As a landlord, you may hear the term "emotional support animal" and think it's just another pet. However, in reality, emotional support animals are not "pets" at all. They provide some sort of therapeutic benefit to their owner by being present with them and providing comfort and safety.
When working through your residential lease agreement, property owners much keep in mind that this means they enjoy different rights than your average pet when it comes to housing. Here are three things Orlando landlords need to know about these animals before leasing a property!
What Is An Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal (ESA) provides comfort and safety to people who suffer from a mental or emotional disability. These animals are often known as "therapy dogs" because they visit hospitals, schools, nursing homes, etc. However, an ESA doesn't have to be a dog.
These animals can provide the same function in someone's home and must be given all of the rights that any other standard pet would receive when living on your property! Emotional support animals have two important pieces of information that set them apart: their status as an ESA under Federal law and their designation (or lack thereof) by local government agencies.
Here's how to work with ESAs when a tenant requests accommodation for one!
1. Landlords Must Accommodate Emotional Support Animals
When a renter requests an ESA, landlords must reasonably accommodate a tenant's disability and need for an emotional support animal. Even if you don't allow pets in your Orlando property, ESAs are an exception. Emotional Support Animals do not meet standard pet policies (or exclusions) because they provide therapeutic benefits.
This means that landlords cannot charge extra fees or require the tenant to move out if they provide documentation from their doctor indicating that their animal is medically necessary to treat the individual's mental or emotional disability.
What If You Have A Pet Policy?
Landlords may include pet policies with standard lease agreements so long as those rules apply evenly across all tenants, including people with disabilities who need service animals. Residents with service animals must clean up after their animals and make sure they don't cause property damage or disturb neighbors or other tenants.
2. Landlords Must Comply With the Law
The Department of Housing and Urban Development requires reasonable accommodations to be made when reasonable. Property owners must also ensure that Fair Housing rights are upheld by not discriminating against someone with disabilities who has a qualified service dog. In short, this means you can't deny them due to their medical condition—regardless of whether they have an ESA letter
Can You Ask For Proof?
The answer is yes, but the standard practice is "no." In other words, Orlando landlords are permitted to ask for documentation of an emotional support animal's qualifications through a letter from a mental health professional or medical doctor (as long as they have seen the tenant in person). This doesn't mean that these letters should be requested routinely—and if you do request one, it will take time to get back to them due to their purposeful authenticity process.
3. Landlords Can Apply "Reasonable" to ESA Situations
Do Orlando property owners have to accept "any" animal that a tenant requests as an emotional support animal? If they need an emotional support donkey, are you stuck with a donkey living at your rental?
No! Property owners can apply "reasonable" standards to these situations. For example, if the tenant requests a 40-pound emotional support hedgehog and your standard weight limit on pets is 20 pounds—you do not have to accept that animal as an ESA because it violates your standard policy for animals at this location.
What Rules About Emotional Support Animals Do Landlords Need To Know?
Can landlords include rules about emotional support animals in leases? Yes, but they cannot prohibit tenants from having dogs or cats of any breed or size (which would be discrimination). Due to Florida's disability laws, landlords also need to understand what reasonable accommodations entail so that they don't violate those rights while creating a lease agreement or responding to a resident's request.
Can You Charge a Fee or Deposit for an ESA Animal?
If an animal causes major damages like scratching flooring or causing other issues in your rental, you can request compensation from your tenant to cover the costs of repairs. However, you cannot increase the security deposit for having an ESA animal.
Orlando Property Management Handles All Reasonable Accommodations
If you're not sure how to handle a resident's request for an emotional support animal, work with an Orlando property management company! They can review your standard lease agreement to make sure the document doesn't discriminate against residents with disabilities or service animals. They'll also help you determine if a request is "reasonable" and follow all laws to help tenants with disabilities while protecting your investments.
Verandah Properties is here to help! If you're working with residents who have emotional support animals, let's talk about how we can take on those responsibilities for you.