Emotional Support Animals & Waiver of “No Pet” Policies: What Does the Law Say?

by | BiggerPockets.com

[Editor’s Note: Please be aware that this material does not serve as legal advice. As with all blog content discussing landlord-tenant legalities, be sure to consult Federal and State laws specific to your area before implementing any of this advice into your practices.]

“My tenant just got a dog and is claiming it as an emotional support animal, but I have a ‘No Pets’ policy.”

“A prospective tenant says they have an emotional support animal, but I don’t allow pets. What do I do?”

I see these questions popping up in the Forums from time to time, and I got curious about the law.

The Fair Housing Act was adopted in 1968, and among other things, makes it illegal to discriminate against people based on race, color, religion or country of origin. It was added in 1974 that you couldn’t discriminate based on gender, and since 1988, you also cannot discriminate against people with disabilities or families.

There are very few properties that are exempt from these laws — a building with 4 or fewer units, one of which is owner occupied; single family homes where the owner does not use a real estate agent to buy or rent the property, and the owner owns less than three single family houses; and housing owned by organizations or private clubs that is used for members.

Related: A Must Use Form for Every Landlord: Release to the Rights of Possession

BiggerPockets readers are a smart bunch, so I am going to skip over everything else on the list and focus on disabilities. In addition to not being able to discriminate, housing providers must make reasonable accommodations to their rules, policies, practices or services, and must allow the tenant to make changes to the property at the tenant’s own expense, provided they return the property to its original condition prior to vacating the premises, also at the tenant’s expense.


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The Situation

So let’s take a look at a hypothetical situation. You have a 3-story building with stairs leading to the front door. The tenant wants you to allow them to build a ramp so they can get into the building. This is a reasonable request. The tenant wants you to install an elevator so they can live on the third floor. This is not a reasonable request.

But what about animals in a “No Pets” building?

A service animal is not considered a pet. It is an assistive device to help with a disability, similar to the way a wheelchair gives assistance. Since a service animal is not a pet, a housing provider cannot charge a pet deposit or additional pet rent. You may, however, refuse an animal that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, but you must be able to prove that the specific animal is a threat — general assumptions based on breed or size are not allowed.

Breed, size, and weight limitations also do not apply to service animals, with one caveat. The law states that “reasonable” accommodation requests are only reasonable if the request can be easily granted — that is, if the request won’t cost the housing provider an excessive amount of money or time. A 2006 HUD memo states that “if a housing provider’s insurance carrier would cancel, substantially increase the costs of the insurance policy, or adversely change the policy terms because of the presence of a certain breed of dog or a certain animal, HUD will find that this imposes an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider.”

Proof of Need

What you can do as a housing provider is request proof of need. A true emotional support animal has been prescribed by a physician or therapist, who will be happy to provide a letter stating such. You have the right to request documentation, and you should request it to prove that you aren’t discriminating against other tenants who want pets. But keep in mind that while you are entitled to documentation, the tenant’s animal is not required to be trained or have any special certification. And the documentation you request can only be related to proof that the animal has been prescribed. You may not request information about the nature of the disability, nor can you request medical records or access to medical personnel.

But wait, there’s more. You may only request proof of need for a disability that is not apparent. You may not request proof of need for a blind person’s seeing eye dog, or any other similarly obvious need.

I don’t think this is the reason for the multitude of questions in the Forums, however. I can see that there are legitimate reasons to have an emotional support animal. I can also see people exploiting the existence of emotional support animals to circumvent the “No Pets” policy in place in a building.

The advice I see over and over in the Forums regarding most anything is “document document document.” Keep good records, and document everything. So if you have a tenant who “suddenly” gets an “emotional support animal,” document the first time you noticed it. When you ask them about the animal and they claim medical need, ask for a letter from their prescribing physician. Document when you asked for it, and when you received it. It shouldn’t take more than a few days to receive, especially if it is a legitimate need. If it goes beyond a week, document that as well.


Related: 7 Types of Tenants Who Cause MAJOR Landlord Headaches


A true emotional support animal has been prescribed by a physician, and a letter should be easy to provide. Someone scamming the system is not covered by law, but you shouldn’t automatically assume that someone is trying to pull one over on you just because the animal appears suddenly. Put aside emotions, speak calmly, and ask for documentation.

Another piece of advice I see time and again in the Forums is to consult an attorney. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and wouldn’t you rather spend the few hundred dollars on the attorney than the few (or many in some cases) thousands of dollars in fines because you misinterpreted the law?

[We are republishing this article to help out landlords who have found BiggerPockets more recently.]

Have you had a problem with a service dog in your property? Have you had successes?

Please share your story below.

About Author

Mindy Jensen

Mindy has flipped numerous homes in the past 10 years, one at a time and doing much of the work with her husband. She lives in Longmont, CO, and is always looking for an ugly duckling to turn into a swan.


  1. Eric D.

    Great job Mindy. I think the emotional support animal is a bit overblown these days, but you have to allow them. The exception is for dangerous breeds restricted by an insurance company. My insurance guy told me that even if a blind person had a pit bull seeing eye dog, it would not be allowed.

      • how do I (condo owner of one month) find out my rights as an owner of an ESA dog who has received two violations from some unnamed residents of my dog barking and scratching(he’s trying to adjust to the newness of his living conditions and barks only when I leave). I have a device now that helps correct the negative response that is humane.
        More to this than here but how or where do I get info regarding the more detailed aspects of my situation,
        Most gratefully
        Kelly Cain

        • Mindy Jensen

          Hi Kelly.
          I think your best course of action is to talk to the neighbors nearest you. Yes, it will take a little adjustment to his new place, but as someone who used to live next door to a barking dog that never stopped, I can understand your neighbor’s point of view, too. Is your building pet-free? They could be wondering why someone was allowed to get a dog.
          Explaining your situation as much as you feel comfortable doing, can go a long way towards understanding. And perhaps if your dog is friendly, they could meet him.

      • Laurel Devine

        As a third generation landlord of over 200 properties what I am seeing is suddenly EVERYONE NEEDS a service/emotional support dog. All 200+ of our units are no cats or dogs and have been for the past 35 years. Now suddenly, one tenant got an emotional support dog and told other’s in the building that it’s a way around the no pet policy.

        I went from no pets for all those years to now, only in the last 12 months, I have 27 “emotional support” dogs and more to come, I’m sure.

        The issues started right away, with the landscaper walking off the job (after 8 years) because he was getting dog poo all over his tractor and his guys were stepping in it. I had to hire someone to pick up the poop (added expense). Also, so far we had one child get bit (thankfully not too badly) by a neighbors dog and our super is getting calls at all hours of the night (waking up his wife and children) over noise complaints because of barking and howling dogs.

        As someone with a disability myself, I fully understand those that would need a support animal (the blind, people with seizures, cancer patients, etc). But the unintended consequence of this are those tenants who use this as a way to get around a no pet policy (and brag about it).

        Something will need to be done eventually to figure out how to make sure the truly disabled have what they need, while at the same time fixing the issue of tenants using this to scam their landlords into allowing unruly pets.

        • Denise Evans

          In my experience, people who require a disability animal are almost always responsible animal owners and good stewards of rental properties. A strongly worded “Animal Addendum” or a lease “Animal Clause” that protects the property and the the rights of neighbors (excessive barking, feces on lawns, aggressive animals, etc.) deters the scammers. If it doesn’t, then it’s okay, because the property and the neighbors are protected by the Addendum/Clause, or the tenant can be evicted.

        • Laurel – I wholeheartedly agree that some people abuse this service just to be able to have their animal in a rental.
          I have a friend who is at this very time getting advice and looking into the law on it.
          I have an ESA, but I’ve been living in my rental house for 8 years and at the time I didn’t have a problem anyway because the landlord accepted my pets even before having my paperwork years later.
          So, although I know the law I refuse to help him on how to go about it although other people of course are. I personally won’t because he IS only doing it to get into housing with his small dog! He is 30 years old living with his parents. It ticks me off to no end that he is going to abuse a ‘program’ that others legitimately need!
          I understand everywhere people want to rent now-a-days landlords don’t accept pets, which in turn makes it extremely difficult for people who have them to find a place to live and in the long run the animal is the one who pays cause they are stripped away from their family. Which in most cases they’ve had since the animal was a baby.
          It’s not fair for so many landlords to refuse pets.
          Then people wonder WHY shelters are so full!
          On the other hand, I do understand why landlords have that stipulation. HOWEVER, if they did their homework they could find out by references such as previous landlords, family members, friends, etc, about the pet at the same time they do with the possible tenant that they are requiring about!
          Anyway, I think the abuse is thoroughly disgusting to the point that although he’s a friend I wish there were a way it could somehow be reported. Of course, that wouldn’t be a very good friend to be a rat either. It just honestly pisses me off that much!

        • Laurel – One other thing I want to mention about the last sentence of your comment about unruly animals.
          That is something they, by law, CAN NOT BE.
          The animal does not need any special training, but as Denise Evans stated, they DO have to be non-disruptive and non-aggressive or the tenant CAN be evicted, by law.

        • Barbara Cook

          I agree, something needs to be done! We have experienced the same increase in “companion and emotional support animals”. Mostly the tenants have just been getting pets without permission and after the fact claim they are Companion or ESA animals and provide letters from various doctors. First off, I do not believe that any old Doctor should be allowed to provide these letters of proof. If in deed these people NEED a Companion Animal or ESA then they have a mental health issue and I believe they should be required to have a Mental Health professional write the letter. Second, they should be required to get these letters BEFORE they get an animal and that the animal should at the very least be house trained!

          We had a tenant live in our complex for several years then suddenly she had a dog and a cat, without permission or a request for reasonable accommodation. After we discovered the animals, during a change in management, they admitted they had gotten the dog and cat several months apart, both as puppies and kittens they had to house train. They are dirty tenants, not great house keepers and it is clear they struggles to train the animals. At this point it is almost cheaper to just let them stay because we are going to have to rip out two stories of carpet that has been ruined by these animals. Right after serving them with notice that they were in violation of their rental agreement they called and yelled at us then said” what if we claim they are emotional support animals?”. That was our first clue they were going to get some doctors to lie for them. A week or so later the “reasonable accommodation request” arrived in the mail then nearly a month later two letters written by two different doctors arrived, each stating that an adult and a child needed these ESA. The animals were 8 months and over a year old by this point. Neither letter came from a Mental Health Professional, which, if you have such serious mental health issues that you need an ESA you would think that you would be seeing a Mental Health Professional for treatment. It does not do any good to allow someone with serious mental health issues to get an animal if they are not receiving counseling to also help them. The stress of potty training a puppy and a kitten while two out of the three people (the third also being a child) in the house are suppose to be emotionally crippled by mental illness seems a far stretch for me! These doctors were from the local health clinic and they will do just about anything for the poor if you ask me, one was only a nurse.

          My point, there has got to be some regulation of Companion and Emotional Support Animals. I am positive that this family and their doctors are committing fraud so they can keep their illegal pets and not have to move, the adult practically admitted it on the phone, but god forbid we try to fight the issue because the laws just are not on the side of the landlord anymore and the laws and descriptions are so vague that there is really no way around them! It is ridiculous! I have another tenant who not only has a ESA dog but belles they can violate our no smoking policy, despite having signed our No Smoking Addendum, because she has an Oregon Medical Marijuana Card! This woman is noting but trouble. She goves her upstairs and side neighbors letters or notices telling them when they can vaccum and do laundry and when they can not. If they walk to hard she pounds on walls and ceilings. I was cleaning the unit next to hers recently when it came vacant and she came pounding on the door, screaming like a crazy person at us for “washing the walls all day and the sound was driving her crazy!”. I told her I was not going to put up with her bullshit and told her to go home or I was going to serve her with an eviction for her threats and slammed the door in her face. 15 minutes later after getting stone she came back over sobbing and apologized. She has misrepresented herself to tenats and others as the manager, is the nosey neighbor type so anyone who comes to the complex gets stopped by her and asked “can I help you with something” or if they park in the tenant parking lot she screams at them to get out until they do. Last week we got a bill from a plumber, this woman had had her garbage disposal replaced and charged it to our account! Not only had she never reported any trouble with her disposal but charging anything to our accounts is a clear violation of the law. We called the police and stated we absolutely want her charged but they haven’t charged her yet and we are out $220 for a repair that was not needed. Recently her behavior has gotten worse, dead heading all her flowers and removing all the dead leaves and throwing them into the parking lot. When we told her to clean up her mess she suddenly decided her back had gone out and sent us a text message that we could clean it up for her or wait until her husband got home. Two days before that several landscape plants disappeared and we checked security footage and she had gone out and ripped them right out of the ground and stomped off to the dumpster to throw them away. We are reporting it to the police in the morning but our local police will likely do absolutely nothing, though it is legally theft and vandalism. Everyone we have talked to says she is mentally ill, it will be hard to get rid of her. If she behaves and pays for everything she owes that is one thing but we can not keep this crazy woman around disrupting everything and breaking the law. Unfortunately the local police only ever arrest for drug sales, DUI and serious violent crimes. The courts are as equally backwards and I have no doubt that if she fought the eviction the crappy judges around here would not even bother to look at the evidence. To them if the person is crazy or disable they win automatic! Lincoln County Oregon is no place to get justice or be a landlord, that is for sure.

    • Deanna Opgenort

      Your insurance guy is WRONG. Try to get rid of a tenant with a registered seeing-eye dog and you might as well hand the tenant the keys and walk away!
      SERVICE animals are federally protected, and there are lawyers who LIVE for lawsuits like that. There are two classifications — “Service Animal” and “Emotional Support Animal” — they have different legal entitlements, different rules.
      As near as I have been able to find by researching it, you can’t discriminate against EXISTING ESA by breed, but but you can discriminate against bad behavior — if when you do your due diligence by calling all the prospect’s existing neighbors you find out that their “emotional support” dog has a history of snarling at or biting people/aggressive behavior you can pretty safely say “no” —the same as if their teenager has a history of threatening the neighbors, or the tenant prospect has a history of getting drunk and waving a gun around.
      If they do NOT already have/declare an emotional support animal you can apparently have some control about a NEW support animal (it’s hard to claim that they “need” a support animal, and only the new emotional support alligator that they wish to acquire will do).
      Lots of scamming among the pit-bull crowd on this, as you can imagine. The rules are that they person must be SO disabled that they are unable to function normally without their emotional support animal, that it is NECESSARY for them to function, and the accommodation, and you can require that they provide you the letter from the prescribing Dr/therapist (a letter from their pastor that it would be “nice” for them to be able to keep the pitbull doesn’t cut it).
      The accommodation needed must be REASONABLE. Their dog is NOT allowed to terrorize the neighbors, they must pick up the poop if everyone else is required to do so, they can’t demand that you create a special doggie park for them, or fence the entire property for their use (though if it’s a single family home and THEY wish to fence it at their own cost that is allowed, and you can require them to remove the fencing when they leave and restore the yard to it’s previous condition — also, while you can’t require pet deposit for a service dog or ESA you CAN legally require them to pay for any and all damage caused by the animal during it’s stay (can you say video walk-through before and after their tenancy? Sure you can!).

