Having an emotional support animal (ESA) has become increasingly popular among tenants who suffer from mental health issues. These pets provide comfort and companionship to their owners, helping them cope with anxiety, depression, OCD, and other illnesses.
What should property owners do when a renter requests an emotional support animal in the property? Besides reviewing the ESA's behavior and authenticity, it’s essential to consider other aspects, such as the landlord-tenant laws and how to comply with reasonable accommodation.
What’s the Difference Between Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals
The primary distinction between emotional support animals and service animals is that service animals are trained to perform specific tasks to help their handlers. This can include guiding a visually-impaired person, pulling a wheelchair, or carrying and picking up things for their handler. However, emotional support animals are not explicitly trained to do tasks but are instead there to provide comfort and support to their handler.
ESAs primarily provide companionship and emotional care. In addition, there are no specific breed restrictions for an emotional support animal, and any species can qualify as one.
Another significant difference is that service animals are often considered "medical equipment" due to their assistance skills, while emotional support animals are not typically seen as such. Because of this discrepancy, service animals usually have more legal rights and protections than emotional support animals. However, property owners must follow regulations when residents request an ESA during a tenancy.
Understand Rental Laws and Animals
Landlords who rent to pet owners must understand that emotional support animals are not considered “pets” when it comes to leasing details and tenant requests. While it’s important to know state laws governing ESA, most landlord-tenant laws prohibit property owners from charging tenants extra fees when living with an emotional support animal.
Service and emotional support animals are exempt from pet rent, fees, deposits, and other limitations. However, rental property owners are not required to accept “any” animal request by a tenant as an ESA. Renters must also follow general rules when owning emotional support animals, like cleaning up after the animal, making sure it’s not a nuisance, and ensuring that they don’t cause damage to rental properties.
Make Sure Your Lease Agreement Complies
Upon creating a lease agreement, property owners are responsible for understanding the laws surrounding emotional support animals and making sure that they respond to tenant requests to comply with the law. While there are some general guidelines that landlords should follow, each situation is unique and cannot be mishandled without risking legal action.
Rental owners may need to consult with Atlanta property managers if they have any questions about how to handle an ESA request or pets on the property. Your attorney can also help you create a lease agreement that outlines appropriate rules for owning a pet vs. how a renter can request an emotional support animal and how the animal must behave while in the rental.
Your property manager can also help you legally verify that a tenant truly needs an ESA vs. renters simply trying to bring a pet into the property under the guise of an “emotional support animal.”
What Are the Financial Benefits of Allowing Pets Into Your Rental?
So, if emotional support animals aren’t “pets,” and you might have to deal with one anyway, is there any benefit to allowing pets in your rental properties? Yes! Having a pet policy in place (and offering pet-friendly properties) can help make embracing ESAs easier with procedures and lease clauses already in place.
Even if you’ve never had a renter with a support animal, responsible pet owners are often willing to pay more rent (including pet fees) to retain their pets in a rental home. As a result, property owners benefit from more income and residents who often sign a lease for more than one term when they find pet-friendly properties and owners.
Choose Pets (and Owners) Carefully
While allowing pets can benefit your bottom line, don’t forget to set criteria and enforce the lease! Pets need further screening, including vet certification and a meet and greet so you can assess the general temperament and care of the pet. While this is critical when setting criteria and screening pets and their owners, remember that emotional support animals are exempt from a “screening” process.
Establishing rules for pets in your properties helps minimize the risk of destructive or dangerous animals in your home that could lead to liabilities and income loss.
Manage Emotional Support Animals and Lease Agreements With Atlanta Property Managers
Many property owners are unsure about the rules surrounding emotional support animals or pets for rental housing. However, the right Atlanta property management group can help make sense of it for you!
Compass Property Management helps property owners manage ESA requests and pet-friendly properties to comply with all laws while keeping renters safe and happy. We also draft lease agreements that document every detail to make sure renters understand the rules and support legal enforcement for any violations. Reach out soon to learn more about our property management services!
Learn how to create air-tight rental agreements with our free resource, “How To Create a Custom Lease Agreement!”