Service animals and emotional support animals are a difficult area for landlords and property managers to work through with tenants.  Pets are a big issue overall. This week a property manager spells out an issue she is facing and asks veteran landlord and property manager Hank Rossi for his thoughts. Here is this week’s question:

Dear Landlord Hank:

Just like it states in the article about pet friendly properties, I am looking for the right answers to the on-going saga of emotional support pets. I am an agent of an investment partnership in Washington State, and I manage 48 apartments and 10 duplex units in Edgewood, WA.

I have had a difficult time with tenants moving into a non-pet unit and obtaining a six-week-old lab pup and then getting the emotional support “documents” on line for like $80…just to avoid paying the $500 non-refundable/non-transferable pet fee all the while knowing that no pet will be approved for their unit with all new carpet padding and odor sealant. You know the drill. Any resources, in-put or advice would be greatly appreciated.

-Lori, R.M.

Dear Landlord Hank: Service Animals, Emotional Support Animals, Help!

Dear Landlady Lori:

Pets, service animals and emotional support animals are touchy issues.

Best to consult an attorney for assistance here. In my non-attorney experience, the most important issue is to have a written policy in effect concerning service animals.

Service animals don’t have to be certified or have any ID papers, from my research, other than what local animal control laws mandate. There also is no current legal requirement for a service animal to have documentation that the animal has been trained for assisting handicapped tenants.

Fair Housing laws also recognize that companion animals can be service animals. We are more likely to see this when the handicap concerns mental illness. Fair Housing laws require the landlord to make reasonable accommodation for a handicapped individual needing a service animal, meaning that the landlord must waive the no pet policy as well as weight and size restrictions and pet deposits or pet fees.

Is the tenant trying to skirt the no pet policy?

The trick is to know when the request for permission to have a service animal is legit or if tenant is trying to skirt the “no pet” policy.

The landlord can ask tenant to make a written request and require written verification of the applicants’ handicap and need for service animal.

The verification can come from any healthcare provider. You should respond to this request in writing as well.

This can be a mine field so tread carefully.

Here are some additional resources on service animals and emotional support animals:

Service animals and emotional support animals – Where are they allowed and under what conditions?

Service animals and ADA requirements

A Landlord’s Pet Guide To Pet Friendly Rentals

About the author:

“I started in real estate as a child watching my father take care of our family rentals. We did maintenance, tenant relations, etc , in small town Ohio. As I grew, I was occasionally Dad’s assistant. In the mid-90s I decided to get into the rental business on my own, as a sideline. In 2001, I retired from my profession and only managed my own investments, for the next 10 years. Six years ago, my sister, working as a rental agent/property manager in Sarasota, Florida convinced me to try the Florida lifestyle. I gave it a try and never looked back. A few years ago we started our own real estate brokerage. We focus on property management and leasing. I continue to manage my real estate portfolio here in Florida and Atlanta. ”  Visit Hank’s website here.

Got A Question For Hank? Please fill out the form below with your question and then scroll down on it to send. Hank will get you a personal answer back asap. And thanks!