January 23, 2020

The Need-to-Know for Service Animals & Emotional Support Animals

More and more, often applicants who are applying for rentals are informing us that they have an emotional support animal, service animal or an assistance animal. According to the laws of California they are not considered pets. They are basically considered medical equipment. Support or assistance animals are on duty and providing assistance to people with disabilities. 

Jensen Properties is well-versed in situations regarding service animals, fair housing and California laws. Here’s the Need-to-Know regarding service and emotional support animals.

Emotional Support vs. Service Animals 

Although the two are not the same, they are both protected by housing laws. However, there are important differences to remember. Emotional support animals provide support for those that suffer from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. They are therapeutic animals and usually a cat or dog. 

A service animal is typically a dog, trained to assist a person. Wheelchair-bound individuals, people with blindness, or people prone to seizures are typically recommended a service animal for assistance. You can usually identify a service animal by their vest, labeled “service animal” or something similar. 

Although service animals are allowed entry anywhere that their owners are, emotional support animals have more restrictions.

Housing Laws and Support Animals 

Remember, emotional support animals and service animals are not considered pets. Because of this, you are not allowed to charge a pet rent or even ask for an added pet deposit. You must allow for service animals and support animals in your property, even if you don’t want pets in your home. Furthermore, you cannot discriminate against specific breeds.

You may be doing a walkthrough inspection and find an animal at your property even though you were never informed. The tenants may then tell you it’s an emotional support animal. According to California law, tenants are not required to tell you if they need a support animal. However, you can request a verification letter at any time from a qualified professional.

Verifying the Service Animal

If a tenant says they have a service or emotional support animal but there is not an obvious disability, you may ask for written verification. Written verification is usually a simple letter or prescription that states the person in question is required to have a service animal. If the disability is visibly apparent, there is no need for service animal verification. You should not ask the tenant what their disability is in this situation. 

Common Misconceptions

We’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions regarding service animals.

Do service/support animals have to be formally trained?

No, the service/support animal does not need to be formally trained. Although most service animals are trained and need to be registered/certified as a service animal, there is no need to confirm this with each individual animal. On the other hand, emotional support animals do not require any training.

Can you contact the source of the letter or prescription?

No, you cannot contact the tenant’s verification source directly. This violates HIPAA privacy laws and fair housing laws. You must accept the letter from their therapist as it is provided to you. 

Can you ask for proof of disability?

No, you may not ask the tenant about their supposed disability or why they need a support/service animal. Their provided verification letter will be their reason. If the letter does not seem legitimate, you may ask the tenant to complete a reasonable accommodation form. 

Can you deny an application because they have an service/support animal?

No, you may not turn away an applicant with a service/support animal that falls under your restricted breeds. This is because a service/support animal is not considered a pet. The restricted breeds do not apply to them. If you feel the animal would harm those around it, you may deny them but it is strongly advised you do not. 

Tired of dealing with all the laws surrounding housing? Jensen Properties has the experience to make your property thrive. Contact us today to see how our property management solutions can remove stress from your life while taking care of your investments. 

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