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Landlords: Should You Include Support Animals in Your Lease

In 2020, the US Department of Housing issued updated rules regarding emotional support animals (ESAs). Do your current policies comply with these new rules?

An ESA is a pet that provides therapeutic benefits to its owner, who must have a letter from a licensed mental health professional documenting the animal's role.

Including a support animal clause in your lease is an excellent way to be prepared in case a tenant requests one. It's also a great way to set some ground rules for how the support animal will behave while living in your rental property.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you consider adding a support animal clause to your lease. Keep reading to learn more about support animals and your options as a landlord.

What Are Emotional Support Animals?

An emotional support animal provides companionship, emotional support, or another type of help to a person with a disability.

Any tenant who feels like they need an emotional support animal to cope with their living situation can get one with documentation from their healthcare provider. That includes people who are experiencing anxiety, depression, or even PTSD.

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that protects people from discrimination when they're renting or buying a home. The law prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants with disabilities.

Under the Fair Housing Act, support animals are not considered pets. That means if you have a "no pets" policy, you may have to make an exception for emotional support animals.

You cannot charge a pet fee for a support animal, and you cannot require the tenant to get insurance for the animal.

However, you can require the tenant to provide documentation from a licensed mental health professional that states the animal is necessary for their mental health.

You can also require the tenant to provide proof that the animal is up to date on its vaccinations.

Documentation Requirements

The disabled tenant must provide the landlord or property management company with:

  • Evidence that the animal has vaccinations and is free of disease
  • A letter or other form of documentation from a licensed health professional

Quick and easy ESA letters are available online, but you should require that your tenant get one from a licensed professional. A medical practitioner should write the document with a continuing relationship with the resident.

Additional Considerations

You should also include a section that addresses unexpected situations. Consider what your policy should be if the support animal:

  • Dies or is no longer needed
  • Needs to be replaced
  • Causes damage to the property
  • Is disruptive

Planning ahead with a detailed support animal clause can help avoid potential conflict. 

Consult an Attorney

Once you have completed the first draft, you should consult with an attorney to ensure that your clause complies with state and federal laws.

An attorney can help you write a comprehensive clause for your rental agreement. They can also answer any other questions you may have.

Add a Clause for Support Animals In Your Lease Agreement

If you're a landlord, including a clause for support animals is a great way to be prepared in case a tenant requests one.

Here at Wolfnest, we provide these services as part of our property management agreement. We use time-tested and proven policies, procedures, and processes to support landlords and tenants.

We would be happy to help you include a support animal clause in your lease agreement. Contact us today to learn more and get a free rental analysis! 

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