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Emotional Support Animals FAQ’s

We get asked a lot about Emotional support animals and how they are protected. So I wanted to answer a few questions about them today.

Emotional support animal

What documentation is required for an ESA?

The one requirement for a person to legally qualify for an emotional support animal (ESA) is that the person has a letter from a licensed mental health professional (therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, Someone who has working knowledge of the need of the Handicap and can prescribe the animal for the assistance of the Handicap) on his/her letterhead that states the person is under his/her care, is handicapped (has a physical or mental impairment that Substantially Limits one or more major life activities), and prescribes for the person an emotional support animal to assist with this limitation. Without this letter, if the person presents an animal as an ESA, he/she is in violation of federal law; an offense punishable by fine and imprisonment, if convicted.

Can I Use a website to get my pet certified as an ESA?

There are many sites that advertise that if you pay them a one time (or in some cases a yearly) fee, they will send you a certification card and your animal will be a certified ESA. The problem is most of them are fraudulent. As stated above, In order to be an ESA you have to have a current letter from a care provider stating the need for the animal. If the Letter (prescription) Has an expiration date it will expire.

Can actions be taken against Emotional Support Animals?

If the animal behaves inappropriately, by disrupting business, behaving aggressively, interfering with other patrons or clients (say by sniffing them or jumping up on them), or toileting inappropriately. Then it doesn’t matter whether it is a service dog because you can still exclude it on the basis of “fundamental alteration” or “direct threat.” The tenant can also be held responsible for any damage caused by the ESA while in the property. They are still required to clean up after the animal and keep it in control and abide by any animal rules that apply to the community. They are also limited by city and state code if the city does not allow farm animals a farm animal cannot be an ESA unless the person has a waiver from the city saying it is allowed.

What is the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service dog? 

Service dogs by law are only dogs (or a miniature horse) that is task trained to assist in with a deficit that impacts daily life. IE: Service dogs could be seeing eye dogs, diabetic alert dogs, wheelchair Mini horse, Seizure dogs. These animals have had many hours and dollars put into training them to do one task and to WORK at that task at all times. They are taught how to behave in public and how to interact (and in most cases) NOT interact with the general public. Service dogs are protected Under Fair housing.

ESA’s help with emotional needs and often times have no training. ESA’s do not have a restriction on type they can be cats, dogs, rabbits, etc. They are not required to have extra training but assist with the emotional support needed for their owner.  ESA’s are protected by  Fair housing and the American’s with Disabilities Act.

These are very fine lines and don’t change a lot. Both are protected. But you do need to Consider each situation with caution on a case by case basis.

Do you have to a pay pet deposit for a Service Animal?

No. Service and assistance animals are not technically pets and owners do not have to pay pet fees. The landlord, however,  may charge a cleaning and security deposit as advertised for the unit. (But no additional deposit or fees based on the service animal) Landlords may still seek money from the tenant if there is any damage caused by the animal to the home.

What are some reasons ESA or Service animals would be evicted? 

  • The tenant is not legally disabled or cannot provide documentation in writing via a health care professional, that can be verified.
  • The assistance animal is not prescribed for the treatment of the tenant’s specific disability or no nexus is demonstrated or backed up in writing by a health care professional.
  • The assistance animal would create an undue burden, such as keeping a miniature horse in a high rise apartment where there is no facility for housing such an animal.
  • The assistance animal is illegal or otherwise not allowed according to state or municipal law, such as an exotic animal or a dangerous breed of animal.
  • The animal is a direct threat to the health and safety of other tenants which cannot be reduced or eliminated.
  • The assistance animal creates “an undue financial burden or administrative burden on the landlord.”
  • The presence of the animal “fundamentally alters the nature of the housing provider’s operations.”
  • The tenant won’t take responsibility for the animal, such as cleaning up waste, letting it run free, or resolving noise problems.

Why is there additional deposits required for pets? 

A major concern for an investment property owner is animal related damage and the cost of those repairs. Studies show that the actual damage caused to property from pets isn’t much higher than normal damages caused by non-pet owning tenants, especially those with children. Pet deposits and fees can more than cover pet related damages, so a property owner’s financial risks for allowing pets are generally low. This being said there can be damage caused to the dwelling and the yard with both service animals and pets. As stated above the tenant is still responsible for this damage all the deposit does is put money aside at move in to help compensate for any damage done.

How can you tell a REAL service dog if ID cards and certificates are actually meaningless?

The US Department of Justice permits businesses to ask two questions:
1. Is this a service dog required because of disability?
2. What is it trained to do to mitigate the disability?

You are allowed to verify the information given. Have you called the doctor listed, was it a pediatrician for a 60 year old applicant? Are they aware of what they verified. Do they understand the implications of the verification.

How can I check into the Letter/certificate offered?

If it is from a doctor call them and ask them to verify the information provided. Remember you are certifying the person and their need not the animal. If it is an online service search the group and do some research. For example if you get a certificate from SDA pull up the website. Does it just ask for a fee for the forms or is it a medical doctor that is requiring proof of the need?

The information contained in this article was personally researched where possible I tried to quote directly from the government site. I also used information from the Law Offices of  Kirk A. Cullimore.

We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.

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