Property Management Blog

Does a Landlord Have to Accept Emotional Support Animals?

Bob Preston - Friday, December 17, 2021
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Emotional support animals play an important role in their owner’s life. As a landlord, you may come across a prospective tenant with an emotional support animal when you have a strict pet policy or even a no-pet policy.

While people often confuse the different terms, a service animal and an emotional support animal are two separate things. They each have very distinct functions and legal requirements. As such, you may wonder whether you must accept an emotional support animal.

Luckily, North County Property Group has put together a guide on everything you need to know about emotional support animals if you’re a San Diego landlord! 

What Is a Service Animal and What Do it Do? 

To begin, it’s vital to note the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal. A service animal, most typically a dog, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, is a specially trained animal (dog) that performs specific tasks to help those with disabilities. A disabled person is someone with any of the following types of disabilities:

  • Physical disability

  • Sensory disability

  • Psychiatric disability

  • Intellectual disability 

  • Other Mental disabilities 

As you can see, disabilities encompass a wide range of physical and mental functions. To show the importance of service dogs, the following are some examples of things a service dog can help a disabled person with: 

  • Helping a blind person navigate spaces

  • Alerting someone who is hard-of-hearing to sounds, like when there is a knock on the door

  • Recognizing when their owner is having a seizure. They will then stand guard or go for help 

  • Alerting their owner to distinguish important sensory signals, such as a smoke alarm

  • Helping their owner who uses a wheelchair by carrying items or opening doors or cabinets for them 

  • Helping detect and lessen the effects of a psychiatric episode

service animals

Under no circumstance can you deny a tenant for having a service animal. The Federal Fair Housing Act provides protection to certain classes of people against housing-related discrimination. One of these classes is people with disabilities, including disabled people requiring service animals to function. It’s also illegal for you to refuse to make “reasonable” changes to your unit to accommodate a disabled tenant. 

What Are Emotional Support Animals and What Do They Do? 

An emotional support animal is an animal that provides relief to individuals with mental health issues through companionship. They are also not animal-specific, meaning an emotional support animal could be anything from a cat to even a goldfish. 

The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) doesn’t recognize emotional support animals as service animals. That’s because emotional support animals don’t have any specialized training in a specific task, this being the main difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal. That said, this doesn’t minimize the help these animals provide for people with psychological disorders. 

For an animal to be considered an emotional support animal, a mental health professional must sign off on it, confirming that their patient is suffering from an emotional or psychological disorder. Examples of such disorders include major depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and panic disorders. 

Does San Diego Have Laws About Emotional Support Animals? 

Yes, San Diego has legislation concerning emotional support animals. The following are some of the things that landlords must abide by: 

  • Allow tenants with disabilities to have an emotional support animal. This is regardless of whether you allow pets into your property or not 

  • Do not charge tenants with disabilities pet fees, deposits, or raise their rent because of an emotional support animal. 

  • Comply with making “reasonable” changes to the unit to accommodate a disabled tenant

california laws emotional support animals

In addition, California law states that an emotional support animal must meet the following requirements: 

  • It must alleviate the tenant’s disabilities 

  • A correlation between the tenant’s disability and the help offered by the animal must exist

  • The animal doesn’t pose a threat to neighbors or to the property itself 

  • It doesn’t impose undue financial or administrative burdens on the landlord 

  • The animal does not fundamentally change the types of services a landlord or a homeowners’ association provides 

How Do You Confirm the Emotional Support Animal’s Status? 

While it’s uncommon, you may come across cases where prospective tenants claim that their pet is an emotional support animal to avoid the limitations of a no-pet policy. 

As a landlord, suspicions aren’t enough to refuse a tenant who claims to have an emotional support animal from renting your property. You must only rely on factual evidence. As such, you have a right to ask the tenant for proof that their emotional support animal is recognized by a medical professional. 

In addition, you may also want to get in touch with a tenant’s previous landlords to inquire about the animal. 

Are There Limits to Accommodating Emotional Support Animals? 

There are limits to the extent of changes you can make. To elaborate, reasonable accommodations shouldn’t put a financial hardship on you. 

emotional support animal limits

For example, you’d be within your legal rights to reject breaking up all the concrete in the backyard and replacing it with grass so that the animal could have a place to play. This would be financially straining for you and unreasonable on the part of your tenant. 

Can You Reject a Tenant with an Emotional Support Animal? 

In short, yes. There are certain situations when you may be exempt from renting to a tenant with an emotional support animal. Those situations are as follows: 

  • Buildings having four units or fewer, and where the owner occupies one of the units

  • Single-family homes that were rented without the use of realtor services. However, there is a limit to how many single-family homes the owner of the home can own. The cap is a maximum of 3 homes 

  • If the animal cannot fit in the home. While this is certainly an extreme, a small home with a fenced-in yard would not have to accept an emotional support animal that’s a horse, for example

  • If the changes required to accommodate the animal place undue hardship for the landlord, as mentioned previously 

  • If the animal causes excessive damage or becomes a threat to neighbors 

  • If the tenant fails to pass the landlord’s screening process. For instance, if the tenant fails to meet the income requirements required by the landlord, as this is not a reflection of the emotional support animal  

Bottom Line

So, back to the question – does a San Diego landlord have to accept an emotional support animal? In most cases, yes, but many factors need to be weighed, as mentioned above. If you still have questions, North County Property Group can help!

As the top property management company in San Diego, we’re experts in all laws and pet policies relating to rental properties. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our services!

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