By Ari Chazanas, Founder and CEO, Lotus West Properties
You’ve probably seen assistance dogs in public helping their owners with their chores and making their lives easier. You’ve probably also heard funny stories of unusual animals riding with their owners on airplanes as emotional support animals or “ESAs.” This article will give you a brief history of service and emotional support animals, describe the differences between the two, and provide tips on what to do when you receive a request for accommodation from a tenant.
Dogs are by far the most common type of service animal and the only animals that qualify as “service animals” under the United States Disability Act 1990 (ADA). Until AD 1, there are records of guide dogs helping the blind that were found on European wood carvings and Chinese scrolls, but it is not known exactly when dogs first started helping people with disabilities. Another early record of guide dogs helping the visually impaired was recorded at a Paris hospital in the 1750s. However, much later during World War I, the widespread use of modern guide dogs began as many soldiers had been left blinded by mustard gas. From then on, several organizations were created to train dogs for the visually impaired and today dogs help not only blind people, but also those with hearing impairments, sensory disabilities and other special needs.
So what exactly defines a service animal? As previously mentioned, ADA Titles II and III restrict the definition of a service animal to a dog (and in some cases miniature horses), and more specifically to an animal trained to assist a person with a disability. , which could be physical, sensory, psychiatric or intellectual. Assistance dogs can be any breed of dog that performs tasks such as alerting their owners to certain sounds, sights, pressing buttons, or reminding them to take medication. Because these assistance dogs play a vital role in helping with daily chores, they have full public access rights and are legally protected under the ADA, meaning owners can take them almost anywhere. where without being denied access.
You may be wondering what the difference is between service animals and emotional support animals (AES). Although they are often confused and the terms are used interchangeably, the main difference is that emotional support animals do not perform specific tasks and only serve as a companion role for their owners – indeed. in other words, the “job” they do is just to be there! Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not limited to miniature dogs and horses and can often be other pets. Emotional support animals are prescribed by mental health professionals for patients with diagnosed psychological or emotional disorders (compared to service animals, which also serve people with physical disabilities), such as depression or panic attacks. , that is why they should be calm and friendly. temperaments and being comfortable with people. In order for an animal to be officially classified as an emotional support animal, the owner must have a letter from a licensed mental health professional.
Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not necessarily trained to work with a specific owner and may instead provide support in hospitals or schools. However, emotional support animals are not a subcategory of service animals and are not protected under the ADA. Although they do not have all public access rights, the Fair Housing Act recognizes emotional support animals, as opposed to pets, as “reasonable accommodation” for people with disabilities. This means that a property with a “no pets” policy must accommodate a person with an emotional support animal unless they are too large to live in the residence. Additionally, owners cannot charge their tenants additional fees for pets, such as pet rental, cleaning fees, or an additional security deposit.
So, as the owner or owner of a building, what else should you do if you receive a request for accommodation or if you encounter a situation in which you do not know if an animal is a service animal? or emotional support? Under the Fair Housing Act, refusing to house a person because they have a service or emotional support animal, or banning the service animal from the residence, is illegal. In addition, dog age or breed restrictions cannot apply in the case of service or emotional support animals. Landlords also cannot evict a tenant because they have acquired an emotional support animal. However, renters are responsible for any damage to the property caused by the emotional support animal.
Contrary to popular belief, service animals are not required to wear specific vests, tags, or harnesses identifying them as such, and such accessories would not constitute sufficient documentation. The tenant must; however, provide documentation from a mental health professional that their animal supports their disability. Owners have the right to verify that the letter is genuine and from a licensed professional by verifying that the letter includes the professional’s contact details and license information, and then verifying the validity of the license. They are also allowed to request a reasonable accommodation form, which would be completed by the professional. Owners should not contact the professional directly as this would violate the patient’s privacy rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Liability Act (HIPAA) or Fair Housing Act. Other documents that owners are allowed to request include identification of the service animal and copies of the animal’s medical records to ensure it is in good health and does not pose a threat to the animal. other tenants.
However, there are some things owners are never allowed to ask for. Landlords are not allowed to inquire about a tenant’s specific disability (for example, asking questions such as “How serious is your disability?” Or “Are you taking any medication?”) Or ask to see tenant’s medical records, request a service animal. official certification. These actions could be considered as discrimination and in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
There are a few exceptions where a service animal or emotional support animal may be refused. This includes buildings of 4 units or less where the owner occupies one of the units, single-family homes sold or rented without a real estate broker, hotels and motels, and private clubs. , if the animal itself is illegal, poses an immediate threat to the health or safety of other tenants, or is too large for the residence to be reasonably accommodated, service or emotional support animals may also be refused .
While service animals and emotional support animals are extremely valuable and help people with disabilities, you should know your rights and your tenant’s rights under the Fair Housing Act. As a landlord, it is your responsibility to treat tenants with respect and confidence when they receive an application for housing.
Ari Chazanas is the founder and CEO of Lotus West Properties. Lotus West Properties is a West Los Angeles-based property management company and was recently named “Southland’s Best New Property Management Company” by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. You can reach them at (323) 380-2783 or contact Byron at [email protected]