When one talks about assistance animals, the initial image that comes to mind is that of a dog in a red vest leading a blind person. However, there is a mounting trend of emotional support animals. Do you, as a Bellevue landlord, need to rent to residents with an emotional support animal?
To begin with, let’s explore the differences between service animals and emotional support animals. Service animals protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act are those that are specifically trained to do tasks, give assistance, or do work for individuals with disabilities. They are able to identify and act upon certain medical conditions as well. An emotional support animal (ESA) is one that helps persons who need either emotional or psychological support and is covered by the Federal Fair Housing Act. They are characterized by the intimate, emotional, and supportive relationship between the animal and their owner.
A resident has to secure a letter written by any medical professional— such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker— in order to enjoy the benefits of having an ESA. The letter must identify the animal as necessary, as well as the kind of animal the person has as their ESA. Furthermore, a resident requesting to have more than one ESA should provide a separate letter for every animal.
The most common conditions that ESAs provide aid for are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, fear or phobias, panic disorder or panic attacks, mood disorders, personality disorders, seasonal affective disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Still, ESAs are not limited to these conditions. As long as the resident has a letter of endorsement from a licensed mental health professional, any animal may become an ESA. Even current pets can become ESAs if the medical professional can verify that the patient’s current pet is giving vital mental support to their well-being.
Unlike standard service animals, Emotional Support Animals are not required by law to have any special training or experience to be permitted to help people who need support. But they are considered a reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). As a landlord, you cannot refuse a verified ESA owner’s request for reasonable accommodation unless you meet guidelines established in your state as a resident landlord owner, like renting out the basement of your property while you reside on the main floor. Furthermore, you cannot charge extra fees or an advance deposit for ESAs unless the ESA owner allows the animal to be a nuisance or damage is caused to the rental house, much like any occupant or guest in a rental setting.
The above is a general summary of FHA guidelines for ESAs, although you will need to check state guidelines too as there could be other state-specific guidelines on ESAs. Real Property Management Eclipse is knowledgeable about the Fair Housing Act requirements and how they affect you as a Bellevue landlord. We can assist you in dealing with these requirements to make sure that you are in compliance when renting to people with Emotional Support Animals.