  2. Denise Evans

    Hi Mindy, Good point, thank you for sharing, because this causes problems for many landlords. I would add, make sure your “Pet Addendum” or similar documents have been revised to “Animal Addendum” or something similar. Scrub out all references to pets, and make references to animals. Think about the behavior and dangers you want to avoid, and write accordingly. Any animal owner should be liable for that animal’s damage. All animals should be kept under control at all times. All should be current on required shots. Just because someone with a disability is allowed to have an animal, without paying a pet deposit or pet fee, does not mean they are not subject to all other requirements for responsible animal ownership, communal living in a place with common areas, or living in someone else’s property.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thanks for reading Denise.
      Yes, HUD addresses this as well. While you cannot charge an extra pet deposit because they aren’t considered pets, the tenant can be held liable for damage beyond normal wear and tear. Seeing eye dogs go through enormous amounts of training, and are some of the best behaved animals on the planet. I am not excited about the ESA’s not having to be certified or trained in any way. Perhaps with the proliferation of false ESA claims, that may change?

      • There are good reasons that ESAs don’t have to be trained. If they had to be trained, in a lot of situations it would make it difficult to get them for the people who need them. First, what are they supposed to be trained to do? Their mere presence is supposed to help mitigate the disability, no training needed for that. Secondly, if the dog has to be trained before you get it, despite your letter of prescription, how does that work? If you have to have the dog trained before you get it, but you have to have it to train it, that makes things difficult. There is the option of paying someone to board and train the dog before it comes to live with you, but that tends to be expensive and not always trustworthy anyway. The law is also designed to allow people to get an untrained dog as an emotional support animal and train it to be a service dog over time (it usually takes about 2 years to fully train the dog). I hope that helps to clarify why there are no training requirements.

        • Melissa Szanati

          A valid point, but there are certain animals that have temperaments to be in social situations with lots of stimulation and new people and other pets and some that ARE NOT.

          My coworker is one of these scammers and her dog has almost bit multiple people in the office because he is not good with new people. If there was some sort of requirement this dog would not pass. He isn’t extremely violent or disruptive, which is why it is shocking when he tries to bite at someone.

          The whole thing is upsetting I’ve had dogs all my life and the only one I had issues with was a Jack Russell that bit my face, which breeders and trainers will tell you is an aggressive breed, but insurance companies do not. Meanwhile my lab-pit mix, although a poorly trained dog is very tolerant and a stranger could touch her eye and she wouldn’t bite them… it’s a shame people will always try and break rules to better themselves that can harm or even just disrupt their neighbors or landlord.

  3. Jay C.

    At the end of the day..my house….my rules. Rentals houses are like buses….you know the saying…tons of them around. If they don’t like it….sue me and good luck with that. I have the right to say no..no to pets…..no to smoking….no to pot use in states where its legal. There is a good reason why most renters are renting. They don’t have the funds to buy. I am not intimidated in the least by someone who threatens to sue me. They will be laffed out of court trying to force me to do something I don’t allow to anyone else and any doctors letter wont matter in the slightest. It would be like a handicapped person wants to rent your home but tries to force you to build a spendy wheelchair ramp………..I am laffing as I type…..beyond silly.

    With all that said I do allow small pets but charge for it…….$500 more on the security deposit and $25 per month pet rent. It has to be a small dog though and every pet is on a pet by pet basis. Its negotiable and if they want the place bad enough they may wind up paying $25-$100 per month for the pet.

    • Mindy Jensen

      I didn’t write this post to cause a conflict, but unless you fall into those very narrow categories I mentioned near the top of the post, you may be sued for not allowing assistance animals into your property. Just because you have a policy against animals doesn’t change the fact that it is a federal law to make reasonable adjustments to your policies, including animal policies.

      I truly hope you do not become a party to a lawsuit, but blatant disregard of federal law could make that happen. While doing research for this post, I found case after case where the landlord was sued and the tenant won because the landlord wouldn’t make a reasonable accommodation. Some to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

      If this is sincerely your attitude, your plaintiffs will not be laughed out of court, and that doctor’s letter will absolutely matter.

      • Denise Evans

        Remember, also, that the tenant requesting a reasonable modification (wheelchair ramp, lowered counters, etc.) can be required to pay for those changes, and returning the property to prior condition at lease end, unless the changes would also benefit any other tenant. So, cost should not be an issue for the landlord. The tenant does not have to pay for reasonable accommodation requests (changes in rules regarding animals, or reserved parking spaces, for example) but such things rarely have very much of an expense associated with them. If they do, and if the expense is oppressive to the landlord, the landlord does not have to make the accommodation.

    • As someone who has an ESA, I can tell you this is no LAUGHable matter. You are exactly the kind of landlord who would and will be sued over such an issue. I know I surely would report you to the DOJ and I hope someone does, so you learn your lesson.

    • Jay – Although your post was 2 years ago I’m replying to it in case others such as myself are reading it now.
      The only one who would be “laughed out of court” would be you.
      You CAN NOT, BY FEDERAL LAW, deny a rental prospect who has an ESA!
      Also, your pet deposits would be null and void as you can not charge a deposit to a renter with an ESA.
      I hope you have since educated yourself on the federal law about ESA’s & SA’s.

    • And at the end of the day it is ILLEGAL to deny someone an ESA if they have a doctor’s note prescribing one. It is ILLEGAL to charge them a pet fee, it is ILLEGAL to raise their rent because of their ESA, and it is ILLEGAL to discriminate by breed or size. The law doesn’t give a rat’s ass if it’s your property; the law is the law, and you have no choice but to follow it. The only one who’d be laughed out of the courts is you because of your very apparent disregard for the law and unwillingness to be familiar with it, then going and suing because you didn’t care enough to read up on the laws you are very clearly violating.

      • Daniel l parks II

        I run a small rental business and am seeing my rights disappear. I’ve renovated numerous places. Changed carpeting after a year due to these animals. So far haven’t had to rent to 3 dogs or 5 cats but I shutter to think of the mess. As far as accommodating people with changes to the property, good luck thinking they will return the property to its original structure. It doesn’t happen. There is such a low threshold to making a service dog or animal out of a regular animal everyone does it to get out of paying a pet deposit. I don’t get government assistance to repair or replace anything. Try changing out sub flooring because all the urine and poo caused it to buckle. Business people are smart and will adjust to the rules or get out of business. I already hear people saying they can’t find any decent rentals. I had very high standards and don’t consider myself a slumlord but now I just leave the carpeting that’s been urinated or messed on and shampoo it the best I can. As long as it looks good. You’re right I can’t charge a deposit for service dogs but I can charge an extra 50.00 a month for rent to everybody which is not discriminating ,which I’m definitely considering and shorten our leases so we can just move out people at the end of their leases. Your hurting yourselves with this stupidity. Supply is going down and demand continues to go up. The more rules and regulations will cause less of a supply. I’ll still be there raising rents with everyone else necessarily due to extra “cost of business.” Everything that costs us gets passed to the consumer. When we start to lose out we get out. Then that’s just that many more places people can’t rent. I’m not a mean individual I have a heart and some people really need these animals. But they should be very upset at the people taking advantage of the situation. So go on keep pushing me into a corner I’m good. No one is going to work for nothing. I’ll just keep raising rent and if it gets too crazy I’ll sell them and just flip properties. Oh yea, about business people, they never put all their eggs in one basket.

  4. Cydni Anderson

    As someone who IS disabled, I always find these types of articles interesting.

    The one thing I would like to say from a patients perspective, is that expecting a doctor’s letter within a week might be a stretch. I love my neurologist, both as a person and as a doctor, but his office is terrible. I doubt I could get his assistant to do anything within a week- and that comes from experience. I figure its the price I pay for a great doctor who accepts crappy insurance.

    Just wanted to add my two cents. Sometimes its important to remember that tenants are not just dollar signs, but people with real needs.

    Thanks for the article!

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to respond.

      As someone who is not disabled, I guess I just thought it would be easy to get a quick note. As someone who has seen a doctor in the last few years, I should have known better. I am sorry to assume, and apparently my head wasn’t where it should have been.

      Something a tenant could take from this is to ask for a note when the animal is prescribed. Perhaps it would be easier to verify a note rather than get one?

      • Cydni Anderson

        Hi Mindy,

        great article, seriously. And it obviously got people thinking, which is what we’re all here for.

        It might be easier to verify, I guess it depends on the doctor. My neurologist accepts patients that most other dr’s won’t, so his office is seriously backed up.

        Sorry if I sounded trite with my last post. That wasn’t my intention, and I promise I’m normally very cheery! But I was seriously offended by the comment by Jay C. Completely arrogant, deserving of a lawsuit, and quite frankly deserving to lose in a big way. As Bre said, karma…

  5. Great post. I was truly sad to see such a hideous response from Jay C. His lack of empathy is something that on a bad day makes me wish he needed something someday like a wheelchair or seeing eye dog. Always those who don’t need have a snarky way of looking at the world… until they need. karma is a right ol’ b.

  6. Sharon Tzib

    Allowing animals is actually a very “nouveau” trend these days, since people consider their pets one of their family, and if you don’t allow them, you will not be competitive. I currently live in a Class A multi-family community where pets are allowed, and it’s astounding how many people with animals live here. Clearly, there’s a demand, and if you can fill it, it could be quite profitable. All animal owners must follow certain rules, and there are fines if they don’t. It seems to work well here, and some landlords resistance to pets is curious to me. I’ve always allowed them, with a deposit, of course, never had an issue. If you are screening your tenants well and they are solid, they will probably be responsible enough to make sure their pets aren’t a problem.

    I would think, in regards to the Emotional Support Animal letter, that if you had been prescribed to get one, you would already have the letter in hand when you went apartment hunting. Maybe you are referring to someone who is recently diagnosed and rushes out and gets a dog and then informs their landlord after-the-fact. My advice to that tenant would be to handle it the opposite way, and get the letter, present it to your landlord, and then get the animal. Your landlord will probably be far less suspicious if you handle it correctly, and at that point, since they really can’t object, it could make the whole process far less stressful.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Where I live, I swear I am the only person without a pet. I get both sides of the argument. I know people who love their animals, and train them and they are well behaved. I know others who love their animals, and make excuses for why they destroy everything.

      But one difference is that assistance animals are not considered pets, and cannot be charged extra pet deposit or rent. Tenants are responsible for damages from their animals, regardless of pet or assistance animal.

      Your advice regarding landlord notification for a new assistance animal is a wonderful idea. Thanks for reading!

    • Wendy Hoechstetter

      Sharon, people actually don’t always know that they might actually need such a letter until it is requested of them. Then they turn up on forums and Facebook groups dedicated to service dog law asking if that is even legal.

      Which of course it is – within certain parameters – although much of the time, the landlord asks for more documentation and detail than is actually legal.

      We then have to talk them through what is and is not OK, and often get involved in direct advocacy on their behalf with the landlord in order to get the situation corrected.

  7. JT Spangler

    A few things:

    1) It is possible to (legally) need an ESA and not have a letter from a physician saying so, so beware trying to require that.
    2) There are no regulations or requirements for an animal to be certified as an ESA (there’s a half dozen websites that will do it all online in about 15 minutes), so claiming an animal has been certified as an ESA doesn’t mean much.
    3) It is possible (depending on a few variables including how many and what type of properties you own) that you, as the property owner/landlord, are EXCLUDED from the Fair Housing Act. It’s worth finding out if that’s the case, because although responsible landlords will follow it anyway, it does give you legal ammunition to deny or evict tenants with an ESA (or even a seeing-eye dog, although I can’t see why you would).

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thanks for reading, JT.
      I did address points 2 and 3 in the post.
      ESA’s do not need to be certified, which means that almost any animal can qualify. (The ADA says that only dogs can be service animals, but the ADA doesn’t have jurisdiction over housing.)
      There are legal exclusions, but the guidelines for those are pretty strict.
      I did a lot of research for this post, and while I am not an attorney, everything I found and read says an ESA that a housing provider cannot discriminate against must be prescribed by a physician or therapist.

  8. Aaron Peeler

    I recently came across a website that will charge you a fee to answer a series of questions. If your answers indicate the need for an ESA, they write you a prescription. If they’re unable to write you a prescription based on your answers, they refund the fee you paid. You’re essentially buying a prescription for an ESA.

    • Shannon Sadik

      It’s not even seen as a “scam” these days and is certainly becoming more prevalent. It is easily available through any doctor. My father in law owns a second home in FL that they go to in the winter. He recently got a new puppy and of course brings it with him. The puppy has been to obedience school, but it’s not really working. He’s wild and jumps up on people and is generally a nuisance to be around. The neighbors have complained to the HOA about the dog and now they are claiming that the HOA rules only allow dogs of a certain weight size, which this dog is over, so he supposedly had to get rid of it. My FIL just called his old psychiatrist, had him write a scrip for an ESA, and boom, he gets to keep the dog. My FIL is a smart man and knew exactly what to tell the dr in order to get the correct scrip.

      After learning this, I am certainly very wary of any renter who comes to me with an “ESA” dog and I’ve recently had two. That means absolutely nothing to me so I am very glad for the tip about requesting proof (though that still doesn’t solve all problems). I generally do not allow pets in our rentals. I have this rule because even the best pets can destroy permanent fixtures when they get upset. I’ve seen it in my own, very well-behaved cat and dog and even had to refinish all the floors in one of our rentals because nothing would get rid of the pee smell. Their security deposit would not have covered that and good luck getting extra money from a tenant without incurring more cost, time, and headaches, so I’m not interested in taking on those types of problems if I can avoid it.

    • Dan Roberts

      The website you are most likely referring to is legit. You answer a battery of questions and then you are required to have actual face time with a licensed mental health therapist. One is required to do at least two different sessions, more if the therapist finds they need more verification of a diagnosis and treatment. Only then, if appropriate do they write the prescription. So it is not “buying” a prescription, it is no different than going to your doctor. Utilizing the internet is a way to assist more people and build their business. Another point to make is these letters / prescriptions must be written by a licensed therapist. This means they risk loosing their license and income if they write prescriptions without just cause. As a landlord, you can request a verification from the therapist (to make sure the letter wasn’t forged), you can also look up the therapists license number with the state. The majority of service animal owners (including emotional support animals), will be good tenants and will have their animal trained in basic obedience even though they are not required to do so. By the way, I am a licensed therapist and find a service (emotional support) animal makes a huge difference in my patients life’s and their ability to function in daily living, and often prescribe. Up until this week no one has had a problem with a landlord refusing to rent so I get to write my first official letter now. Emotional support animal in question is a dwarf rabbit in a cage.

      • J W.

        I realize I am late to the discussion but thought I would share my experience. I have a rental managed by a PM company. My no pets town home was required to allow a ESA into my unit and by law were not allowed to charge additional rent nor a pet deposit. I never met the applicants but was assured that they were nice people and that the ESA was a small and friendly dog and likely could not do much damage. The renters failed to pay rent themseleves once only (due to reason which are private to them) and had the charges covered by their church. They had no back up or emergency funds to fall back on yet had a good support network. When they moved out after giving proper notice 2 years later, the house flooring was damaged beyond cleaning. Dog urine stains in every room with carpeting which they were not able to remove with professional cleaning, The baseboards were ruined in multiple areas due to pee saturation and swelling. Many sections of wall paint were discolored (like bleached) where the tenant may have tried to clean pee that had run down the walls. We had to tear out all carpeting and many base boards, repaint, and then address the sub floor. This cost me thousands of dollars in repairs. Their deposit was no where near covering the cost, yet they were offended when we told them they would not be receiving any of their deposit back. We didn’t bother to sue them. They had no money to provide to cover the costs of anything. This is not an easy topic. I want to be able to provide quality housing. I love animals and have pets myself. I do not want to see renters committing fraud that can cost me a large chunk of my retirement investment. People are not entitled to take that away from me with false (or legitimate) ESAs.

  9. Jay C.

    Aaron Peeler on March 12, 2015 10:01 am

    I recently came across a website that will charge you a fee to answer a series of questions. If your answers indicate the need for an ESA, they write you a prescription. If they’re unable to write you a prescription based on your answers, they refund the fee you paid. You’re essentially buying a prescription for an ESA.

