Property Management Blog
An emotional support animal (ESA) is protected by the Fair Housing Act because the animal is intended to assist with a disability. Some landlords get confused because the Americans with Disability Act does not specifically address ESAs, but this doesn’t really matter to a landlord. Because landlords have to comply with the Fair Housing Act, which protects all people with disabilities, an ESA is considered a “reasonable accommodation” for someone with a disability, no different than allowing a tenant to install a wheelchair ramp.
What this means is that you don’t have a choice when it comes to ESAs. If someone has a legitimate disability and they are assisted with that disability by the ESA, then you have to allow the tenant and their ESA. Not only that, but you cannot charge a pet fee (again, it’s not a pet), pet rent, or other additional fees that you wouldn’t charge any other tenant who didn’t have an ESA.
Now, that said, there are important things to consider here. First, you have to be on the look-out for scammers. There are people out there who take advantage of this law that is intended to help people who legitimately need service animals. If you search online, you’ll find doctors of questionable ethics who will even sign a letter for a fee saying that someone needs an ESA, even though they’ve never personally examined the person they’re writing a letter for. In fact, the doctor could be in California while the person buying the letter is in Georgia.
For this reason, we utilize a three-prong test for ESAs:
1. Does the person have a disability?
2. Does the service animal assist them in some way with this disability?
3. Do they have documentation from a doctor who has examined them certifying the answers to the previous two questions?
If the answer is yes to all of the above, then the animal is legitimate, and the tenant is entitled to the service animal without paying any additional fees. If the person cannot produce documentation from their doctor, then we stop right there and tell the tenant that what they have is a pet and not an ESA, and they have to comply with all of the requirements that any other person would have to comply with for having a pet. In some cases, this means that they can’t rent a particular property at all, because the landlord doesn’t allow pets.
As a strong advocate of fair housing laws, and a company that strictly adheres to them and prides ourselves on doing so, we are always more than happy to accommodate ESAs when a tenant has a legitimate disability. But when someone is trying to scam the system, they are doing a disservice not only to us and our client, but also to all of the people out there who do have a legitimate need for a service animal. That won’t be tolerated by us.
If you'd like to hire a company that can worry about all of these legal issues for you, give us a call or send us a message. We'll keep you out of trouble while you're renting out your property.
The goal was to put a policy in place that would provide more protection for our owner clients, while still being reasonable to our tenants. The CEO of our company is a dog lover, and in fact our company makes monthly donations to dog and cat rescue charities, so we certainly don’t want to discourage pet ownership or turn away tenants who have pets. But as with most things in life, it’s always the small handful of irresponsible people who ruin things for other people, so we had to find a nice middle ground that would protect our owner clients from those rare bad pets, while treating the tenants with good pets fairly.
Our compromise was a new policy of charging monthly “pet rent” instead of a one-time pet fee. Instead of paying $250 once at the beginning of a tenancy, a tenant will now pay a $100 pet administrative fee, and then just $25/month during the term of the lease. This means that the tenant ends up paying more over time, which protects the owner from any damage caused by the pet, but it’s spread out to smaller monthly payments, which is easier for most tenants to pay than a bigger lump sum at the same time they’re having to pay a security deposit.
By combining this with our yearly interior inspections to verify the condition of the property, we believe this new policy provides extensive protection for our clients, while still treating our tenants and their furry friends fairly.
This is one of the most common questions we get from new landlords: "should we allow tenants to have pets in our house?" Some owners have very strong opinions about not allowing pets, which does have its downsides as well as upsides, but most owners are just looking for some guidance on what is best for them and their investment.
Approximately half of the prospective tenants we talk to have a dog or a cat. And those that do are almost universally unwilling to give up their furry friend just to rent a specific house. That means that if you're taking a hardline position about prohibiting pets, then you're essentially removing half of the prospective tenant pool. If your house is in a market where there is an oversupply of tenants, then this may not be a problem. But for most properties, this means that you could be dramatically extending the amount of time that your house will be on the market. And that means its costing you money. Possibly thousands of dollars.
For that reason, we generally don't recommend a policy prohibiting pets. It's simply not in the owner's best interests. The amount of money that you will lose by extending the amount of time that the house is likely to be on the market will usually far exceed any minimal damage that a pet may cause.
So what is a reasonable pet policy that protects the owner while not excluding a large portion of the tenant pool? For starters, owners need to be aware of what their insurance policy allows. Most insurance policies will prohibit purebred Pit Bulls, and possibly Rottweilers. Some very restrictive policies may even prohibit Chows or other breeds that most people wouldn't suspect. So check your insurance policy for any specific prohibitions on breeds.
After determining that the prospective tenant doesn't have a breed prohibited by the insurance policy, the next thing is to determine what fee you want to charge to protect yourself from any damage that may be caused by the pet. Typically, pets don't cause much damage. Scratches on doors and moldings are probably the most common issues. More significant problems, such as a dog that urinates on the hardwood floors and a tenant who doesn't clean it up, are pretty rare. A combination of a security deposit plus a non-refundable pet fee should take care of these concerns. We always recommend a security deposit equal to one month's rent, so that's a given. We recommend a non-refundable pet deposit of $250 for most situations, but that may be increased to $500 for a special circumstance, such as a larger dog that the tenant wants to keep inside, or a house with lots of hardwood floors that you're concerned about.
Ultimately, the decision is up to the property owner. Some just don't want to deal with any chance of pet damage, and would rather risk the lost rent from reducing the tenant pool. Others are pet lovers themselves and don't want to do anything to shun tenants with pets. Whatever the case, we're happy to help you out with it and make any recommendations for your specific house and your risk tolerance.