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


[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 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?

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.

    • 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.

  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 Walmsley

        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.

  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!

  11. Bryan Otteson

    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. 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 !

    • 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 Otteson

        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.

  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.

  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 Tornus

      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.

  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.

  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?

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