    Exactly……….where does it end. I cannot remember the last time I actually saw a handicapped person exit a car parked in the handicapped zone as they hustled in to the all you can eat buffet or filled their truck with lumber at the Home Depot. Many of the bleeding hearts here may just cave to this stuff but as I posted earlier just take me to court. The fine print in these rules cannot force me to accept a larger breed if my insurance wont allow it and I already allow smaller pets. As I see it they have to jump thru far more hoops then I do so they can have at it. If they want to wiggle the rules well then two can play that game. In the end its my experience they will just move on and take the road with the least resistance.

    All this said I will do my best to accommodate but at the end of the day I have my rules and enforce them. There are so many ways around this as a landlord its not funny. For starters this comes down to proper systems in place to screen and take applications. Since this is Bigger Pockets and not a disability site I assume we are directing the approach from a landlords perspective.

    • Aaron Peeler

      Well, I will say a Fair Housing violation has the potential to put a small landlord out of business – the punitive fines are no joke, starting at $16,000 per violation for a first time offender. All it takes is one tenant who really knows what their rights are under that law to do serious damage to a landlord.

      • Jay C.

        Arron.again..threats threats and more threats. Good systems in place and this is never an issue. Always screen one tenant at a time and have a lawful pre screen in place so you know a bit about your tenants before you screen them. Where I am located I have 30-50 applicants the first day so finding the tenant I want to put into my property is very simple. What this thread is talking about is a needle in a haystack.

        • Jay, there are ways a perspective tenant can look “PERFECT”, no pets, and get approved to move in. Yet in a couple of weeks they claim a need for a couple of bit bulls as their ESA animals. It happened to me and screening previous landlords did not pick it up, so I know first hand. It’s been a year now and It has actually worked out so far in my “no animal” building. I have strict rules now for animals. Just be aware that one of your new perfect tenants can hand you a ESA prescription “after” they are residing in one of your units and then feel the need to have some companion animals.
          My attorneys, (three of them), said nothing could be done legally to prevent these ESA animals from finding a home in my no animal building. Good Luck.

  10. Denise Evans

    The 2008 Joint Statement of the HUD and the Department of Justice says this is what you are allowed to ask:

    “a housing provider may request reliable disability-related information that (1) is necessary to verify that the person meets the Act’s definition of disability (i.e., has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities), (2) describes the needed modification and (3) shows the relationship between the person’s disability and the need for the requested modification.”

    Use those exact words. It might help if this is in a standard letter you give to someone who has made a reasonable accommodation request.

    The information can come from a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional. Some experts say it cannot be from the family doctor. If someone presents a letter from their family doctor, call your lawyer or insurance company for advice. As of right now, nobody is real sure about what you have to do in that circumstance.

      • Denise Evans

        Wendy, thank you for letting me know the letter can come from just about anyone, not just the list in the HUD statement. I agree with earlier comments, have a strong lease that protects you from from the consequences of bad animal/human behavior, apply it equally to all tenants, and and then don’t worry about whether someone is trying to game the system or not. The comment I seem to be seeing most often is dogs barking all night long. If failure to control your dog’s barking is an event of default, then default that person and evict them. People with ESAs are allowed to have their animals. They are not allowed to damage property, allow flea infestations,destroy the peace and quiet, leave deposits on the lawn, or treat their animals in other than a humane and responsible manner. I have a very strong “Animal Addendum” for my lease. It applies to everyone, whether they have pets or ESAs.

        • Beth Cogley

          Denise Evans – would you be willing to share your “Animal Addendum”? Here’s my situation:

          I have a new(er) tenant who has lived in my apartment (1 in a 4-plex – I do not live in one of them so it is not exempt) for about 3 months. I knew when they moved in that she was pregnant. Today I get this text from the tenant:

          She “went to the doctors last week and got diagnosed with depression. And the doctor suggested for her to get an emotional companion pet because the medicines for it now a days cause heart defects in the baby.”

          I asked for a letter from the doctor and was told “Yeah she planned on getting it tomorrow. I can drop off a copy sometime tomorrow.”

          Obviously, I don’t have much time to do a ton of research of animal addendums, so I was wondering if you might be willing to share. Thank you in advance for any help you can provide!

          Oh, and while I was typing this, I got the text: “She been looking around the last couple of days since she found out. There’s a puppy a guy has and if he needs to get rid of asap due to his new place. He’s holding it for us at the moment.”

          Aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh! A puppy. Help!

      • Deanna Opgenort

        When I was asking tenants to leave because of undeclared pit bulls I came across a lot of wishful mis-information on pro-pit-bull sites that seemed designed to intimidate landlords.
        Apparently having a lawyer write up an “acceptance of liability” letter to send to the so-called prescriber can produce the most interesting back-peddling on ESA need that you have ever seen, since legitimate mental health providors have an obligation not to endanger the public, and illigitimate “prescribers” are seldom interested in taking on the liability for their actions.

  11. Bryan O.

    Great post Mindy. One quick thing is that State laws may not allow the same exemptions from FHA as Federal does. As an example, I own a 3-plex that I owner occupy in Colorado. I am exempt Federally, but not exempt at the State level. You can check your own state here:
    I had breathed a sigh of relief that I had some cushion for error based on the exemption (I’m still new to the business and bound to make mistakes), but it is not the case for me.
    Thank you for the article!

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thanks Bryan.
      I actually wrote this post twice, the first time my computer crashed right as I was saving… Sigh.
      I had put into that first draft that state laws cannot be more lenient than the federal ones, but they can be more strict. But since they vary so much state to state, I just gave the federal mandates.
      Thank you for sharing. This link will be helpful to many.

      • Wendy Hoechstetter

        Actually, it is the reverse, Mindy. State laws can indeed be more lenient, to whatever level they wish. More lenient/less restrictive.

        What they cannot *legally* do (although many still do) is narrow the definition of disability or call for more restrictive/less protective

        The federal laws are baseline minimums.

  12. Kyle Atans

    Hello All,

    Do you have any experience with service animals from “http://www.nsarco.com/” ? It is a service, which cost around $60 and they issue a service ID card for your dog. If you choose an “emotional support” for a reason, they do not ask you for additional documents. How would you proceed in this case ?


    • Mindy Jensen

      All the HUD information I read says that the animal must be prescribed by a physician to be considered an emotional support animal that is covered by the HUD laws. An ESA does NOT need to be licensed, certified or have any special training, so it seems to my completely not-attorney mind that this is $60 wasted. If someone is approaching you with this, I would consult an attorney who will give you the legal information upon which you can stand. Good luck!

  13. Mike Butler has suggested that instead of having a pets clause in your rental contract that you have an “animal” clause allowing you to have a charge for animals whether they are pets or service animals. Any thoughts on that idea?

    • Jay C.

      Gene, This goes back to good adds and screening. You have an add with big bold letters no pets or what pets you do take if they are small or whatever your rules are. Also great big deposits to start with. Good renters have no issue with huge deposits.

      At the end of the day some landlord may be forced to take an animal they do not want with no extra deposit and no pet rent. Well guess what…..the law works both ways and protects all. You can most certainly sue this person for damages,attorney fees and lost rents for the time it takes to recoup the home and yard and forward a very bad referral to the next property. Fair is Fair !

      • By law, you CAN NOT charge deposits or fees for ESAs or service animals, nor can you discriminate and limit the animal to being one of a certain size or below. It does not matter at all what your lease says. If your lease says “only small dogs and you have to pay $500 for it”, that is illegal for ESAs and service animals, and very valid grounds to sue.

        TL;DR: You CANNOT charge for ESAs, and you CANNOT dictate a certain size or breed. The ONLY thing you can charge for is to repair the home for any possible damages once the tenant leaves.

        • Tim Sabo

          Being aware that some people do actually NEED an animal to help them is paramount here, but these rules have lost all sanity. When we, as a society, begin to put the need some of a tenant-who claims to need his Pit Bull for comfort-above the rights of a property owner-who has invested in the property, and is paying taxes-then certainly we have lost touch with reality. Where is the common sense in these laws?

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thanks for reading, Gene.
      I am not an attorney, but everything I read seems to indicate that you may not charge any extra deposit of any kind.
      But just because you cannot charge a deposit doesn’t mean you can’t charge for damages above normal wear and tear. If any animal, including service animals, cause excessive damage, you may take that out of the security deposit, and I believe you can charge the amount of the actual damages if they exceed the security deposit.

    • Wendy Hoechstetter

      It is flat out illegal to charge deposits, extra rent, or extra deposits for service animals or ESAs, no matter what your lease might say.

      In fact, if your lease and/or any other written policies do say otherwise, you are required by law to *change* those policies to bring them into compliance.

      This has been tested in court more than once, and has always been upheld that I know of. Companies that have violated the law and been sued have been fined *and* required to make these changes, as well as to institute training for any employees in properly complying with these laws.

      It’s one thing (although no excuse) to not know the law, but once you do, I would think a court would cast a particularly jaundiced eye on any attempt to circumvent it like you are proposing.

  14. Denise Evans

    I don’t think you can charge a fee for a service or assistance animal, plus all other animals, because the tenant does not have a choice as to whether to have that animal or not. The Fair Housing laws do not protect the disabled from discriminatory conduct as between pet owners and disabled persons. It protects them from discriminatory housing practices that either deny housing, or making housing more expensive than it is for all other non-disabled persons, not just the subset with pets.

  15. Jeff S.

    Mindy, what Denise Evans is saying is exactly what I have been informed of too. It can be any medical provider and in some cases they are now saying a family member could be good enough. In any case it is more that just a therapist or physician-that would be too easy.

    • Wendy Hoechstetter

      Absolutely right, Jeff. It can even be a friend or coworker.

      In reality, medical providers often really don’t know the need for a service animal, or understand what they can do. They also don’t know their patients anywhere near as well as other people in those patients’ lives, many of whom are actually far better informed about the situation and the person’s need for the animal.

    • Jay C.

      If you know what you are doing this “service animal” issues is a non issue. Some may not understand. This starts with a good rental add with only enough info to get your renters interest. When you find more about the party set your deposit. Most states have no limit on deposits. You can nip this whole situation in the bud before it ever happens. Pretty simple

    • Wendy Hoechstetter

      I don’t know the answer to that question, Scott, but you can circumvent a lot of problems by writing your lease in a way that complies with the law, and focuses on the sorts of behavior that won’t be tolerated, and the penalties/restitution that might be required in the event of any sort of damages.

      The critically important thing is to make sure that these policies apply to *all* tenants regarding *any* sort of damage or threatening behavior and the like.

  16. Denise Evans

    Most states have some version of the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act, which caps security deposits at one month’s rent. Most states also impose a 100% penalty for charging more than the statutory maximum.

    You are begging for a Fair Housing lawsuit if you set security deposit policies based on non-measurable judgment calls on a tenant by tenant basis. Not only is the first time penalty HUGE, it is not usually covered by standard insurance policies. Also, “testers” can pretend to be tenant prospects, catch you in a violation and sue you. It doesn’t matter if they were not real prospects. The Supreme Court said Fair Housing is such an important issue, plaintiffs will not be thrown out of court on a “standing” motion based on the fact they couldn’t have suffered any damages, because they weren’t real tenant prospects. In the area of Fair Housing, someone can have absolutely no damages and still sue you and recover money. PLUS you will be hit with the Fair Housing penalties. Plus required education. Plus advertising costs to tell the world you no longer violate the Fair Housing laws. Plus being on their radar for many years.

    • Jay C.


      If you had read my post you would have seen I said “most states” and sorry to inform you this the factual situation. Second behind no limit is two months rent. So please before you post for the sake of argument do some research for the facts. Now……….I am on record in several posts above………big–huge deposits. I also see that sue word again…….oh my…..scary. So many here seem to be so scared of this. Its probably because its the rally cry from select groups who try to force you to break your rules and do things you would not normally allow. Again……sue me. Its no big deal. You folks may want to learn about the judicial system to update yourselves.

      One last point………this entire article/blog/thread is about one thing………….Being forced to allow something you do not normally allow. You go right ahead and give us information that appeases the bleeding hearts. I on the other hand and going to provide an alternative side for someone to defend my property rights. If you think this is cut and dried you are sadly mistaken.


      • Mindy Jensen

        Jay, I have read all the comments you have left on this post, and have chosen to ignore them all until this one.

        The purpose of this post was to inform landlords who may not be aware of how service animals are treated. To help clear up the confusion of the service animal laws, so a landlord wouldn’t violate them accidentally. Ignorance of the law is no defense.

        I get what you are trying to say with your screening recommendations. Your original comment said it was your house and your rules. Continue running your business the way you want. You were not my target audience. I was writing to people who wish to learn.

        • Denise Evans

          Mindy, Thank you for taking the time to initiate this post, monitor the comments, and respond. There is much confusion about the issue of service and assistance animals and the Fair Housing laws. For the last several years, over 50% of the Fair Housing complaints to HUD and DOJ have been disability-related. That percentage increases every year. People need to be aware of this, and know ways to protect their property and other tenants from animal problems, but in a way that does not violate the law.

          Another hot topic I am seeing often in this same area is the issue of hoarding, whether hoarding behavior is disability related, and how to manage hoarding behavior in a rental property. I think a lot of people would find it very useful if you posted on that.

      • Wendy Hoechstetter

        Jay, you can think whatever you want of the law and the reasons behind it, and people who have service dogs, but it is still the law. If you want to stay in business, you *must* comply with it.

        You “laff” [sic] at the idea of being sued? Go right ahead. That will catch up with you eventually and put you out of business. Repeat your discriminatory behavior after a court tells you to get your act together, and there’s a very good chance you will go to jail for contempt.

  17. Denise Evans

    I was a full time litigator – defensive litigation — for many years before I became burned out representing people who thought they could ignore the rules with impunity. More money for me, but a stressful way of life. I then moved to Alabama and turned my attention to commercial real estate development and related investments. Perhaps I should have been more careful in my use of the word “you,” so as not to give the impression I was preaching to you, personally, Jay. My words of caution were for other readers, who might want more information about consequences before evaluating their risks and making a decision.

    And, you are correct, I should have researched security deposit policies before making a statement about “most.” I thought I remembered the “most” from a CLE seminar I attended, but was obviously mistaken. Or, the speaker was mistaken. Having researched the issue, I can now confidently say that, of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 24 have no caps on residential security deposits. One limits it to three months’ rent. Ten limit it to two months’ rent. Four limit it to 1-1/2 month’s rent. Twelve limit it to one month’s rent. Thank you for the link.

    For those who wish to research this subject without relying on posts and replies, please refer to the Joint Statement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice, paying particular attention to Question 11, Example 2. http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/jointstatement_ra.php

    If you wish to quote a cost-prohibitive security deposit to a disabled person with a service or assistance animal, do so in the teeth of the law, not because you are ignorant of the law. We all take risks in our investments. Choose your risks, don’t be surprised by them.

  18. Jay C.


    I appreciate your follow up and certainly good advice. I speak from a place of having law related people in my family as well. I also know proving is another matter. Personally, I am very fair in my dealings but as you read my remarks I do not like the growing trend in out nation of being forced to do things. HUD is a weak organization that will do very little for any homeowner or renter. My point to all who are forced is as the property owner you have many different avenues to persuade this renters to look elsewhere or how to make your property look not very favorable if this happens once they are in. Most all of this begins with good tough leases.

