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Pets in Rental Properties: ESAs Vs. Service Animals (2022)

Published on: May 31, 2022

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Americans love their pets. Simple as that.

It's not uncommon these days to see pet owners pushing a stroller with a puppy inside or a well-dressed dog strolling beside their owner at the park. These are the times.

According to the National Pet Owners Survey, over 70% of US households own a pet in 2022. That's up from 67% in 2019 and 56% in 1988.

More and more people are turning to pets for companionship. 22% of Millennials choose to have a pet over kids—and sometimes it's not a temporary decision, either.

For landlords, this begs a suite of questions. Are pets allowed in rental properties? Should I let my tenants bring their pets? What's the difference between an ESA vs. service animals? Are there any downsides to not allowing pets in my property?

Great questions. We have answers.

TLDR: First, allowing pets in your rental properties empowers you to charge higher fees, lease faster, and earn more money—but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Second, as a landlord, when someone has an ESA or service animal, you cannot discriminate against them or their owners—and that means you can’t charge additional fees.

Still have questions?

Below, we'll break down everything you need to know about pets in rental properties, especially regarding ESAs vs. service animals.

Are Pets Allowed in Rental Properties?

Well, as the landlord, that's up to you. You get to decide if you're going to allow pets in your rental property or not—but your choice shouldn't be made all willy-nilly.

Accept pets in your rental properties, and you'll have a few potential consequences to deal with.

Cons of Allowing Pets in Rental Properties

  • Pet damage

  • Lingering smells

  • Allergies

  • Injury to a person (or other animals)

  • Fur (everywhere)

  • Loud noises

Now, keep in mind we said potential consequences. Allowing pets in your property doesn't guarantee any of these things will happen. You might find tenants with lovely pets that don't make a peep (and disturb other neighbors) and never leave as much as a scratch anywhere.

However, when you let pets in your property, you increase the chances these things could happen.

On the other hand, there are significant upsides to letting pets in your properties, too:

Pros of Allowing Pets in Rental Properties

  • Broaden your available tenant market

  • Tack on additional pet fees

  • Increase chances of renewed leases

  • Reduce chances of residents sneaking in pets

  • Improve your landlord-tenant relationship

There's no right or wrong answer when it comes to letting pets in your rental properties. Some landlords swear against it, while others reap the rewards and earn every pet owner's business. You'll have to examine the pros and cons and make the right decision for yourself based on the benefits and risks.

ESA Vs. Service Animals

Whether you decide to let animals in your properties or not, you need to know the difference between ESA and service animals—because they aren't the same. And how you treat them (and their owners) isn't quite the same, either.

What's an ESA?

ESA stands for emotional support animals. These animals provide companionship and support to individuals in need—that could be mental, emotional, or social assistance.

And ESAs aren't limited to dogs, either (although they tend to be the most common). Cats, birds, turtles, and even peacocks (yes, really) could be classified and treated as ESAs in certain situations.

There's a lot of research behind ESAs and their benefits for humans. And there are also a lot of regulations—especially for housing providers.

Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, landlords can't discriminate against residents with ESA, even if they have a no pet policy at the property. Providers must make "reasonable accommodations" to permit individuals with disabilities to have an ESA in their homes.

However, 2 conditions must exist:

  • The individual must have a disability that limits major life activities

  • The animal must provide relief or assistance (in some form) related to the disabilities of the person

As a landlord, you have a right to request a verification letter from the resident's physician or therapist confirming their disability. If a tenant and their ESA qualify, you legally can't:

  • Charge additional fees for the ESA

  • Ask for detailed information about the resident's health

  • Refuse to allow the emotional support animal in the property

  • Require the animal be specifically trained

And if you're confused, this treatment isn't the same when it comes to public areas. Public areas and business spaces can deny the admission of emotional support animals that aren't trained to perform specific tasks to help an individual with a disability. Housing providers and landlords cannot.

What Are Service Animals?

OK, so what are service animals? They share a lot in common with ESAs, but there are a few crucial differences.

For starters, while ESAs provide companionship and support, service animals perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities. This might be guiding the blind, alerting the deaf to sounds, pressing buttons, retrieving items, guarding, reminding, or fetching help when there's an emergency.

Furthermore, while ESAs can be practically any type of animal, service animals are limited to dogs—and sometimes miniature horses (gosh, aren't laws strange sometimes?). Also, service animals must have specialized training, while ESAs do not.

Service animals are not covered under the Federal Fair Housing Act—they're covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act. However, like with ESAs, housing providers can't exclude or discriminate (including charging additional fees) against service animals or their owners.

What Does This Mean for You?

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As a landlord, you will have to make reasonable accommodations for any tenant and their ESA or service animal—even if you have a no-pet policy. The animal is not a "pet" in this situation—they provide a service or function.

When it comes to ESAs, it can be less obvious since the disability often isn't visible on the surface as with service animals. However, you must treat them the same.

When in doubt, request to contact the resident's physician or therapist. They will be able to validate the need for an ESA. If they can't, you may be able to deny their accommodation request.

HOWEVER: "Persons with disabilities who believe a request for a reasonable accommodation has been improperly denied may file a complaint with HUD," which might lead to complications—so ensure you do your due diligence before making any hard decisions.

Managing a rental property and all these nitty-gritty decisions can be tricky. Let us take the load off your shoulders. Partner with Nomad, and we'll do the heavy lifting for you. We'll take care of finding the right tenants for your property, and you won't have to worry about making the wrong decision. Plus, you'll get guaranteed rent, property protection, brokerage perks, maintenance support, rent advances, and more.

Our $10,000 Property Protection Plan comes standard with every Nomad property, but it’s a big bonus for landlords with pet owners. If a resident ever leaves behind damage in excess of their security deposit, we’ll cover costs up to $10,000. Pretty cool, right? That means if a dog goes on a destruction spree, you won’t have to eat the costs.

And that’s a big if because we do a lot of research and vetting to ensure only the best (most caring) tenants stay in your properties.

Interested? Get started now.

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