Over the past decade, emotional support animals have started to become an issue for a number of places from airports to rental properties. Emotional support animals can be a great asset and companion, but there has been an increase in the number of people “faking” emotional support animals so they can use them as an excuse for keeping their animal in their unit, despite rental policies that do not allow animals. However, new regulations have been created to make it harder for people to be able to fake emotional support animals.

Landlords in particular are struggling with tenants bringing animals into their units and citing them as service animals. Landlords are often needing to take an extra step in making sure the animal truly is a legitimate support animal. Many times it comes down to calling a health provider and asking them if the individual has an animal that does meet the legal definition of companion or emotional support animal.

The problem with the animals people are faking forms for is the way the animals are trained. Far too often these animals are not trained at all, and some can cause serious damage to the property. Service dogs actually undergo long periods of training in order to be classified as a service dog. Whereas the emotional support animals do not receive any training.

Many people have been using online doctors to fake emotional support animal certifications. Online forms ask a couple of questions about pets, and for just a few dollars, a form is printed out stating the animal is a companion animal. So what is the procedure for landlords? How can they focus on being able to provide tenants with the companion animal when it is needed for the tenant?

The Fair Housing Act
One of the most important elements of being a landlord is adhering to all the rules and regulations. The Fair Housing Act was established to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Housing providers may not impose different application requirements on one person from another, and the rental fees must remain the same for everyone.

Service Animals
Service animals are specially-trained animals for individuals who are blind, deaf, restricted to a wheelchair, or suffer from seizures or other disorders. Services animals are trained to assist with these medical conditions, and will alert if their owner does have an issue.

Emotional Support Animal
An emotional support animal is different, and as mentioned above, some people do an online form and think that counts. Emotional support animals can be any animal from dogs to rabbits, even mini horses. They are considered a companion animal and focus on bonding with their owner to help with emotional needs. The confusion lies with the grey area of a true emotional support animal being certified by a licensed therapist the patient sees versus just doing an online form with a medical provider one time. A legitimate emotional support animal should not be the same as a “normal family pet.” Some of the reasons when an emotional support animal is recommended by licensed mental health professionals include:
* Social Anxiety Disorder
* Depression
* Postpartum Depression
* Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
* Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
* Seasonal Depression
* Phobias and Fears
* General Anxiety Disorder
* Bipolar Disorder
* Panic Disorder

Landlords can run into difficult situations when the insurance company label certain dog breeds as “dangerous.” If the tenant has an emotional support animal that is in this category, what can be done? A reasonable accommodation determination is made, and the animal could be rejected if it is proven that the animal poses undue risk and financial risk to the landlord. If the housing provider insurance will cancel the policy, HUD typically sides with property owners as it shows that the undue financial burden it causes the landlord. However, HUD may go after the insurance company as a potential disability discrimination suit.

Pet deposits and pet damage costs are often included as part of a lease. If someone acquires a legitimate emotional support animal, could you charge them more money? The difficult position is the fact that the animal is not deemed a “pet” so therefore landlords cannot charge the person more for the animal.

Since animals can cause a lot of confusion for landlords, it is recommended to contact a property management company to assist. Keyrenter Property Management San Diego deals with emotional support animal situations often, and experienced team members are here to help guide you through this process.