  19. Jerry W.

    Thank you for taking the time to research and write this article. All information helps. I can empathize somewhat with being forced to give and give and give to those who seem to prey on the system. The reality is when it becomes the law we have no choice. Knowing the law and preparing is the best way to deal with this. Not everyone thinks like we do. Your article will help others avoid having a violation of the law or maybe even debunk a scammer wanting his pet in the house for free.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thanks for reading, Jerry. I have seen this come up in the forums, and I know there are a lot of landlords on BP who wouldn’t want to inadvertently violate the law.

      And it seems that landlords do have a defense against the scammers by being able to ask for a letter from a physician. Of course if they have a doc that will give them one, then I wouldn’t think you could challenge it. I’m not an attorney, though so don’t take that to the bank.

    • Wendy Hoechstetter

      You know, though, Jerry, that as deplorable as the scammers are, if they really were disabled and really did need the animal, you wouldn’t know the difference as long as the animal was well-behaved, would you?

      The reality is none of us has *any* way of knowing whether or not any other person is actually disabled or not, since a huge number of disabilities are completely or mostly invisible to others. The legal risks are exceptionally high if you guess wrong and act inappropriately on a mistaken belief that someone is not actually disabled and does not actually need the dog or other animal.

      While this is not part of any law per se, I always tell business owners and landlords to focus on the behavior of the animal, and how the owner manages it if anything comes up. Stay within the guidelines that FHA and ADA lay out. If the animal isn’t endangering anyone, causing you to change the fundamental operation of your business, and isn’t destroying anything, then what are you actually out? Both FHA and ADA do have protections for businesses and landlords built in already on this score.

  20. I was turned down for housing becausde of an emotional support animal. They made it seem as if there was another reason. I have a letter from my doctor, a pet resume, highly trained shih tzu and renter’s insurance that would cover any damage or bites.

    I am now about to apply for an apartment in an area which has 80% no pet apartments. I don’t want to make the same mistake.

    What is the BEST WAY to let them know I have an emotional support animal? After I am approved? Then mention it and give documentation?

    Advice would be wonderful.


    • Denise Evans

      Were you given an Adverse Action letter with the reason you were turned down?

      Next time, inquire about the requirements for renting. Most well-run apartment communities have clear rules, such as a certain credit score and wages at least three times the monthly rent. If you meet the requirements, apply for an apartment and also make your reasonable accommodation request at the same time. That is only fair to the landlord, who might prefer to rent you an end unit, for example, because of concerns about occasional barking or neighbors with allergies and common ventilation systems. If you are turned down again, file a Fair Housing complaint. Over half of all Fair Housing claims, in the last several years, are related to disabilities.

    • Wendy Hoechstetter

      How do you *know* it was because of your ESA, Michelle? What reason did they give for rejecting you?

      In answer to your question, though, your best bet is to wait until you are approved to rent to request the accommodation. That way, it will be *crystal* clear that that is the reason for turning you away at that point if they try to do so, since you will have already cleared all of their other requirements.

  21. Denise Evans

    In response to comment about insurance, if your insurance company prohibits certain breeds AND you are able to show that you cannot obtain comparable insurance coverage in the marketplace for substantially similar rates, only then can you deny those breeds as service or support animals. Lesson: If this is your situation, obtain quotes from other insurance companies without such a restriction, and keep them in your files in case they are needed if there is a complaint.

  22. So I’m a tenant who got a signed Dr. notice for my pet 3 months after moving in as an ESA. My apartment complex is refusing to reimburse the full amount (as a pet it’s $400 deposit, half refundable, but since she’s now not a pet it should all be refundable, currect? and i should be refunded it now, if any damage is done then i pay THAT, just no deposit, correct?). it’s now 4 months past since we moved in and we’re having someone else take over our contract, and the apartment managers are saying we can’t get our deposit done till the lease is up. they refuse to acknowledge that i have an ESA except for the monthly fee of $35 which they took off. What do i do? I didn’t get this Dr notice just to save money, i actually need her. But i feel like my apartment is screwing me over.

    • Mindy Jensen

      I’m not an attorney, and it sounds like you may need to get one involved. If you have an existing lease, and you are leaving it, and someone else is taking over your contract, it is common for the management company to continue to hold your security deposit until the end of the lease. You may be able to negotiate with the people taking over the lease to give you some sort of deposit.
      Regarding the fact that you have an ESA, that really is something you should discuss with an attorney who practices in this field. I’m sorry for the non-answer.

    • Wendy Hoechstetter

      There is nothing in the FHA that covers this particular sort of situation, Britt. I don’t know if there is any case law about it, either, and no longer have access to the legal databases to look it up.

      What a law does *not* say is often as important as what it does say, however, if not more so, and in this case, it is completely silent on any situation other than *charging* a deposit (or additional rent or other fees) for an ESA. Which is not what has happened here. *Retaining* a deposit already paid for whatever the full term of the contract is is not the same thing as charging it to begin with.

      Your dog *was* a pet legally when you moved in, so the deposit was perfectly legal at that time, and part of the contract you signed, so my inclination is to believe that they are within their rights.

      Future rent payments have not yet been paid, and they have already *clearly* acknowledged the change in the dog’s status and approved your request for the accommodation by removing the additional rent going forward.

      But you already did pay the deposit, which the contract clearly says will be held, and its return to you sounds like it is being governed by those existing contractual terms – and your decision to sublet the place or whatever you are doing that you mean by “having someone else take over [your] contract”.

      They certainly don’t have to refund what you’ve already paid in the way of pet rent; why would they have to give you your deposit back early either?

      The advice to speak to an attorney is a good one (and I am not an attorney myself, yadda, yadda, yadda) – but realize that you will likely spend far, far more than your $400 deposit just to look into the matter, never mind take any sort of action to get the deposit back.

      Only you can decide if it’s worth it to spend potentially tens of thousands of dollars to try to get back a mere $400 a little sooner than you otherwise would, regardless of whether they can hold onto it legally in this situation or not. Or if it’s important enough to you to make a point either way – if indeed they are in the wrong – or to just find out for yourself.

      Since it sounds like you are moving out already anyways, I would suggest you just be sure to request the accommodation at your new home after you are approved, do whatever your current lease requires for the return of your security and pet deposits, and move on.

      Again, I am not a lawyer and this should not be considered legal advice. It is education, and questions for how to think about whether or not to pursue this refund.

  23. This is the first time I’ve posted on BP, but I had to weigh in. This is political correctness run amok.
    Jay is exactly right, even if his tone offends some. When America was freer and capitalism worked, we had a concept called free association, where people could exercise some judgement over who they associated with. And over the years it was necessarily and appropriately updated to ensure all people…that’s “people”, were treated fairly and not discriminated against.
    In those days the landlords who wanted to allow animals, whether service animals or pets, could do so and enjoy that significant competitive advantage over the “Jays” of the world, those terrible, heartless folks who care more about the condition of their investment and their other tenant’s quiet enjoyment of their homes. It is curious to me why the enlightened landlords want to force Jay to be enlightened as well. Won’t he become more formidable competition to you? If I was a big fan of ESA’s I’d want every landlord in my city to be like Jay. I’d have strong rents, 100% occupancy and a long waiting list. And I’d probably have a wonderful group of tenants who all share a love of ESAs, which would be great.
    It’s amazing to hear everyone talking about the DOJ, Fair Housing laws, HUD , etc. There is no push back on creeping government intervention in your business. Just saying “Well they passed a law so we all have to go along.” Well we do have to obey laws, but we don’t need to sit idly by while law upon law and regulation upon regulation furthers restricts us in our daily business and life. it’s insanity that business people and landlords would not have a problem with that. Let’s just let the bureaucrats tell us the next thing we must comply with lest we are tarred, feathered, fined and perhaps even forced out of business.
    And where does it end, the “service camel’s” nose is under the tent. Forget about breeds of dogs, there will absolutely be other pets and exotic animals allowed in the future. And any reasonable person would smell a “service rat”. How did we ever get along before we had ESAs to accompany us to the grocery store and the restaurant. And from what I’ve read here, this good intention is already leading to scams where you go online and pay $60 for a certificate for Rover. And we have tenants converting Rover to an ESA after moving in as a way to get their security deposit back. She changes the status after signing the contract, then feels like she is the aggrieved party?! Tell me that is not a scam.
    And what about the rights of tenants, employees, patients, guests, visitors, customers, clients who don’t want barking next door, or who have a fear of dogs, or who are allergic to dogs? Don’t they have any rights? How about we all get along and allow people to have different opinions, respect them and their differences and let Jay and his animal averse tenants live in peace while they do the same for you?
    I’m all about respecting the rights of others. How about we respect the rights of those who choose to live shop, travel and eat without being exposed to animals? Does it strike any of you as insane that in these instances the dogs have more rights than people; the landlord and neighbor tenants who would prefer no dogs? if it doesn’t strike you as insane, maybe it should.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Dan, I appreciate your taking the time to comment.

      I didn’t write this article in support of either side – only to share the laws as they stood at the time. Landlords can get into some pretty big fines if they ignore the law. And not knowing the law is no excuse for not following it.

      • Mindy,
        You did a great job of laying out this issue without taking sides, so I applaud your effort to inform landlords. I realize you were not taking sides, though I obviously come down on the side of more freedom and less legislation.
        My intention was to simply point out that all Americans, myself included, need to stay alert to this constant onslaught of legislation to force political correctness on all Americans. It is a real burden and cost to landlords and business people everywhere, and those burdens and costs ripple through society. For years you were a law abiding landlord, then one day you discover you are a lawbreaker, subject to investigations and fines, with prospective tenants telling you what you can and cannot do.
        I also wanted to underscore how twisted things have become when someone like Jay, who has the gall to disagree with whatever new unnecessary legislation comes along is treated like a pariah. The ones promoting these new laws are the kindest, most tolerant people in the world, unless you disagree with them. Then they’ll tell you how wrong you are and sic the feds on you.
        My point still stands. Why can’t we let a thousand flowers bloom? Let people associate freely. Let’s allow a safe place for those nasty ESA opponents. As awful and intolerant as they are, they’re people too. And up until recently, they were functioning pretty well in society.
        Instead we now see the aggrieved minority have cracked the code. They can introduce an ever increasing amount of legislation to force their will against those with whom they disagree, and so far it works without any pushback. They are empowered and on the march. As Wendy points out, be ready for ESA snakes and rats in your buildings. Let’s pass more laws! Someday we will have passed enough laws where no one can feel aggrieved in any way.
        Lastly, it is unfortunate when a legitimate need, such as a seeing eye dog, is exploited by being conflated with a fluffy lap dog who is supposedly serving some purpose though has no special skills or training, and you are not allowed to even inquire to determine if it is legitimate. Bottom line; all animals, all pets are now ESAs. Sounds to me like any person can get just about any animal set up as an ESA if they shop a few doctors. And doctors aren’t going to object anyway. They don’t want to face this same wrath. Toss out your pet policies, your pet deposits, your pet rent. Word spreads quickly and within a few years every tenant’s pet will be an ESA. Take it to the bank.

        • Wendy,
          Just to be clear, I was not advocating breaking any laws. And my comments were not a rant. Instead they were thoughtful, well considered comments advocating for the other side, those kind hearted, law abiding folks like me who are not in support of ever increasing legislation to force an outcome you prefer over that which the free market was offering.
          You are clearly well versed and current on the subject. Any honest person must realize this is not about discriminating against truly disabled people. It is about a minority of the people who want to use legislation to get their way by making others into lawbreakers. Congrats, the system is working great for you. Now we can all have our ESAs and no one can really dare question us lest they be labeled intolerant louts in need of reeducation in the form of fines and rebukes.
          We all know this whole ESA is ripe to be totally abused by people who simply want to take their pet with them. And these people who you say have a real disability; how were they getting along before they took their pets everywhere? Somehow they were forging ahead before this law. To compare Fluffles the lap dog with a wheelchair is to do a real disservice to the wheelchair bound. If I were disabled I would be offended by being categorized with someone who feels the need to go everywhere with a dog. Someone’s preference is not a disability. It doesn’t exactly rise to the level of disabilities like blindness or paralysis; things that are readily apparent and do indeed benefit from a service animal. Those with a bad pet allergy are closer to having a disability than a person using a loophole to take their dog everywhere and avoid pet fees and deposits. And this dilution of the concept of a disability does a grave disservice to the truly disabled.
          Yes, you have the law on your side until enough people realize the injustice and rectify the situation through the appropriate legal channels. But having legislation on your side that doesn’t make it right or just.
          The funny thing is, you and I are both nice people who would no doubt get along wonderfully. We’d both be considerate and empathetic of the disabled and able bodied alike. The big difference here is that you believe we need laws to make everyone get along. You choose to cede others personal rights and liberties to the government to suit your preferences. I believe we should all be free, including those who don’t like me and want to do things differently.
          The moral high road here is firmly on the side of those supporting less government intervention. We may be losing our freedoms to unnecessary laws, we may be demonized and ostracized, but fortunately we are principled, thoughtful, wise, right, just and good.

    • Wendy Hoechstetter

      Dan, I understand your upset, and it’s a common reaction, although I don’t agree with you. If you don’t like these laws, then you need to work with your legislators and so on to try to get them changed. It won’t happen because as a nation we are deeply, deeply committed to ensuring equal rights and access for disabled people, but that is how you go about it. Refusing to follow existing laws and even ranting against them won’t change them.

      >> And what about the rights of tenants, employees, patients, guests, visitors, customers, clients who don’t want barking next door, or who have a fear of dogs, or who are allergic to dogs? Don’t they have any rights?

      In some cases, yes; in others, no.

      First of all, there is nothing in the law that says you have to tolerate disruptive behavior like excessive barking any more than you have to tolerate tenants cranking up their stereos or TVs full blast, or a lot of loud screaming. Be sure you have a clause in your lease for all tenants pertaining to noise issues on the property – and any local noise ordinances will also still apply. The tenant with an assistance animal or any sort is still required to adhere to all of those.

      Now an occasional bark when the dog gets excited or someone comes to the door – or as part of what their trained tasks are (alerts)? Those are another story. What you want to stop is *excessive* and ongoing barking. If other people have a gigantic issue with an occasional bark or three, that is their problem. They should certainly go live somewhere other than in a multifamily housing environment, because *other people’s noise happens* in apartments, and a lot of it just has to be tolerated because it is unavoidable.

      Other people’s fear of dogs is not a reason to discriminate against people who may *need* a dog in order to have an equal opportunity to enjoy their home (and life). Won’t fly, and won’t stand up in court. Fear of dogs is not a disability, and nothing in the law anywhere that I know of guarantees a dog-free environment to anyone or gives them a right to demand that of anyone.

      Service animals are required to be on leash in public anyways unless they must be off leash to perform their jobs, and most will go nowhere near anyone else anyways without permission from the handler. As long as the owner is both willing and able to control the dog, and it’s not aggressive to start with, then what threat is there to anyone who is afraid? Tell them to go get therapy. Just kidding about that, but really, that is what a person with that kind of fear needs to do. It is *their* issue – not yours, and certainly not that of anyone with a disability and a service dog.

      Most people with legitimate service dogs have no desire to cause anyone else any discomfort and will happily and *willingly* do things like wait for the next elevator or step aside if a person who is fearful is on board or walking down the hall in order to be courteous to them. People who are afraid usually come around once they start to get to know the dog anyways, or at least realize it isn’t going to be turned loose to accost them. A surprising number will actually even come to like the dog. Time, patience, and simple courtesy almost always resolves these kinds of issues.

      Other people’s allergies, if they rise to the level of a true disability, are indeed another thing. If that sort of situation should come up, you will need to simply try to separate the two tenants as much as you can, by offering to move one or the other to another unit as far away as possible at no extra charge.

