As a landlord, it’s important to take steps to protect your own property and preserve your long-term financial stability. For some, this could include restricting the type, number, breed, and size of animals permitted on your properties.

Many landlords ban pets entirely because of the potential liability issues. Liability arises when the animal cause damage to the property, injures another tenant or exhibits behavioral issues that put others at risk. However, regardless of your restrictions, it’s common for tenants to claim an animal is an Emotional Support Animal (commonly referred to as an ESA). When done legally, landlords are left with few options to prevent the animal from living and staying on the premises. However, many tenants abuse this angle and attempt to go through illegitimate channels to “register” an animal to get around restrictions, fees, and insurance costs.

It’s important to prepare for these conversations because tens of thousands of animals have been “registered” on illegitimate websites that provide no real valid documentation of an emotional support animal. To understand how those conversations will go, it’s important to first understand how the law applies when someone LEGALLY registered their animal.

Legitimate emotional support animal registrations

Landlords are limited when a tenant provides valid proof of an emotional support registration. Tenants are protected by the Fair Housing Act which prevents discrimination against tenants for a disability. The Fair Housing Act provides this protection for people who genuinely have a diagnosis that is stabilized, improved, or assisted in some fashion by the presence of an animal. These registrations can only come from qualified medical professionals and do not need to provide a specific diagnosis and instead can just give general information confirming the need for one.

Animals do NOT need to have any sort of official training to qualify as emotional support animals. This means the registered animal very well may exceed any weight restrictions you’ve implemented or even be a breed you’ve banned from your property due to insurance reasons.

When a tenant legally registers their animal you are not permitted to raise rent, charge additional fees, or attempt to evict the tenant. The only time a landlord may take action against a tenant is when a registered animal causes damage to the property, injured another tenant, or exhibits threatening behaviors that place risk upon other tenants.

Illegitimate emotional support animal registrations

Where things get tricky is when a tenant claims they’ve registered their animal but have actually just paid any number of websites to send them a fake letter. These are growing in popularity, with some services saying they’ve received more than 200,000 requests in a single year.

Unfortunately, the law isn’t cracking down on these fake registrations, leaving it up to landlords to sift through what’s real and what’s fake. What’s important to understand is you have no duty to expose your property or your other tenants to risk by an animal that’s not legally registered as an emotional support animal. 

These fake registrations expose you to unnecessary liability, but it’s a tricky situation to navigate. Your best bet is to contact your attorney before approaching the tenant to enforce the terms of the lease. Your attorney should be able to review any claimed documentation of the ESA registration and confirm whether or not it follows the legal standards in place.

At Atlas Law, we know your rights and will always be a landlord’s advocate. If you’re ever confronted with what you believe to be a fake registration or need help exploring your options, contact our team.