Ocala landlords are responsible for extending reasonable accommodation for tenants with disabilities. This constitutes permitting emotional support animals in rental properties. But unfortunately, a handful of landlords are unaware of their legal obligations or try to apply strategies to avoid them. This blog post will bring to light several useful guidelines for rental property owners in terms of emotional support animals. We will also make mention of the likely results of not obeying the law.
Defining Emotional Support Animals
The first thing to be informed well of is that emotional support animals are not the same as service animals. Service animals are trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities, such as guiding them around obstacles or helping them with daily tasks. On the other hand, emotional support animals tender companionship and emotional comfort. They do not undergo any special training. They are not considered pets, so breed and size restrictions do not apply.
Emotional Support Animals and the Law
Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords must endow reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities. This also pertains to bestowing approval for emotional support animals in rental properties, even if your property is noted to be “pet-free.” Property owners are not sanctioned to charge additional pet deposits or higher rent if a tenant aims and expressly wishes to keep an emotional support animal on the property.
There are several exceptions to this rule, a case in point is if the animal is a danger to other tenants or if it causes significant damage to the property. Still, these exceptions are certainly quite rare and should not be used as an excuse to disallow a tenant’s request to have an emotional support animal.
Handling Tenant Requests for Emotional Support Animals
To qualify a tenant for an emotional support animal, you can ask your tenant to provide a letter from a health professional. This letter normally indicates that the tenant has a mental or emotional disability, and the animal provides therapeutic benefits. While it is true, however, it is illegal for a property owner to ask a tenant to provide specific details or even documentation of their disability.
Instead, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) states that a property owner must determine whether to grant their tenant’s request for an emotional support animal solely on the recommendation of a health care professional.
Consequences for Not Following the Law
So suppose an Ocala property manager ignores a tenant’s request for an emotional support animal or tries to charge them additional fees. In such a case, the tenant can file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD will investigate the complaint, and if they find out exactly that the property manager has violated the law, they can impose penalties. These can constitute civil fines, damages to the tenant, and even a court order requiring the property manager to give consent to have the emotional support animal on the property.
As certainly the case, landlords need to understand their legal obligations regarding emotional support animals. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse and can elicit grievous penalties. If you have any questions as regards your pet policy, the Fair Housing Act, or emotional support animals, contact Real Property Management Diversified. We can truly be of help to you by being able to navigate state and federal laws and keep your rental property policies fully compliant with the law. Call us at 352-854-2221.
We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.