      If that is not possible, consider offering something like adding an air filter to the home of the tenant who has the allergies, or negotiate other possible solutions.

      But here is the thing. Just because someone has an allergy to dogs and complains to you doesn’t mean you *have* to do anything about it unless they in their own turn request an accommodation and go through the same process of medical documentation of the *need* for it.

      The reality is that that is highly unlikely to happen in any but the most extreme of cases. If they cannot or will not provide documentation that their condition is in fact severe enough to actually be disabling, or they are unwilling to accept a move that would resolve the issue to the best of your ability, oh well. Let them bitch.

      Getting the sniffles and sneezes and a bit congested, or getting a little itchy, when being around dogs does *not* constitute a disabling condition, by the way. That is the extent of the vast majority of allergic reactions to pets.

      If you have made a good faith effort to accommodate both parties when there is a clear disability in both cases, your job is done, and you ought to be protected legally. Be sure you document it all in writing.

      The same applies to employees, although then the accommodations they need to request fall under the ADA and possibly some other laws that govern accommodations in the workplace, rather than FHA, and the request and documentation requirements differ. If they do document such an allergy, for example, you only have to do what is reasonable to accommodate them, such as try to keep them somewhere the dog isn’t; say, have another employee answer service calls in that unit. Or maybe you could offer to provide them with a respirator if they *have* to go to that unit. The choice must be made in conjunction with the employee – but you only have to provide a solution that is *effective*, not necessarily optimal – and then only if it does not cause a fundamental alteration or disruption in your business, and if the employee is still able to perform the actual essential functions of his job. This is a whole huge subject all by itself, so that’s all I will say about it here.

      The presence of service animals in medical facilities is also an entirely different and large topic, and not relevant to this forum, so I won’t go into that here.

      Guests? No rights at all with regard to who lives in the building or complex. Your obligation to them ends with the architectural and grounds requirements of the building code and ADA in the public areas they might be in, as far as I know.

      There are animals all over the place in public, both outdoors as well as indoors. This should not be a surprise to anyone over the age of three. The proliferation of both service dogs and ESAs is also not news, or shouldn’t be to adults. People who have allergies simply cannot expect everyone else in the world to anticipate that and bow down to them and remove all potential allergens from the world that they might potentially come into contact with, but must take responsibility for their own health and welfare by doing whatever they need to do in order to take care of themselves.

      >> Does it strike any of you as insane that in these instances the dogs have more rights than people

      It is never the dog or other animal who has the rights, it is the person with the disability who does.

      Service dogs are actually legally considered to be durable medical equipment – exactly the same category as wheelchairs, walkers, canes, lifts, oxygen tanks, etc. Yes, I know it sounds weird, but that’s what it is. Wheelchairs don’t have rights, either; only their disabled users do.

      I hope this helps clarify these situations and set your mind at ease.

      • Bryan O.

        I am only speaking about ESA. Trained animals that actually perform a function are amazing, well behaved, and provide a powerful service. I have yet to meet a person with an ESA that had any need whatsoever for an ESA. I actually have a friend with 5 (FIVE!) of the little bug-eyed types of dogs that bought ESA papers because she wanted to be able to fly with them and not do “all that pet stuff” and pay the extra money.
        There is a difference between law and justice. In the case of ESA, the law is garbage and yes of course I will vote any direction that allows people to live in a way that makes them comfortable. And I mean PEOPLE, not just people that want to live in no animal housing with an animal.
        There is a saying, “The right to swing your first end where someone else’s nose begins.” If I have a tenant that is allergic to dogs and fears them and they selected one of my units because of a no animal policy, it would be absolutely ridiculous to then tell them to move out and live somewhere else because someone thinks their “disability” is more important than another’s. In that case, I would feel obligated to accept a note from their doctor, or a close friend or family member (because they would obviously know their fear more intimately) that they have an animal-free prescription. And it is certainly not a good idea to start relocating tenants, disrupting their lives, paying make-ready costs on at lease 2 units to try and move them away from each other. That is just treating the symptom of a very stupid problem.
        If you need an ESA, great. I’m glad a dog can help. Dogs are awesome and I love them. But if you think your ESA should have the right to make others’ lives garbage that specifically chose to live somewhere so they could avoid that problem, then you are swinging your fist at someone else’s nose.
        I allow animals in all but one of my properties, so this will likely never become an issue for me. I love dogs, so I allow them. But if I owned a no animal unit and someone applied for, was accepted, then sprung an ESA on me they had better ensure that they follow every single minute detail of the lease with rigor or they they will be out. I have no tolerance for cheats or people that don’t care for the rights of others, and that is what the ESA system is.

      • Interesting read Wendy,
        My concern is as a small property owner 24 unit, which my husband and I do all the servicing, cleaning on turn overs etc, but we both have severe allergies and documented now by our doctors. Asthma etc from cats, dogs and. It’s between the two of us. When we bought the building 18 yrs ago we went with a no pet policy since the turn overs with animals in the units where to much for us. We where sick for days after a turn over. Now with ESA we feel we have lost our rights. Would our doctors letters defend our no pet policy?

  24. Nice article on a topic that certainly has a number of landlords searching for accurate information. I own an 8-plex with a No Pet Policy. I have 3 tenants with severe allergies that moved into this property because of the No Pet policy. Who’s rights prevail if I receive an application from a prospective tenant with a companion animal? I believe if I allow them to move in with a pet I will have a couple of irate tenants along with their notice to vacate.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Hi Jim.

      This is a great question. I don’t have the answer to it, and I think an attorney who specializes in landlord tenant law would be the best source of information.

      It does bring up a great question. Whose rights are MORE right? I hope you don’t have to find the answer in real life.

      In fact, I’m so intrigued, I’m going to post this in the forums to see if anyone knows the answer.

      Thanks for reading!

    • Wendy Hoechstetter

      Hi, Jim,

      The short answer is that no one’s rights trump, *IF* your allergic tenants are actually disabled by their allergies, request reasonable accommodations for them, and document the need for them.
      Allergy alone is expressly not protected by any law, only qualifying disabilities are – which means *substantial* limitation of various major life activities. There are also duration requirements.

      If the allergy rises to the level of something like a severe asthma attack or anaphylactic shock, or approaching either life-threatening condition, that would certainly qualify on the grounds of “substantially interfering with the major life activity” of breathing. But the sniffles and some nasal congestion, which is what most people who are allergic to dogs suffer from? Highly unlikely.

      So, I suppose the even shorter answer is really that at this point, if there has been no such request made, the person with the service dog’s rights trump.

      You most assuredly cannot turn such a person away if he is qualified to rent from you under the same terms you apply to everyone else. That would be blatantly illegal and discriminating on the basis of disability.

      If in fact there should be some sort of conflict of needs like this, accompanied by the appropriate requests and documentation, the best you can do is probably try to put them at opposite ends of the building, as far apart as possible. If this isn’t possible, maybe offer an air filter.

      Accommodations requested by someone who has a qualifying disability must be *reasonable*.

      Demanding you remove the person with the dog (or the dog itself) , or expecting you to not even allow such a person in is not reasonable, because you would be violating federal and possibly also state law as well if you were to do so. It would also likely be a fundamental alteration of your business, which is also protected, and cost you a boatload of money on potentially several fronts. Accommodations that would pose a financial hardship for the landlord would also not be deemed reasonable.

      So the allergic tenants throw a hissy fit but can’t or won’t document a qualifying disability, or won’t accept the sorts of accommodations you can reasonably grant or offer; what then? I hope you have a good, solid lease that protects you and penalizes breaking the lease early.

      But should such a situation arise, I would actually start by explaining to the complainers that the PWD with the SD actually *needs* that animal in order to function in life – and that you must legally allow him to have the dog. It is *not* either a “pet” or a “companion animal”, but actually legally regarded as a piece of durable medical equipment, the same as a wheelchair.

      Much of the time, a simple explanation like this suffices for complainers – and the “severely allergic” usually still manage just fine because many people’s definition of “severe” means they are just bothered by pets or don’t like them, but are not actually disabled by the allergy, if one even actually exists.

      Before anyone jumps down my throat about how dangerous allergies can be, believe me, I understand that inside out, both as a lifelong allergy sufferer myself, and as a former (now disabled) paramedic who knows from experience what a “severe” allergic reaction *really* looks like – and what it isn’t. The vast majority of allergies are certainly uncomfortable and annoying, but pose no major danger, and are certainly not disabling within the meaning of the disability laws.

      And absent a specific request for accommodations and documentation of the need, an allergic person has no more “rights” than anyone else.

      This separating people and trying to accommodate both is codified in at least the ADA with regard to restaurants, and one lawsuit in Oregon or Washington held that a ferry company had to ensure that a severely allergic person and one with a service dog be ensured space at opposite ends of the boat on separate decks since they both used the boat to commute to work at the same time. If the person with the allergy in this case had been unwilling to accept this solution, she would have been the one who would have had to give way and find another way or time to get to work.

      • Thanks Wendy for your insight and comments. I would not expect any problems from the current tenants. They would just move out and I would let them out of the lease without penalty since I told them it was a no pet building and now I could not honor that statement. I would have a net result of 3 open units in this building, which of course would cause financial hardship on my part and perhaps to the tenants that would move.

        • Deanna Opgenort

          This thread makes me wonder about the feasibility of creating a low-allergen housing environment (solid floors, HEPA filters in heaters, etc) for those who tend to have allergies. In such an environment animals could reasonably be restricted by the landlord, as the reclassification of the building WOULD be an “unreasonable accomodation”). Interesting to note that hospitals are not required to accomodate people’s ESAs….

  25. Eric Hrlbock

    I have a great tenant w esa, with a fake online certificate. The lady is in her 70’s and when she came to me I thought nothing of it. She has been fined by condo board for excessive barking. At that point I called the company who certified. It was$79 and no proof needed. Total bogus. She is awesome other than she scammed me with a fake esa certificate. Oh well coat of doing business.

  26. Wendy Hoechstetter

    Thank you for an excellent and mostly thoroughly accurate post on this subject, Mindy. You’ve done a great job with your research.

    As a person with a service dog who also provides education on the topic and has engaged in advocacy on behalf of others under the aegis of the ProBoneO Program, which is the nation’s only nonprofit dedicated to issues of assistance animal law, working closely with attorneys who specialize in this aspect of the law, I particularly appreciate it when people actually get their facts right 🙂

    I’d just like to offer one or two points of clarification, and to address a few of the questions and misconceptions that have come up in the comments.

    ESAs and service dogs are actually two different things, and you’ve conflated them a bit in your post.

    Service dogs are trained to do tasks that help mitigate their handler/owners’ specific disabilities. The person must be disabled within the definition of the ADA or FHA, and the tasks must be trained, not something dogs just naturally do because they are dogs. They must specifically relate to the disability.

    Most, but not all, service animals are dogs, although the law does allow miniature horses unless they would pose a particular hardship or somehow interfere with how the business is run. I know, it sounds weird, but they are actually no bigger than most giant breed dogs (and often smaller), can be housebroken, and are very smart. They also live a lot longer than giant breed dogs, which makes them far better suited for use as service animals since it generally does take a long time to train any of them, so lifespan matters.

    ESAs, on the other hand, are *not* specifically task-trained, but there must still be a disability that requires the presence of the animal. These *can* be just cuddly animals – and importantly, they can also be any species. So yes, unfortunately, as long as they don’t pose any threat to others or cause/require a fundamental alteration in the business (other than having to modify your pet policy to allow assistance animals), they could certainly be snakes, rats, or whatever.

    Someone commented that they think this whole service animal issue could get out of hand and end up with all kinds of animals being allowed as SDs. The reality is that that *used* to be the case, and the ADA was changed in 2010 to eliminate all except for dogs and the mini horses. There won’t be any going back because the change came about because of problems caused by things getting out of hand.

    You cannot charge a deposit or any additional rent or security deposit for either SDs or ESAs. If you want larger security deposits, you must charge them to every tenant on the property. If you currently do not allow pets, you must modify that policy to allow service animals and ESAs. You can call them pets or animals or anything else that you want in your lease to try to get around this, but at the end of the day, the distinction holds, and no one will be fooled.

    You *may* require documentation when a person requests an SD or ESA as a reasonable accommodation, but you certainly do not *have* to if you don’t wish. You may *not*, however, if the purpose of the service dog is readily apparent; for example a guide dog with a blind person, one pulling a wheelchair or providing obvious balance support, etc.

    There is no such thing as certification of either SDs or ESAs, or proof of training. ADA makes it very clear that it is illegal to ask for it or require it, and FHA is in agreement.

    SDs are explicitly allowed to be owner-trained, for one thing, because the reality is there are nowhere near enough of them coming out of the formal programs to meet the need, they are too expensive for many people, and many need animals that are cross-trained to do a variety of tasks and most programs don’t train for that sort of thing anyways. The only certifications you will see are issued by particular programs documenting that the dog has passed their own internal tests and standards, but these hold absolutely zero legal status. You will also see fakes that anyone can get on the Internet for an exorbitant fee. *None* of them has any legal status – and in fact, in many states, it is actually a misdemeanor to misrepresent a pet as a service dog, and may be punishable by fines or jail time or both. Be wary if people are actually waving these kinds of things at you, because they are often scams.

    FHA applies within the dwelling unit. If there are public hallways, lobbies, laundry rooms, elevators, outdoor space, offices, or other common areas, including swimming pools, then the ADA applies. Only service dogs have public access rights, so while a person with an SD is even allowed to have the dog at the pool (although not *in* it), and indeed anywhere that the general public is allowed, the same is not true of ESAs. “General public” doesn’t have to mean anyone from off the street; it just means areas that are not part of private dwelling units and are available to all tenants and possibly their guests, potential renters, etc.

    In all cases, the animals must be under control and not posing a threat to others. Tenants can certainly be required to pay for any damages beyond normal wear and tear caused by either assistance animals or other assistive technology – but only if your policy is to also require all tenants to do the same in similar circumstances.

    You are allowed to designate where the animal can go to relieve itself, as long as that is also reasonable, particularly taking into account the tenant’s disability if it is known. Don’t tell them they have to go to an obscure spot on the far side of a large property, for example, particularly if it is clear there is a mobility or visual impairment. The tenant must pick up after the animal – although of course, it is not possible to do that with urine, and may also not be if the animal gets sick and has diarrhea or vomits. Just be reasonable – and thoughtful and kind.

    When these accommodations are requested, the reality is that the request is often more of a formality. If there is documentation of a disability, you *have* to allow the animal at the end of the day (unless you fall under an exemption), as long as it does not pose a particular hardship, the most commonly cited of which is the increased insurance rates question. The increase in those costs must be substantial, *and* you must be unable to obtain similar coverage elsewhere at a more reasonable price in order for that sort of thing to apply.

    And don’t try to slack off and claim you can’t if you haven’t thorough researched the market, because HUD is seriously on the warpath over these issues, and they *will* research it if a claim is brought, and you *will* pay if they find reasonably-priced coverage that you claim doesn’t exist.

    You also don’t have to allow an animal that clearly poses a threat itself to others. If someone brings in a dog that is snarling at everyone, for example, you certainly don’t have to allow *that*. You do have to allow them to have another animal. Allowing an obviously dangerous animal is *not* considered a “reasonable” accommodation.

    You are right that people are definitely winning these lawsuits. HUD has issued memos making it *very* clear that they will absolutely not tolerate any violations. Ignore these laws at your own very definite peril.

