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What Documentation Can Landlords Request for Service Animals & ESAs?

Most tenants in a rental property will have a unique circumstance(s) that their landlord or rental property management representative must navigate. In some cases, a renter will have specific healthcare-related needs that might conflict with their lease agreement. 

One common example is when a tenant at a rental property requires an assistance animal. Underneath the umbrella of “assistance animals” are service animals, emotional support animals (ESAs), and psychiatric service dogs (PSDs). 

Generally, the distinction between the three is that service animals and PSDs are trained to perform a service for their owners to protect and support their health, while ESAs assist with emotional support without specific training standards. 

There are specific laws surrounding what kind of information landlords can ask for from their tenants regarding their service animal/ emotional support animal. As a landlord, its crucial to know the legality surrounding service animals and what you can and cannot ask for. 

Service Animals & Psychiatric Service Dogs in Homes with No Pet Policies

One of the most common issues that renters with service animals run into is the no-pet policy that many landlords have in place. However, according to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the California Disabled Persons Act (CDPA), California residents can have a service or emotional support animal regardless of a property owner’s typical pet policy. Landlords also cannot charge tenants a pet fee for a service animal, or PSD living on the property, regardless of their pet policy. 

In order to be covered by FEHA, the Unruh Act, and CDPA, the service animal must be either a dog or miniature horse trained to perform tasks related to its owner’s disability. Additionally, the service animal must not pose a direct threat to the safety of anyone on the property.

Landlords can legally ask two questions regarding a current or potential tenant’s service animal:

  1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
  2. What tasks has the animal been trained to do?

While having a service animal is legal, alerting your landlord to the presence of the animal as early as possible is advisable to avoid any issues with your housing. 

What About Service Animals in Training?

Service animals currently in training are also allowed in all rental properties in California under the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Disabled Person’s Act. 

If you have a service dog in training, your dog must wear a tag issued by the county that displays its status as such. Additionally, your dog must be kept on a leash around other renters if you live in a shared space such as an apartment or condo complex.

Emotional Support Animals and Rental Property Management

Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, landlords can generally set the rules of tenancy for their renters, but they must be able to make reasonable accommodations for current and future renters. This includes allowing emotional support animals, or ESAs, regardless of any no-pets policy that may have existed. Additionally, landlords cannot charge their tenants a pet fee for emotion support animals. 

Landlords and tenants need to know that the laws surrounding what constitutes an emotional support animal are different from service animals. ESAs do not require the same training level as service animals, and they aren’t necessarily expected to perform disability-related tasks. There can be many different types of animals that may be ESAs.

What is Proof of Need for an ESA?

ESA’s have a well-known gray area as to what individuals think they need for their pet to be classified as an emotional support animal. As a landlord, you have the right to ask for proof of need from the tenant’s healthcare provider that they need this animal’s support as a reasonable accommodation. This type of proof often takes the form of a verification letter written by the tenant’s licensed clinician. Furthermore, in order for an ESA to be legally accepted in California, the physician must be:

  • Licensed and have a physical office location in the state that you are residing in. 
  • Must have been treating the individual for at least 30 days before writing the letter.

Proof of need will take the form of a verification letten written by a physician familiar with the individual’s condition. The letter can explain to the landlord why a service animal is necessary. This letter will need to be renewed annually to ensure the ongoing need of the emotional support animal.

The Best in Orange County, Los Angeles County, and San Diego County Property Management

Owning a service or emotional support animal is protected under the law, especially where housing is concerned. However, some renters may have trouble traversing this special case with their landlords. This is where assistance from the right property management company can make a difference.

If you are a property owner unsure about the laws surrounding service animals and ESAs, don’t risk legal trouble; call us to help manage your questions as a landlord! The team at AllView Real Estate are experts in Los Angeles County, San Diego County, and Orange County property management. Their expertise can navigate these laws in ways that most landlords can’t or simply don’t have the time to. 

From apartments and luxury homes to investment properties of all kinds, the professionals at AllView are here to help you optimize your rental. Connect with us online or call us at (949) 400-4275.

DISCLAIMER: AllView Real Estate does not provide legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. All users are advised to check all applicable local, state, and federal laws, and consult legal counsel should questions arise.

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