Podcast 170: How to Deal with Emotional Support Animals

Emotional Support Animals are all the rage these days for landlord or perhaps we should say that they enrage landlords.

It’s a tough subject and we’ve found a great ally to help push back on bogus ESA claims.

Jaime Michelle Cain is an attorney with the Boylan Code Law Firm and she specializes in Landlord-Tenant law.

She has some tremendous insights on what a landlord can do to protect themselves from ESAs that are a potential hazard.

Show Notes for Emotional Emotional Support Animals

0:00 – Introductions

4:00 – Why are ESAs such a big topic right now? It mostly started in 2013 as HUD Guidance issued on the issue of Emotional Support Animals. This has taken a few years for word to spread but many tenants are aware of how to manipulate this.

6:20 – A personal story on ESAs and an airline snafu.

13:20 – If you can’t confirm that a Doctor wrote the note you can deny the accommodation. But keep the tenant in the loop because tenants file for housing discrimination claims because one they don’t feel heard or two they feel they’re not getting the answer they want.

14:40 – Jaime teaches the ABCDEs of landlording. Always Be Consistent Document Everything.

17:00 – When you’re getting a new tenant in Jaime would suggest an “animal responsibility addendum” and stop referring to animals as “pets”. With this addendum it states your rules and regulations for the animals being on the property. The upkeep of the animal, nuisance laws whether or not it is a pet or animal addendum. As long as you have a standardized form that speaks to the same terms for pets and ESAs you are ensuring that there is no discrimination based on the animal being an ESA. With this addendum in place it gives you the breach of lease terms you can use in your lease.

19:20 – It is false that ESA animals are untouchable. Jaime lists a bunch of reasons how an ESA can be a breach of a lease under your animal addendum in your lease. It doesn’t mean you can evict the tenant but you can have the animal removed from the property.

20:30 – Can you have more than one emotional support animal on the property? Jaime explains that it is possible but the animal must be for a different purpose than the existing ESA. One ESA might be for fetching while another would be for anxiety. 

23:00 – A no pet policy or one pet policy doesn’t stop an ESA from being denied.

26:20 – Be careful over the phone and say, “We are absolutely Fair Housing compliant and we follow all laws.” Then encourage the caller to come in person to apply. If you can’t tell if they have a disability you just let them know you require a doctor’s note to describe a nexus between the disability and the animal.

29:30 – Testers will call and also show up to your property. Direct testers to your office or the landlord.

31:00 – Always add that you’re fair housing compliant and reasonable accommodation requests are reviewed on a case by case basis.

32:00 – Leave open in your lease that on 30 day notice you can change any part of the lease that tenant is use to.

37:30 – Assistance Animal Pitfalls … restricting breed, size or weight, charging a pet deposit, charging a monthly pet fee, requiring tenants who require an ESA to sign a pet or animal addendum containing restrictions that don’t apply to ESA such as requiring them to be in a crate, limiting residents to only one emotional support animal are all pitfalls landlords fall into. Telling a person your insurance won’t allow certain breeds is not compliant. You should make your insurance aware that they should be making reasonable accomodations.

40:00 What point should bring up the ESA? Any animal can be an emotional support animal but you can deny an animal if they present undue hardship (health code violations). One of the things you should always ask for is veterinarian records to make sure they have shots. Also ask if the animal has ever bitten someone because a landlord who has been put on notice about an animal that has bit someone can be liable for future bites.

42:43 What if a tenant in my building has an allergy can I deny an emotional support animal? Unfortunately you need to make a reasonable accommodation for the person with the ESA.

45:00 – Get away from using the term pet in your lease. If you’re prescreening a tenant they don’t have to tell you about an ESA when you have a no pet policy, that is why you want to have an animal responsibility addendum.

47:20 – The term “assistance animal” is all encompassing it covers service animals, therapy animals, and emotional support animals. A service animal is a guide dog or a seeing eye dog. They’re very specifically trained from the time they’re a puppy to a certain person. There is no training for emotional support animals and that is where you start getting into people using the system. If they say the animal is trained or certified as an emotional support animal the person is using terminology that is untrue. This person should raise a red flag.