    With regard to state laws vs federal ones, federal law generally prevails as a matter of law where there is a conflict in a matter in which the federal government takes an interest. However, in the disability law sphere, if a state law is less restrictive or more protective of the rights of a person with a disability, that will prevail. You actually said that in reverse in one of your comments, Mindy, although I do think this is what you actually meant to say 😉 ADA/FHA are *minimum* standards, no matter what else any state law may say.

    The service dog state-specific laws for all states are referenced in the chart on this website: https://www.animallaw.info/topic/table-state-assistance-animal-laws It’s not always 100% up to date, and pertains more to public access to businesses than to housing, but it’s still a useful reference.

    Exemption-wise, Mindy, you’ve got the basics right, in terms of numbers of units. However, if a landlord uses any sort of rental agent or realtor to market or manage the property (including if he himself is a licensed realtor), he is subject to the law even if he only owns a rental single unit.

    With regard to physical modifications such as ramps, grab bars, roll-in showers, or whatever, yes, you can certainly require the tenant to pay for installing them, as well as to remove them and restore the property to its original condition when they leave. In reality, it would be foolish to have them removed in many cases, however, because most of them will either benefit other tenants or simply not pose an issue. Other people have difficulty walking sometimes, including tenants’ visitors, prospective tenants visiting the property, possible future employees, etc. And ramps, roll-in showers, and so on are very helpful for people with strollers, grocery carts, luggage, broken legs, sprained ankles, small children who haven’t yet learned to climb stairs, and more. You’re getting an actual property upgrade for nothing 🙂

    I hope this is helpful.

    • Jennifer T.

      I’m guessing the answer is “no” but, can a landlord require a deposit…perhaps put into an escrow account…for the future removal of something a disabled tenant installs?

      Hypothetical example. I have a potential tenant in a wheel chair who wants to move in, but needs a ramp installed and will pay for it. Once that tenant leaves, I know I will no longer want that ramp and will want to have it removed. Can I get a deposit for the cost of the future removal of that ramp?

      My concern would be that, although both myself and my tenant know they are required to pay to put the property back the way it was, that doesn’t mean they will. We all know how that is. Someone moves out, causes more damage than what their security deposit covers…in this case, leaves a ramp they were supposed to have removed, and I can forget them just volunteering to give me the additional damage money I am entitled to. Now I either need to go through all the hassle of small claims court or just swallow the loss.

      On a slightly different topic, the biggest law change I would like to see is limiting what types of species an ESA can be. As mentioned, service animals can only be a dog or a mini horse. But ESAs can be anything, including farm or wild animals. I think there should be a very specific list of species that can be ESAs, composed of only domesticated animals that area also an appropriate size for living in the average home.

    • Jo Zhou

      Hi, Wendy

      I am reading this thread even if it has been posted for 2 years. Your comments are very helpful and knowledgeable. However, I got so confused with the law or legislation, as a small landlord, I don’t know how to react appropriately to abey the law.

      “You *may* require documentation when a person requests an SD or ESA as a reasonable accommodation, but you certainly do not *have* to if you don’t wish. You may *not*, however, if the purpose of the service dog is readily apparent; for example a guide dog with a blind person, one pulling a wheelchair or providing obvious balance support, etc.

      There is no such thing as certification of either SDs or ESAs, or proof of training. ADA makes it very clear that it is illegal to ask for it or require it, and FHA is in agreement.”

      Based on the above comments, regarding to “service dog”, if the person’s disabilty is not obvious, if the person show a “service dog certificate”, I can request a therapist’s note to confirm “the person has an disability that he needs this dog, this dog can assist the person to do such such task”? Will this be enough to allow a service dog?

      Are those online certificate for service dog legit? If the training of dog is not required under the law, how did those online registration store know if the dog is truely a service dog or not?

      Does this law require the landlord to trust what the tenants say and limit the rights that the landlords could verify?

      I am very confused with the law. Could you help me with the proper actions as landlord could do? Thank you.

      • Mindy Jensen

        This particular section of the law is super confusing.
        A “service animal” is an animal that has been trained to provide a service to their person. This is usually an obvious service, but can also be an epilepsy animal, trained to spot seizures. People with seizures severe enough to require an animal do not look any different than people who do not suffer seizures, however with a trained animal they will have proof.
        Emotional Support Animals do not typically have any formal training, but instead are there to provide comfort to the person – usually the person has some form of anxiety.
        You aren’t allowed to ask WHY they need the Emotional Support Animal, but you CAN ask for proof of prescription. A true Emotional Support Animal will be prescribed by a physician.

  27. Jay C.


    It appears you and I are exactly on the same page on this issue. Just way too much regulations and on top of that the scammers who “think” they are going to force you to comply to some rule that’s being over used. Let me back up a bit. This whole article is like a rerun of the View. It’s over a year old and why its has been rehashed and re posted is either just laziness by BP staff to fill some spots or who knows. Maybe its pay per response why this dead article has resurfaced. In any case its flat comical to read the responses. I get a good laff at Wendy’s rambling of how powerful the fed laws are. Oh man give me a break. Guess what marijuana is federally illegal in the good ole USA but not in Washington and Colorado. Thats right they thumb there nose at the feds and the kids blow smoke in the face of US Marshal’s at the hemp fest. So much for the federal law. . Lets get to Hud. They are not much better. They will do little or nothing to help a tenant. So many of these $79.99 support pet documents are out there that many landlords are just saying no. One case is moving thru the courts right now in LA and it will be interesting to see where it ends. I am starting to ramble but as a landlord I have good properties and good screens. I wont even get close to these folks. If you have the proper setup in place it will never be an issue. Were I live I can fill a page of interested tenets in 1 day. I screen “one” person at a time. Since this site is about REI I am here to educate the landlord and don’t give a rip about some folks scamming the system to get out of a pet deposit and that’s what it is in most cases. As for lawsuits don’t be afraid of those in the slightest. Being sued is no big deal but it will never come to that if you have a good system in place. Screen one person at a time. Place your add on email and you can put in your add they are free to reply with any info they like. They for the most part write a resume to get into the properties. Way more info than I care to know or read but they have done so voluntarily. You can chose from your list and narrow it down. Now..unless someone has a password to your computer they cannot and will never know whom you have chosen and who replied first or last. Lets not forget what we are trying to do here on a REI site……”bigger pockets”. To be honest this scenario with the pets has never arisen for me. I do allow pets so it may never come up. What does surface is I have some smaller homes. I will get applicants that have 2 parents and 5 kids and they want to move into a 2 bedroom. HUD will actually back these folks up to get into housing. In the case where you have a septic system and not sewer it can overload the system. This is by far my biggest hassle when renting. I am not worried in the slightest by this emotional support garbage. Lots of legislation in the works to get some curbs on these scammers. Disclaimer, certainly you have some folks that have some issues but they are by far the minority and not the majority. My posting may offend a few but I don’t care. I am offended by the ones who push and legislate this garbage.

  28. Typically for single family home…Big Deposits, no matter who is applying! You can always give back a good tenant quarterly deposit rebates when they comply with your lease, tenants love this. Negotiate what is best for you. Your job is to make money with your investment. Have a notebook documenting screening questions (of course complying with the law) and tenant answers. Be smart. You know what information turns you on and off, sprinkle those questions throughout the conversation and just listen. You would be amazed what people will disclose. Your last questions should always be financial, credit score, debt/income ratio, because those answers will be infinitely different for each applicant. That should be your final criteria for accepting a tenant. I won’t show a home if prospect don’t meet my financial criteria. No laws are on the book YET specifying manditory landlord financial screening criteria. At any time, you have the right to change your financial screening criteria, depending on your personal financial situation.

    Now about allergies. Wendy, did you know that some people go into anaphylactic shock from animal proximity, just like with peanut butter? Kids can’t bring peanut butter to school but now landlords have to allow animals in no animal building. Some people have a severe attacks due to allergies, airways close completely and go into anaphylactic shock within 30 seconds of animal proximity. Talk about anxiety, can’t leave home without fear of sufficating by exposure to an unexpected encounter with an animal. Who should get sued in this case? The owner of the animal who brought an ESA into the animal-free building or the landlord where the ESA is now residing? Or maybe those who go into anaphylatic shock should have to move every time an animal-free building has an ESA brought in. That is the solution!!! Don’t be ignorant and see both sides. Landlords protect yourself because you are the Bigger Pockets. Either way someone is threatening to sue you.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thanks for reading, and taking the time to reply, John.

      You’ll want to check with your state’s landlord tenant laws, to make sure you are in compliance with their statues on security deposits. Many states limit the amount of deposit to equal one or two month’s rent.

      You bring up a good point about current tenants with severe animal allergies. I wonder what the law would say if you have a long term tenant who wishes to stay, but an applicant with service animals? I don’t have the answer to that, maybe another reader does?

  29. I rented a unit month to month and failed
    To tell my landlord that my daughter had a dog.
    My landlord confronted me about it and gave me 7days to remove the pet. I was suppose
    To contact her yesterday but I couldn’t because
    I was scared. Today we were served a 30days notice to vacate. I was able to get a note from her doctor and I placed it in the after hours mailbox. Do I still have to leave in 30days

  30. Problem tenant moves in 12 years ago. In original lease, it specifies they are no new pets allowed.

    Four years ago, tenant gets a new dog and doesn’t tell previous landlord (technically in violation of the lease’s no pet policy, though she believes the dog to be an emotional support animal).

    A year ago, new owner buys building and discovers that tenant has dog. Tenant claims the dog is an ‘emotional support animal’, but has not provided any documentation.

    Is the tenant required to have documentation dated 4 years ago (when she got the new animal) declaring that the dog is an ESA? -OR- is the tenant only required to provide documentation upon being asked, even if it the doctor’s note is dated recently?

    Does the current landlord have any rights in the matter?

    • The doctor’s note would have to be dated within a year to be valid, as mental health can change. ESAs require no training and doctor’s notes do not specify which animal is the ESA- only that the patient needs one and landlords are legally required to allow them.

    • Denise Evans

      The tenant is not required to have documentation for the past. The past is over, and any possible breach of the lease was either waived or not known at the time. Many jurisdictions require landlords to give tenants written notice of default, and a certain number of days to cure. If your state is one of those, then past defaults are completely irrelevant. Once you give the written notice, your tenant will most likely provide a current letter, and that will constitute a reasonable accommodation request.

      BTW, I noticed an earlier post that mentioned a dangerous dog in the workplace. Emotional support animals are assistance animals. Seeing eye dogs and other specially trained dogs are service animals. Service animals must be allowed in public places, under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Assistance animals must be allowed in housing ONLY, under the Fair Housing Laws. Someone is not entitled to have an emotional support animal in their place of employment.

  31. I need advice and I am hoping someone here can help me. I have an ESA who is a pit bull-mix. He has been legally prescribed to me by a physician because I have chronic anxiety/panic attacks/asthma that worsens due to the attacks. Without my bud, I am a mess. He is with me at all times. I am currently in medical school, so I have to have him because of the stress level I am constantly under. My HOA is trying to get me to get rid of my best friend because he is a pitbull. He is very well trained, has never barked or growled at anyone. He has never damaged anything in his life. I own the property and it is a townhouse. I have seen at least 2 other pitbull mixes in the area walking around the neighborhood with their owner. My ESA is an inside animal, he goes out to potty (usually 5-8 feet from the back door), and goes straight to the car door when we are leaving. I do not walk around with him outside because I am terrified someone is going to cause some sort of issue with me and I don’t want to deal with the stress. What can I do? All I am asking my HOA is to let me keep my ESA. I’m not planning on being able to take him on walks around the neighborhood or anything. I’m willing to keep him hidden just so I don’t have to deal with the bs. I have provided my HOA with a doctors note and they are still telling me to get rid of him even though there are other pitbulls in the area.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Your HOA seems to be on shaky ground. If your animal is well behaved, and you have homeowners insurance that covers him, I don’t believe they can ask you to get rid of him. I also don’t think they can force you to stop walking him.

      This would be something to take up with a local attorney who is well versed in this area.

      • Thank you! I appreciate the advice. I personally don’t even mind not being able to walk him. I prefer going on hikes with him anyway away from ignorant people. I’m just starting to think that my HOA is discriminating against me because they have yet to do anything about the other pitbulls in the area. I’m just not sure why, I’ve done nothing to make anyone hate me.

  32. Tiffany Henry

    Hello I am hoping to get some information from someone on assistance animal cases. My and my lawyer are both looking to try to find cases where someone who is disabled has been denied the ability to even apply for housing due to having an emotional support animal. My case is strong but we need some comparable cases. Does anyone have any information on where I can look up cases and their outcomes or anyone have any personal experiences they would be willing to share/discuss. Thank you so much!

  33. I own 12 units – houses and apartments. I just rented to a young gal that told me she had two small dogs, but they were staying with her parents. She, “and her parents” cosigned the rental application and initialed agreeing to “no animals allowed”. Two weeks later she asked me if she could have her dogs with her so I went over to see the dogs. IF they where small and well behaved I had planned to allow it with the normal fees, but they ended up being two large 80lb pit bulls, not well suited for this unit. So told her no way.
    What she said next surprised me. She told me she was going to get a doctor to prescribe the dogs to be her support dogs. I asked if she was under doctors care and she replied, “no”. I didn’t think much of it and I told her I would need to the papers. Five days later Dr.Clara Black prescribed BOTH of these dogs to be her support dogs.
    I couldn’t believe it. A week ago she didn’t have a disability (she admitted it). Two weeks earlier she didn’t want dogs and she and her parents signed and initialed it. Then just a few days ago she spent 15 minutes on Skype and $99, now I have TWO large dogs roaming my small rental, free of charge with no deposits. Is there anything I can do to expose this blatant scam?
    I love dogs, half my renters have dogs. I rent to the disabled and section 8. I thought I’d seen the worst of this law, but apparently not, as now, she wants yet another smaller dog.
    How many support dogs can one disabled person can have? Does it matter on the size of the apartment? Are there any rules? I would love to get some really good answers here.

    Of course I’ll be contacting my attorney.

    • Mindy Jensen


      I’m going to start by saying I am not an attorney, and I think your best course of action is to not only find an attorney, but one who specializes in this area of law.

      Second, I am going to say document document document. Take a few moments to write down everything as you remember it, in a formal document with as many dates and approximate times as you can remember. Print out any emails if conversation took place in that manner, screenshot any text messages between you and your tenant (which is not a legal form of notice in Colorado where I am licensed but still shows the conversation) and all the lease documentation you have.

      This doesn’t seem right, as she moved in without them, admitted she wasn’t under a doctor’s care, and said she was going to have them prescribed by her doctor. Any chance there were any witnesses to these conversations?

      If she doesn’t need them as support animals, and only wants them in a no-animals apartment, she’s just diluting the power of the support animal for those who truly need them.

      • Yes Mindy, I have the text messages that reveal her intent to “try” and find a doctor after I rejected her dogs. I’ve documented everything.

        The funny thing is, I think she would have paid the rent and the deposits for the dogs if I would have allowed it. I don’t believe she believed the support animal route was actually going to work for her. Now she’s on cloud nine, with her dogs in the unit – free rent – no deposits and I’m fairly confident she’ll be spreading the news.

        Frankly, I surprised we went from a “no animals” to a “pack of big dogs” apartment so fast and easy.

        I belong to the California Apartments Association and have been working with legal staff as this was unfolding. It will be interesting to see what they have to say about this new development.

        • Mindy Jensen

          Did you take good move-in pictures and document the condition the property was in? Did she sign that documentation?

          She can still be held liable for damage caused by the animals, even if they are support animals. They aren’t given carte blanche simply because they are support animals.

