Owning a Houston rental presents a lot of challenges you may not anticipate. Case in point: receiving an emotional support animal (ESA) housing letter.
If you're not allowing pets, the letter may make you take a second look at your regulations. On one hand, an ESA animal is an exception to the rule. That said, you have certain rights too—and it pays to be aware of them.
Not sure how to handle an emotional support animal situation? Here's what you need to know about support animals and ESA regulations.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal is any animal that makes its human feel better. They help treat anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Some ESAs are trained to perform certain tasks, but this isn't a requirement.
It's worth noting that ESAs aren't the same as service animals. Under Texas law, service animals count as medical equipment. They're also limited to dogs, whereas ESAs can be any pet that doesn't cause a disturbance.
Renting a Property With an ESA
A tenant who applies to live in a no-pet rental must produce an ESA housing letter. This is a statement that proves the animal is essential to the tenant's well-being. It must be signed by a mental health professional.
The letter also needs to meet some specific requirements. For example, it needs to state why the emotional support animal is necessary. It should also state how long the tenant has been a patient.
What Are the Tenant's Rights?
As long as the ESA housing letter is valid, you must allow the tenant to bring their animal into the unit. If you deny an application based on the presence of an ESA, the tenant may sue you for discrimination.
Under the Fair Housing Act, you're not allowed to charge a pet deposit fee for the ESA. If you have dog breed restrictions, they don't apply here. You also can't demand the ESA to undergo any specific training.
Finally, the tenant may have several emotional support animals. That said, they'll need to produce an ESA housing letter for each animal.
Why You May Want to Deny ESAs
Despite the protections discussed above, you may still deny some ESAs. For example, the ESA may scare or threaten other residents. Since it's your duty to protect your tenants, you have the right to deny the ESA.
Similarly, the ESA may be too big for your unit or destructive to your property. Again, though, you can't ban an animal purely based on its breed.
If the tenant can't produce an ESA housing letter, you have every right to deny them housing. Unfortunately, some people do try to fake these letters. While you're inspecting it, pay attention to the signature and letterhead.
Support Animals Made Easy
For many landlords, allowing pets in rentals is a non-starter. Even so, support animals are a different story. As long as they provide comfort to their owner, Texas law allows the ESA to stay on your property.
Need some assistance in dealing with a specific ESA situation? Our experts at Terra Residential Services can help you! Contact us here to learn more about our property management services.