Support Animals in Rental Properties
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Imagine that you are a landlord. You sign a rental agreement with a new tenant that clearly states "No Pets." The day before moving in, the new tenant says she has a dog, which is an emotional support animal. Your first response might be to say "No way." But not so fast.
What is an "Emotional Support Animal?"
Emotion support animals are animals that provide emotional comfort to their owners with disabilities. Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), landlords are required to allow tenants to have emotional support animals if it is a reasonable accommodation for the tenant’s disability. Denying a tenant’s rental application because of his or her need for an emotional support animal is a form of unlawful discrimination in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Is the Tenant required to disclose that her or she has an Emotional Support Animal in the Rental Application?
The answer is NO.The tenant is not required to list that he or she has a “pet” on her rental application.
What can the Landlord do to verify that the Tenant has a right to the Emotional Support Animal?
The landlord can require the tenant to submit a written request to have an emotional support animal as a reasonable accommodation for his or her disability. Additionally, the landlord may require written verification from the tenant’s treating professional that (1) the physician is treating the tenant for a disability; and (2) the professional’s recommendation is that the animal benefits the health of their patient. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landlord must respect the tenant’s privacy and cannot inquire further into the tenant’s disability.
Are there limits to what can be claimed as an Emotional Support Animal?
The answer is YES. Since landlords are only required to allow an emotional support animal to a tenant when it is a reasonable accommodation, each tenant's situation must be assessed on a case by case basis to determine if the particular animal he or she is requesting is a “reasonable accommodation.” Many factors go into this determination, and there are no black and white lines that can be drawn. The size of the rented premises should be considered, as well as the type of animal requested. Usually wild or dangerous animals (such as venomous snakes) will not be considered a reasonable accommodation because the animal could threaten the health and safety of other tenants. However, bright line rules such as breed or weight restrictions are not allowed. Each tenant’s animal must be evaluated on a case by case basis.
Further, if the animal disrupts other tenants’ use and enjoyment of the premises or destroys property, the animal’s behavior might make it so that the animal is not a reasonable accommodation. Behavior that might make an animal disruptive to other tenants’ use and enjoyment of the premises include incessant barking during quiet hours or aggressive behavior toward other tenants.
Should you consult an attorney when dealing with a tenant who has an Emotional Support Animal?
The answer is YES. As always, for any particular tenant with an emotional support animal, it is best to contact an attorney for advice on your unique situation. That being said, below are some general tips to follow in regard to tenants having emotional support animals. Consistently following the same steps for each tenant avoids the risk of bias or discrimination.
1. Require all tenants to make a written request asking for a reasonable accommodation for a disability before moving into the apartment.
2. Have the tenant provide written verification from his or her treating profession stating that the professional is treating the tenant for a disability and that he or she recommends the emotional support animal for the health of the patient. The letter must list the treating professional’s name, contact information, and license number.
3. Have the tenant read and sign an accommodation agreement that outlines the rights and responsibilities of both landlord and tenant.
4. Do not draw bright line rules such as breed or weight restrictions. Rather, take each case individually to determine what is a reasonable accommodation in light of the size of the apartment and behavior of the animal.
5. Landlords cannot require certification of the animal or disclosure of disabilities of the tenant.
6. All dogs over 4 months old must be licensed with Placer County. Remind your tenant of this law, and if they haven’t already licensed their pet and direct them to the online licensing portal: licensepet.com/placercounty.
For advice on your specific situation, contact us for an appointment.
About the Koons & Riswold Auburn Law Office
Koons & Riswold maintains its main office in Auburn, California to provide clients with legal services in Auburn, as well as the greater Placer County region. Our Auburn lawyers provide legal services well suited to the Auburn area, which include: Living Trust and Estate Planning services, Probate, Real Estate legal issues, and Business Law matters. All our lawyers have deep roots in the Auburn area, having strong familial, community, and professional ties to the region. Koons & Riswold has recently opened a satellite office in Rocklin, California for the purpose of providing Living Trust and Estate Planning services there.