urine (not to mention the smoke), that is still a violation.  He is responsible for maintaining his service animals and not letting them cause damage to the property.  And cat urine is extreme, costly damage when you have to start ripping up sub flooring.    

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I also recommend checking your local laws. I have heard that it is illegal in the state of Washington to question whether or not an animal is a certified. That is why you see so many people who have clearly just ordered a little red vest from and put it on their dog so they can bring it into a restaurant with them.

I know this is an old thread but emotional support animals are for a diagnosed mental health issue from a trained professional  in mental health not just an ordinary MD.  Also, you can verify with said professional in writing.  Plus you can get in writing from tenant that they have such an animal and it is supported by a diagnosis from their said professional.  Since it is a crime to falsely claim an animal is an esa without a properly documented need, I would inform the tenant that as a law abiding citizen I would just have to report them.

For all you new landlords that might run Into this. If a renter brings this up. Do not ask for anything and tell them you will check with your lawyer. Spend the $250 to talk with a disability lawyer, or if you cannot find one a real estate lawyer. Laws are different in each state, and sometimes cities. CYA and do not ask for any documentation from the renter because I know for a fact that asking for paper work might be a violation in and of itself in certain parts of the country.

I feel the need to post a reply on this from the side of the tenant. 

The amount of people talking as though they deem these pet owners as trash is ridiculous. I myself have 3 cats, very well taken care of with my girlfriend, and I don't own a doctors note to keep them. Wasn't my choice to have 3, but the people we got her from didn't know she was pregnant.

I also feel the need to mention that I work in IT, which is 100% stress, 0 gratification.

Having our cats has made the day to a day more enjoyable. Instead of spending my entire day dwelling on the dreaded next day, I have a small warm feline that occasionally notices that I'm in a bad mental place and helps me to redirect. Especially like recently when I was fired without cause. I'm here all day with nothing to do.

People that put in the time to take care of their pets should be allowed to keep them. Without exorbitant additional fees, or a hard time. 

What is it to you? You require a security deposit for this exact thing. Stop worrying about "bigger pockets" and focus on Customer Service. Put some work into your properties and let people live their lives. If I could justify buying a house right now, I would. Not everyone has that option though.

@Dennis Carney

Because the security deposit doesn't cover the damage that can be done by one pet. Unfortunately, it's the bad pet owners who create the problem for good pet owners like you. 

Originally posted by @Dennis Carney :

I feel the need to post a reply on this from the side of the tenant. 

Wasn't your choice to have three, but it was yours to keep them.

I'm a software developer and I go through the same type of work.  Zero animals and I'm happy as can be.  For whatever reason people have animals as renters is none of my concern.

Pets are an additional liability and require extra reserves and/or rent for damages/cleaning at lease-end.  I don't care how clean you think you are, pet owners are not.  Hair everywhere, urine stains, barn smell and dirty hvac filters, ducting and coil galore.  You're going to pay for the privilege of owning pet(s) in my homes because the property has to be restored to its former glory to attract new tenants when you leave it dirty and smelly.  

Renting homes is becoming a large source of my livelihood (I suspect others as well) and will soon be the sole provider.  Housing comes at a price, if you care about your pockets so much, lose the animals and save a buck.

Even if you include a pet fee AND pet rent, it will not cover the damages done by a pet, much less pets in most (if not all) cases.

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