In recent years, the US has heard a lot of conversations about emotional support animals. In 2019, roughly 200,000 emotional support animals existed in the US.
Emotional support animals are just one kind of support. Other animals offer physical disability services to their owners.
This trend has caused some issues for landlords. Many landlords have policies against pets to prevent animals from damaging their properties. However, assistance animals make these policies seem more complicated.
So, many landlords wonder, "Should I accept assistance animals?" If you're unsure about this, keep reading! We'll give you the answers in this guide.
Understand HUD Guidelines for Assistance Animals
The first thing landlords should know about assistance animals is when they qualify as such. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has specific guidelines that determine what animal passes as an emotional support animal.
Any animal that is not an assistance animal is considered a pet. A landlord may prohibit pets in the building. However, they cannot prohibit assistance animals.
HUD recognizes three types of assistance animals:
- service animal
- emotional support animal
- unique animal
A service animal is one trained for necessary tasks related to a disability. Texas does not require written documentation for these animals. As a landlord, you can ask a tenant if the animal is necessary for a task and what that work is.
Support animals are animals commonly domesticated and kept in houses. Finally, unique animals receive individual training to perform tasks that service dogs cannot do.
Tenants Need a Signed Letter for Emotional Support Animals
Many landlords may wonder if tenants want to get around no-pet policies in their lease agreement by claiming they need an emotional support animal. Fortunately, there is an easy way to know if this tenant has a legitimate emotional support animal.
All tenants must do is provide a signed letter from a mental health professional that says they need this animal. If they can provide the documentation, that's all they need legally.
Also, landlords cannot call the healthcare provider unless the tenant provides signed and written consent. The doctor may also leave a note inviting landlords to call them regarding questions and concerns.
Remember that you cannot ask your tenant's doctor about their medical records. Asking for this information constitutes a HIPAA violation.
Liability Insurance Could Increase
An unfortunate side effect of emotional support animals is that they can cause your liability insurance to increase. Restricted breeds and animals above your required weight limits can cause you to lose your policy.
This situation creates a legal catch-22. Sometimes, it causes emotional support animal cases to go to court
To win this type of case, you must prove that this lost or increased insurance creates an undue financial burden. Generally, though, these cases end in the tenant's favor.
Hire a Houston Property Management Service
Assistance animals can be a tricky issue for landlords to navigate. Fortunately, you don't have to handle these problems alone. Instead, you can hire a property management service to oversee your Houston property.
We provide several services to help landlords and tenants alike. We can handle crucial documents and forms, sales and acquisitions, and tenant portal needs. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you!