News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Dear Property Guy

Dear Property Guy,

I have a “no-pets“ policy in my rental. I have a new tenant who just announced that her emotional support dog would be joining her. She also showed me some paperwork that said I had to take it. What’s the deal here?

— No. Just no.

Dear No:

Welcome to the glamorous world of being a rental owner. Because your property just became a dog-friendly zone.

Before we get started, please know that it could be worse. In addition to dogs: cats, goats, horses, rabbits, snakes, pigs, and hedgehogs can all be emotional support animals (ESA). Most recently a dustup between an airline passenger, her emotional support peacock, and United Airlines, led the Department of Transportation (DOT) to begin restricting service animals on airplanes. So we got that going for us.

This whole deal all starts with the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), which bans discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. FHA requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations to give tenants equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. Keep the disability part in mind here.

Next, we have the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

Finally, we get to how assistance animals are defined, which is: an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability.

So you smash this all together and you get the fact any disabled person can’t be turned away from housing because of their service or emotional support animal. You don’t have to like it. But there it is.

A property owner does have the right to ask for documentation proving the owner is in need of the emotional support animal. This is normally an Emotional Support Assistance letter from a licensed mental-health professional. Key word “Licensed.” There are about a million online sites from which one can order a bogus ESA letter.

To all the other follow-up questions, the answer is “No.” No, you cannot charge additional rent. No you cannot charge additional deposit. No, you cannot ask about their disability. No, you cannot ask or require the animal to have specific training. And, no, you cannot refuse them because their insurance doesn’t cover the animal.

You can refuse them if their animal would create an “undue financial or administrative burden.” The exact meaning of that phrase is very case-by-case.

My best advice? Go meet your new friend. Bring some doggie snacks, be thankful it’s not a goat, and enjoy the ride.

— Mike

Mike Zoormajian is principal at WetDog Properties in Sisters. Questions, comments: [email protected] Free legal advice is worth what you pay for it. Consult a real attorney before doing anything crazy.


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