          And they have to be well behaved. You don’t have to tolerate Cujo. And she has to pick up after them as well. No errant dog-logs allowed.

        • Thanks Mindy. Yes, I took pictures and did a condition report, but now it seems I have to be careful not to harass my tenant while writing up any infractions – the plants in planters are already damaged by her dogs.

          Sorry this is a bit long, but here’s what I learned from attorneys here in California on preventing ESA scams.

          First, the internet doesn’t help and in fact I’m sure it’s the problem. There are plenty of videos on the internet showing how easy it is to scam, like this 20/20 piece, http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/woman-lied-emotional-illness-fly-dog-30097006

          What seems strange no one is doing anything about it. The egregious actions of the doctors on the internet assisting the scams makes it virtually untouchable.

          I contacted an attorney I’ve known for years and she said, “not you too” and apologetically said there was nothing I could do.

          I then contacted a large firm in San Diego that handles ADA specifically. This is where I really got schooled. But it was weird, I felt second class, scolded, belittled and a bit threatened by the tone of the conversation. Terms like scam and pseudo-disabled set me apart from his mission to protect the very person I wanted to expose. I’d suggest not going to an ADA firm unless you are disabled, but it gave me insight on why no one is doing anything about these scams.

          Here’s the gist of what I learned, (hopefully without the tone)
          A person is considered disabled and is protected under the ADA, if he or she either actually has, or is thought to have, a physical or mental impairment. ADA law only applies to persons who meet the definition of “disabled” under the Act. Any person that attains a statement of disability from a doctor, even over the internet, instantly acquires full protection under the ADA. I was told to be very careful how I approach issues with my tenants because “you don’t want to get sued”. Harassment can be viewed as discrimination and there are plenty of attorneys who will rush in to protect the disabled. (Yikes).
          Even if a person “fraudulently” acquires their disability, like using a service over the internet, you can’t do a thing about it and you risk being sued for discrimination if you do. How could you prove someone doesn’t have a Psychological Neurosis against the statement of a doctor? It’s impossible. He continued, “Why do you think the airlines allow assistive animals carte blanche with just a doctor’s certification? It’s because, even with all their power they can’t do a thing about the ADA” and they are losing plenty of money giving away all those seats.

          According to my local attorney, ADA scams are now literally “out-of-control” and “untouchable” here in California.

          I’ve been fortunate.

        • She has an ESA, not an ADA if she did not have a previous disability. They are 2 different categories and 2 different sets of laws. If you were asking about the law with an ADA dog then that is why they were so protective and you will have gotten the wrong information.

          She has a right to one ESA service animal- I doubt very much she has a right to three. If the dogs are disruptive or destructive then you can evict the dogs.

          I have an ESA dog who did not go through the same training an ADA dog would have, but he has been trained not to destroy property, not to be aggressive unless someone tries to break into my house or car, not to bark unless there is a very good reason. Plus the basics- sit, stay, don’t jump on people etc. If a dog does not have basic training and socialization it is likely to be a problem. You should be able to expect that level of maturity and training from a grown dog. Document any problems- date time etc. Dogs are dogs and make mistakes sometimes, as we all do, but you do not have to accommodate a dog that is a problem, and you probably don’t have to tolerate 3 dogs.

  34. I have a pet-free house that is rented by different people throughout the year. If a renter wants to bring an emotional support dog and provides the appropriate documentation, am I allowed to charge that renter the extra costs of a heavy clean once they leave so the residence (including the cleaning of all rugs and upholstered furniture) so that other renters (who may have an allergy to dogs) will not have issues when they subsequently rent?

    • Nathan G.

      Tess W., if you make an accommodation for a disability, the tenant is required to return the property to its original condition. For example, you can’t stop someone from renting your house with a wheelchair but you can charge them for the additional wear-and-tear of the carpet or if the door james and walls are scraped up. Likewise, it would be reasonable to require a professional carpet cleaning to remove any odor, pet dander, etc.

  35. Steve Vaughan

    Pets? What the heck are those? Pet deposit and pet addendums and pet fees are all null with a service animal.
    I’ve used ‘animal’ only language in all of my docs and advertising for a couple years and it has helped. I have an animal policy, an animal addendum and an unauthorized animal clause. Since I don’t refer to anything with 4 legs and fur as a pet, I get less push-back. Cheers!

    • Dan Heuschele

      I have done the same thing about referring to no animals and it has helped but what has helped more is getting the another resident to provide a reason that animals cannot be in a unit without affecting them. For example being allergic to pet dander. I once was threatened with court action but I provided documentation that an existing long-term tenant would have to move to accommodate a new tenant with a pet. They threatened legal action. The potential new tenant must have consulted their attorney and decided it was not worth the effort as I never got served and the potential new tenant went away.

      I have one unit with an emotional support animal but the person is disabled (obvious: missing a chunk of head). he moved in with no animal but requested to get a smallish dog. I was hoping that there would be no issue with the tenants in the other duplex unit because I like both sets of tenants. The other tenants had no issue so he has a emotional support animal with no rent or deposit fee. I am happy to do reasonable effort for a person who really has a need.

      We have 2 other sets of tenants with dogs that both have pet deposits but no pet rent. We have in the past had tenants with dogs that had both pet deposit and pet rent but both of the tenants with dogs have had them since before we started charging pet rent. They are also both in detached properties with their own yard.

  36. What about a situation where the tenant put a deposit down for their cat and we came to an agreement that 1 pet will be allowed per our contract. 2 months go by and she notifies me she wants to get a dog for her son for Christmas. Per our original terms I denied her request. Today she notifies me that she was prescribed a “therapy dog.” If she already have a cat, must I allow a therapy dog? This all just happened and will take a few steps to obtain the doctor recommendation, but i believe this is a unit situation different than any of the previous comments.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thanks for asking. Disclaimer, I am NOT an attorney.

      This situation appears to be actually two separate things. You allowed a cat, which is a pet. You charged and received a pet deposit for the pet.

      The son is being prescribed a therapy dog. A therapy dog is not a pet, therefore it is not violating the 1 pet agreement. As a non-pet, you can’t charge anything for this pet. You can ask for damage deposits, but be careful as some states put a cap on the amount of deposit you can charge.

      I would not think that by allowing the pet cat you could refuse the ESA dog. Again, I’m not an attorney, and you should double check with one if you are considering saying no to the dog.

  37. paris beitel

    Since our state is CA and people are sue crazy here, I would allow the ESA cat with a documentation letter from her doctor stating how long she has been under her care and that she medically needs one. Then, I would explain that you are making a huge exception to the rule for her and that any ESA dog must conform with the rules as well as they can cause damage and/or be a nuisance to other tenants which can result in money being taken out of her security deposit.

  38. My wife and I moved into a apartment complex little over a year ago. She has many allergies and one of them is to dogs. We rented the apartment because they have a no dog policy. Now we have come to find out there are some ESA animals in the building. We understand the need for these types of special animals. But what rights does my wife have when the ESA is in common areas and sometimes on the furniture in those areas. She is afraid that being that close will kick off her allergies which makes her miserable.

  39. Thank you for this article. I am a landlord and feel taken advantage by our tenant to has 2 therapy dogs without any notice and has provided some documentation. It is an RX saying they were prescribed. My question is this – Can I – actually our management company- call the doctor to confirm that the RX is legitimate? I have googled how to get an RX online for a fee. Without seeing any DR I can buy an RX form. Can I be sure my tenant really has a need for these dogs? They are large breed dogs in my tiny townhouse in FL.

    Thank you

    • Mindy Jensen

      I believe that you are only allowed to ask for the proof of prescription. Yes, there is rampant abuse of this – and the people who truly suffer are the people with the true need.

      I do not believe you can legally call the doctor to request information about their condition – and I’m pretty sure the doc would not violate HIPPA laws to tell you. I think you would open yourself up to a discrimination lawsuit or some other lawsuit.

      I completely understand your frustration – but I would caution you against contacting the prescribing physician.

  40. Good night Ms. Mindy,

    I have been doing some rather serious research about ESAs. My situation is as follows:

    I am an Army Vet, married with a two month old daughter. My wife had to return to her country last year due to an over stay. When she left, that is when she found out she was pregnant. Now, in order to bring my wife over, I have to prove extreme hardship, which I am by seeing a therapist at the local VA hospital. So I am currently in search of an apartment and must be in my July 1St. I have a small Chihuahua mix that is a rescue. Scared of other humans and dogs and really quiet. There are not many, actually very few, Studios within my price range here in NYC and even less that allow pets. I will be getting an ESA letter from my therapist as due to the separation from my wife and daughter, as well as other personal problems, I NEED my dog. So my question is as follows:
    When should I let the landlord know I have an ESA? I was thinking of doing it RIGHT before signing a lease so if they try to come up with some type of excuse, I would have an easier time proving discrimination. I completely the fear and concern of landlords, but I am truly afraid of being discriminated against and unfortunately, in our current society, honesty is not the best policy. But at the same time, I would not want to cause any future strife with my landlord or have him/her think that was some type of plot. I am just desperate and really torn about what to do. Any advice that you and your fellow colleagues could give would be wonderful. Thank you in advance.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Hi Francis.
      I think full disclosure is the best policy, and upfront disclosure – well before the lease signing – would be best.
      Not all landlords are slumlords, and most want to comply with the laws and rules. However, I can see them feeling like you’re trying to ‘pull one over on them’ by not mentioning it before you move it, or mentioning it right at the last minute.

      • Thank you MIndy for this information.
        I recently had an application for (2) women-room mates, that had indicated that they have a cat. We had processed their application and still needed one of the ladies pay stubs to proof up a little more income but agreed to wait for that pay stub until the lease signing,(Was supposd to be today.) for a move in on September 1st. Yesterday they emailed me and indicated that they have 2 cats and 2 emotional support animals, one of which is a dog and requested a need for a reasonable accommodation. I don’t have a problem with their request but I am not happy that they waited 3 days before move in to tell me this and because they do not have documentation of the ESA, we can not let them move in until they provide it. (We also have a pet rule for either 2 cats, or (1) cat and (1) small dog but no more than 2 animals per home.) If these ladies would have been forthright with the information regarding these animals we would have done our best to help them with the process of the RA-now we are losing rent because they felt it wasn’t necessary to share this information-furthermore they will not disclose what type or size or breed of the dog or dogs. Any suggestions?

  41. Teresa R.

    As someone with both a physical disability and severe anxiety and panic disorder, I am glad to hear that some landlords are becoming more accepting. However, some of the comments here are very offensive…and I’m not easily offended. My animals have always provided a huge benefit in allowing me to live more of a normal life by decreasing stress and anxiety, which can manifest in very uncomfortable ways. I’m sorry, but my being able to live a happier life, every day, is way more important to me than a landlords fear of what “may happen.” To be fair, I’m a conscientious animal owner (always cats, which I train to leash walk with me), and since selling my house and renting have never once not received my full deposit back, nor have I had any complaints. I know I personally hate walking into someone’s home and noticing pet smell, yuck! And work very hard to avoid ever having that issue myself. I do not even live litter boxes and have always trained my cats to go outside like a dog. I am now looking at getting a brand new kitten for the first time since owning my own home, and having to think of making it use a litter box. I get the not leaving waste thing, but cats usually hide theirs (there are no flower beds here to tear up here, if there were I could see the point in assessing a $50 fee for pet waste), whereas dogs leave it in the middle of the lawn. I am chafing a bit with now not being able to let my cat outside at all without a leash, but I’m dealing though I haven’t signed an “animal agreement” yet because I want to know all the things my landlady can demand of me, and stress demanding a lot. Cleaning a litter box is physically taxing on me but I now thankfully have in home help 3x a week. Though I don’t like a box, it will never go without being cleaned at least that much and when my kitten gets larger it will be done daily by my husband. However, I probably wouldn’t chafe this much at any of it, and be understanding and agreeable (I’ll still honor rules I have to), if it weren’t for the fact that my landlady is extremely rude regarding the situation. She was perfectly nice to us until I let Jerry know a few months in that I needed an ESA. At time of move in my last cat had died the year prior, and we were going to try to get along without one. This became too much of a challenge and I let her know. I have her the phone numbers again to my last teeth rentals if she wanted to verify that we’d never had an issue with my animal, and even the carpets (which were very blonde) did not even need more than a general in between tenant cleaning. Her response? Exact words: “If I’d known you had needed an ESA, I NEVER would have left ya’ll move in!” How is that even a legal thing to say?! Due to her attitude, I have been here nearly 8 months without one, have suffered greatly, gained 40 lbs, and my health has declined immensely. She caused more stress and anxiety which only worsened the issue for me, and I have been terrified that she will try to pull something as far as our deposit upon moving out. She even wants to every or home and take before pictures, is that legal? I have no idea. I was going to suggest it myself, but then she got so rude I don’t want to make anything easier on her and feel I could even report her comments. I have not because we have to live here, and I’m not about having bad relationships, but she’s not been calm or respectful. Just, Grr. We are model renters, signed a year lease (was told by our neighbor that this is her highest turnover property), and feel like she is lucky to have us. My husband is an engineer for a world wide power company and is at the corporate level, and I’m a former business manager. The rental market is saturated here however, but not always with great tenants. Still, finding a rental, even without an animal is extremely difficult and wait lists are sometimes 100 names long an hour or two after an advert goes up. Please, just remember we are people too. Just because we may need an ESA does not mean we will be irresponsible. Sorry for the long post, just trying to gain information, which is never had to do before! Not sure what her issue is and reading comments here I could understand a general sense of leeriness but to accuse me outright of lying about needing one by not disclosing I needed one before signing, even we genuinely had just lost and had no immediate plans to try to replace it, knowing there was a no pet policy, we figured I could mane it at least thriving the year…then saying she never would have rented to us…just, so rude. Discuss your concerns calmly with me and I’ll help alleviate them, but she has caused me many late nights just worrying even more.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to share your side of this issue.

      The problem landlords are seeing is people who do NOT need an ESA are going online to get “certificates” for their animals in order to force landlords to allow these pets that are not providing emotional support.

      For your legitimate ESAs, I’m sure you have a doctor’s prescription for them. Not all people who claim ESA status for their animals have a true need.

      And even those who do have a true need are not always as conscientious about cleaning up after them as you are. For every story like yours, there are probably hundreds or even thousands of animals that mess on the floor, do not get cleaned up right away or even at all in some cases – eww.

      A landlord recently posted in our forums that they had a tenant move in and they had to bring something back to the tenant, only to discover a giant dog in the home. When questioned, the tenants said it’s a service dog and you have to allow it. We didn’t tell you because you would have denied it.

      Your landlord may have had a bad experience in the past, or may just not believe you when you say you pick up after your animal. I know a lot of people who have cats that, when you walk in their door, you can smell it. Gross.

      Perhaps you can invite her into the property after you’ve had your cat in there for a few weeks, so she can tell that you are taking care of the unit?

  42. I have read on California legal forums that you CAN in fact require a doctors letter for an ESA animal that must state the medical disability and how the ESA is intended to midigate or help that disability. I live in California – any thoughts on this? I imagine this is meant to help prevent abuse.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thanks for sharing, John.
      I am not in California, but I know they are extremely tenant-friendly. You absolutely can ask for Proof of Prescription, but I am unaware of any state that allows you to ask about the nature of the need. This gets into doctor-patient confidentiality, which is not my area of expertise.
      I definitely recommend getting legal advice from a state-licensed attorney before asking a prospective tenant about their medical needs.

