Should Landlords be required to modify a “No Pets” Policy for ESAs?
In recent years, there has been increasing debate over emotional support animals, or ESAs. ESAs are said to help encourage social interactions and reduce behavioral outbursts in some children with autism-spectrum disorders. They are also said to benefit adults who suffer from anxiety, PTSD, depression, and other neurological disorders. Owners of these types of dogs often claim that having these animals allows them to reduce how much medication they take.
An important factor to note, however, is that ESAs are different than service animals. Service animals are specifically trained for the duties they perform, and are protected by the ADA. They are often used for people who are blind, individuals with epilepsy, and even children with severe allergic reactions to food. The challenge that many business owners, including landlords, face with ESAs is that there is no required formal training process. This means that if a landlord does not typically allow pets, they will likely be hesitant to admit an emotional support dog, because there is no liability protection for them nor any guarantee that they are well trained.
Many proponents of ESAs feel that landlords should be required to modify their “no pets” policy for emotional support dogs. After all, these animals are providing a service to these individuals. Opponents, however, fear that allowing and making exceptions for emotional support dogs will open the door to people being dishonest about the purpose of their dog, just to be able to move into a rental.
It’s important to understand that as the federal law stands right now, a landlord does not have to permit emotional support animals for anyone with a mental illness, only those who are disabled. This does vary with state laws, so it’s always important to check with local authorities. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than ¾ of those diagnosed mental illness are not “disabled” by that illness, and would not qualify to use a service animal even if they would benefit from one.
All of these factors raise an interesting question; should landlords be required to modify a “no pets” policy for emotional support dogs? In most cases, a landlord can certainly be required to do so, as most cases involving housing and persons with disabilities are covered under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, and some are covered under the ADA. This is typically only applicable if the tenant or prospective tenant has a definable illness and need for the ESA.
If you own an ESA and are trying to rent in an area that has a “no pet” policy, it’s best to consult a qualified attorney, your state’s Attorney General, your state’s Human Rights Commission, or the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Also, two factors that could help a case for an ESA being admitted to a home, is special training through the “Canine Good Citizen” program, as well as a third-party Dog Bite Liability Insurance policy.
It’s important as a dog owner to understand that even the best-behaved dog can injure a person with a bite, whether it’s out of fear, from being startled, or even being overly playful. The best way to reduce your Dog Bite Liability risks is by purchasing a Covered Canine Policy from the Federation of Insured Dog Owners. Please contact us today for more information at (855) 534-6495.