    • Denise Evans

      State law is not allowed to be more restrictive of disabled persons’ rights than federal law. Federal law says the person making a reasonable accommodation request for an animal need only provide a letter from a doctor, counselor, therapist or social worker stating that the tenant has a disability and the need for a described animal is reasonably related to that disability. No more details are required. You are not allowed to conditional approval on obtaining more details, or better evidence. Requiring anything more violates federal law. California cannot add more conditions to that.
      Landlords ARE allowed to impose lease conditions on ALL tenants that protect the property and the quiet enjoyment of neighbors. Think about an Animal Addendum that addresses those concerns equally. The classic question in this area is, “What about the disabled tenant who must have an emotional support St. Bernard, and the disabled neighbor with extreme allergies?” The answer is, the tenant with the dog is not allowed to “share” the dog’s hair, dander, urine, feces, barking, slobber, etc. with other tenants or the common areas. Making all tenants comply with these requirements does not violate the Fair Housing laws.

  43. Great Article- Of course we cannot discriminate against any type of protected class- thats a given- But property providers should never in my opinion worry about what does not look right. If your gut says this tenant does not look like a good fit for our complex- keep looking- If a tenant shows an attitude that you believe could cause you or your tenants problems ahead Keep Looking-If their appearance looks unkept and their car looks the same ,Keep Looking if you want to. These Laws are intentionally written to try to intimidate a Landlord. Don’t fall for it. As long as you don’t attack a protected class you can reject someone in my opinion for a number of reasons you need not disclose. Remember- Its you the Landlord laying in Bed wondering what damage an iffy tenant is doing to your apartment. You don’t think some HUD worker or tenant advocate is going to loose any sleep on your behalf do you?

  44. I have a question pertaining to the exemptions previously mentioned. Our house that we’re renting out is the only home they rent, & they rented to us without a realtor. We recently got a cat for my husband’s anxiety & depression, which is absolutely legitimate & presented a letter from his doctor upon informing her about the cat. Does this mean because this is her only rental property she can refuse us within the law? I’m just struggling to understand that making sense.

  45. I am a landlord for a 4 family apartment building. And I have an extreme phobia of dogs. So I do not allow them. One of my tenants has a daughter who is also afraid of dogs and so they specifically sought out pets-free housing. While I understand completely about a trained service animal for someone with a legit disability and would never discriminate against them, I do not feel the same way about an ESA. Why does one person’s anxiety trump another person’s anxiety/fear?

    • Denise Evans

      One does not trump the other. With a well-written Animal Addendum, you can require that ALL animal owners:
      (1) Keep their animals under control at all times, specifically on a leash or in a pet carrier when outside the four walls of the rental unit;
      (2)Take steps to ensure there is no “sharing” of odors, sounds, fecal matter, dander or allergens outside the four walls of the rental unit, meaning all fecal matter must be scooped and disposed;
      (3)Engage in responsible animal ownership regarding immunizations, no chaining, clean water, shelter, etc;
      (4)Be good stewards of the real estate, meaning no damage to premises and flea control medication for cats and dogs.
      If you have such an Animal Addendum and enforce it, then all people can live comfortably together.

      • The person who owns the apartment should not have to be fearful in his own home. I have a 2 family building (live downstairs, rent out the upstairs). Even if there’s the possibility of a chance encounter in the hallway with a dog, i will be extremely anxious just thinking about it. Its ridiculous that an ESA should be allowed whether it causes me anxiety and distress or not.

  46. Arlene olzenni on

    I am a landlord who has a tenant who when signing the lease asked if there was any leeway in the normal pet policy because they were thinking of getting a flamingo and I said no to all animals. Theyou signed the lease aND a week later I learned they had a dog. I confronted them and gave them the choice of removing it or paying a one thousand dollar deposit for it and offered the opportunity to pay the refundable deposit in a one hundred dollar payments per month. Then they agreed to the deposit. Then they changed their minds and went to get an Esa from a local community health center. I even called the health center and was told she was a new client even though the therapist said she treated her for two years. We are so obviously being taken advantage of and being duped but feel like our hands are tied by this law that let’s anyone have a pet and causes us to loose thousands if our apartment is ruined. Any comments, ideas?

  47. I was denied reasonable accommodation on 4 separate occasions, despite having a written letter from my physician prescribing the need for an ESA dog. My apartment complex even went as far as to call my physician and ask them to add more information (seriously?!) Im pretty sure my privacy rights were violated, aside from the fact that they have denied my request and seem to just being delaying it. Needless to say I am now being asked to remove my ESA or face eviction. Is there anything I can do to avoid the eviction? I live in California and have already filed a complaint with HUD which was weeks ago so I assuming my complex was served with said complaint and still decided to proceed with eviction. Lawsuit or no?

  48. Tim Sabo

    Wow! I read a bunch of posts here, and can’t really add anything that hasn’t been said, other than to say it in my own words. I just recently completed fighting Social Security for well over two years for nonsense they called OVERPAYMENT on my son’s disability account. I was forced to go to my Congressman, and even with his help, it took ore than a year, but I finally won both cases-without an attorney!

    The government is so screwed up it is amazing our nation hasn’t been consumed by another country already. A sa landlord, I am constantly fighting-and writing-about silly laws and nonsense one form of government or another puts in place to try to control our lives, to dictate to someone something so…well, dumb. This law is dumb, this ‘doggy law’ or whatever you call it. We have a strict No pet policy in some of our buildings that simply would not be suitable to animals as WE HAVE DEFINED IT: so there are NO PETS permitted, period. It concerns me not what someone calls their dog-a service dog, an emotional support animal, a pet-I don’t care. We rent apartments, not a pet center. If you have a pet, live somewhere else; we don’t accept animals. If you don’t like our policy, talk to the government or sue me, but I will not bow down to a corrupt government that can’t get out of it’s own way.

    I won’t tolerate the government telling ME I must accept pets anymore than the government would tolerate me telling them I want to carry a gun on an airline, or something similar. A prohibition is just that, and no government directive will get me to permit pets regardless of the laws, fines or whatever they think they can do.

    “WE THE PEOPLE” still operate this government, and things I don’t like-like this stupid rule-I work to change when it causes me a problem. For those of you who have been directly impacted by this silly “puppy law” I urge you to get to your Congressman’s office, or to your Senator’s office and explain to them how these rules are seriously impacting your business AND you want them to ACT on your behalf to CHANGE THE DAMNED LAW!

    If I sound angry, in part, I am; partly at the silly rules and partly at how many of us permit these silly rules to continue to exist without taking more firm action. BP is a large network of real estate professionals: start a blog and gather support; collect names on a petition; determine the financial impact of this crazy law on real estate values-and the economy-as a whole; then package up the data and present it to someone who WILL work to change it.

    Complaining is for losers: winners ACT to create real change.

  49. Dorothy Butala

    Mindy, great article, thank you for writing this. I did a presentation for our regional landlord association and it was met with great thanks and learning, so thank you for bringing this to an even larger crowd. There was one item of note (that I am not sure if someone else brought up in the many previous comments) is that service animals and emotional support animals are different. Service animals are trained to directly assist with a persons disability and have the freedom to go into public spaces with their owner, whereas emotional support animals are not afforded the same freedom nor are they trained for a particular disability, they are to only be used in the person’s personal residence. I created screening packets for both types of animals which includes requesting what I am allowed to by law. Many people who are unscrupulous will be put off by the requirements, thinking that them just saying it is an ESA is adequate enough, however they don’t realize what the law allows us to ask for. People with real need have no problem filling these documents out and providing the necessary paperwork for their tenant file. Again thanks for the post!

  50. I recently moved into an apartment and have a roommate that has 2 cats. At the time of move in he paid 350.00 per cat and pays 25.00 a month per cat for pet rent. At the time of move in everything was fine but through unusual circumstances and life events, my roommate has began to suffer from severe anxiety and depression as well an unrealistic fear that his cats will be taken away from him. He has been to his doctor and the doctor has stated that his cats serve as emotional support animals. My question is, can he stop paying the 25.00 per cat each month for pet rent and can he get his 700.00 total pet deposit back? He can totally afford the rent and is very careful with the care of his cats. I haven’t been able to find anything about this issue. Of course, he is afraid to say anything to the apartment manager about any of this which is causing him more anxiety.

  51. Hello,

    I just got an ESA. She helps me with my anxiety and depression. I’ve had her for over a month now and she’s helped me a lot. But, she barks too much and tries to lunge at every person she sees. I’m afraid they’re going to kick us out or my dog. Are they allowed by law to kick her or me out?

    • Denise Evans

      Whether a pet or an ESA, you must keep your animal under your control at all times, and you are not allowed to “over-share” noise such as barking. Excessive barking is annoying, destroys the concentration of someone trying to study for an exam, interrupts the sleep of someone who needs to be well rested for their job. A dog that is allowed to bark too much is like a party that is allowed to get too loud. Even if the dog is on a leash, but lunges at and threatens other people, that is very intimidating and could cause someone to recoil, stumble and hurt themselves, or just be subject to fright and anxiety, or it could cause them to be afraid that NEXT time the dog will not be on a leash, and so that person does not renew their lease and costs the landlord money. Yes, depending on the wording of your lease, you could be evicted. I fully support the right of people to have ESAs, and recognize how much good they do, but the law that protects your right to have one does not give you the right to cause harm to other people.

  52. First, I am a landlord and just happened to “luck out” and the only properties I own just happen to fall in to the exceptions; one property is a single family dwelling that I list for rent myself using multiple Facebook groups/pages (Rentals, Classifieds, For Sale) so it is obviously not brokered by a real estate agent, and my other property is a building with 3 apartments in it and a garage. I rent out the 3 apartments and I occupy the garage for storage purposes (my state law describes and tenant as someone that rents or leases a house, apartment, mobile home, or storage space. So the garage storage space qualifies as a unit.)

    Just to be clear, I am NOT referring to service animals, like a seeing eye dog for example. I would be more then happy to rent to anyone with a disability that would require a highly trained service animal like that. That is not the type of animal I am asking about, too many sites seem to conflate the two different types of animals as the same thing.

    Let’s pretend that I didn’t fall within the exceptions and I had 20 units in my apartment building. I have heard conflicting opinions on this, I have been told that you have to allow ESA’s because HUD and FHA requires you to allow them, and I’ve also been told that since I don’t take any money, subsidies, funding, rent assistance, etc from HUD, FHA, or any other state or locality or agency that I don’t have to allow ESA’s. Which is correct?

    I know other landlords that don’t fall within these exceptions and have been forced to rent to people with ESA’s in the past, and the horror stories that result, such as $3,000 worth of carpet damage due to animal waste and chewed up carpet, $5,000 worth of cabinet damage from animals spraying and chewing on them, etc. Sure you can send the tenant a bill after they move out, they don’t pay, take them to small claims court, get a judgment against them, and you still never get reimbursed for the damages they cost you. Thankfully my state just recently passed a law that requires someone that wants an ESA to get a prescription from a doctor licensed with the state and not just one of these online questioner things (where news channels have been able to register stuffed animals as real ESA’s, that’s how big of joke those things are), and if a tenant is caught lying about their prescription from a doctor it is grounds for denial of a lease and/or immediate eviction and they could be charged by the state for fraud.

    The new state law is a start for tamping down on people abusing this, but it doesn’t seem to be just people that want pets abusing this, doctors seem more than willing to write an Rx to someone, even over the phone, just because they want to have a pet. I have been told the process to get a prescription for a pet can be as simple as calling the doctors office and saying, “I’m moving into an apartment and I need a doctor’s note for a pet, can you give me?” “Sure, stop by the clinic in an hour and the receptionist will have it waiting at the front desk for you to pick up.”

    I had a person that was asking about one of my apartments, I informed her that it had already been rented out. After that she told me that she had an ESA and that her current landlord was trying to keep her from having it, then I told her that I don’t allow ESA’s either. She than told me that its federal law, I explain to her that there are exceptions. She then wanted my phone number so she could report me to the State’s Attorney General, HUD, and FHA and that sure currently has all of those agency’s after her current landlords and would have them after me too. I told her that I said it was rented before she even mentioned anything about an ESA, and that even if she had mentioned it first or even had a service animal, I wouldn’t required to deny the apartment to someone else that beat her to it. I told her that I would be contacting the State’s AG’s office to see if her behavior towards me was considered threatening or harassment, then her tone went from “I’m gonna get you.” to “I wasn’t intending to be threatening. I’m only trying to educate landlords on the laws.” If that were the case she had a very poor way of going about it because the AG’s office told me that her behavior was considered threatening and harassment. I told her that the AG’s office told me that, and I’m now considering whether or not to have the sheriff deliver her a cease and desist notice with the threat of future legal action if she continues.

    So what is the truth? Someone that doesn’t fall into the exemptions that I fall into, are they required to allow ESA’s even if they don’t take any money, subsidies, funding, rent assistance, etc from HUD, FHA, or any other state or locality or agency?

  53. Landlords can only deny access to emotional support animals if the rental unit is a single family home that is not rented out using a real estate agent or if the apartment complex is 4 or less units and the owner occupies one of the units. Landlords also cannot request private medical information from the tenant. Asking for a diagnosis or medical reason is not acceptable. If the tenant provides an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional on their official letterhead with the professional’s license number that is all that is required under HUD. Source: https://esadoctors.com/landlord-emotional-support-animal/

  54. Daniel Doucette

    Hi, first of all I’m Canadian ah. So I’m not sure what the laws are here in comparison. When I go online it seem as though anyone can register anydog regardless of breed or training as a esa and the landlord have no choice but to allow them.
    I am all for people with disabilities having despised like this available to them but what is to stop people from taking advantage of it.
    I have a family looking for a apartment and failed to mention there dog was a esa a bulldog named ruthless. when I told them we didn’t allow dogs they sent me the esa reg number. We I looked it up and it was just made this year. I don’t know these people from a hole in the ground, and may be a legitimate need but I have my suspicions. Is there anyone that regulates who can have a esa

  55. I am a landlord and have been involved with 4-H for for years with my kids and their dogs. I have always had a pet permitted policy on my rentals with fees and a 30lb weight limit on dogs. The weight limits was a liability move to reduce severity of bite injury claims. A 30lb dog is unlikely to cause a major injury or death. We have had dog bites with smaller dogs.
    The problem I have with ESA is that there is no temperament screening required for the animal. In 4-H the dogs temperament was evaluated for the safety of other dogs and people. Esa is flawed in not requiring temperament screening. Imagine an ESA dog in a crowded store checkout line, noise, kids and others in very close proximity. This is a danger to all. Some pets are perfectly fine in this environment, others will lash out in an unfamiliar environment. Subjecting the public and residents in a housing community to large esa canines is a hazard. In 4-H we had numerous dogs that were rejected from participation due to aggressive behavior toward other dogs or people in certain conditions.
    Service animals are a different story all together. I have had them in my units. Highly trained, temperament screened and truly remarkable in their abilities. Not all animals are suitable to be service animal, nor should just any dog be permitted to be an esa exposed to the public. At minimum ESA should require obedience training and temperament screening.

  56. Daniel l parks II

    I do have a question as a landlord. What do you do when a prospective tenant inquired about your property and asks if a cat has ever lived in there ? I have lost prospects because people with allergies to cats cannot live in an area where there was a cat, in some instances animals.

  57. Charley C.

    Hello all, I read if the is no apparent need for an ESA, I can ask for a letter from a licensed doctor or therapist , so I did, then came a letter from a “provider” with maybe 5 different acronyms none that said MD. And no license number.. I am in Texas, do I have to accept “licenses” from other states,, countries or where I can never verify the authenticity? I honestly will accept actual ESA dogs but don’t think it’s fair for one tenant to pay and do the right thing where another tries to cheat

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