Can You Charge a Pet Deposit for an Emotional Support Animal
No you can’t charge a pet deposit, or any other pet fee for an emotional support animal.
Despite what many landlords believe, emotional support animals are afforded the same protection against pet fees as service animals.
There is no exception under Federal law, as well as the majority of state laws.
The myth that emotional support animals can be treated differently than service animals is based on the fact that emotional support animals, unlike service animals, are not required to perform a specific task.
This understanding is incorrect, and can put you on the end of a losing discrimination lawsuit if you don’t follow the correct procedure.
Emotional Support Animal for Purposes Charging a Pet Deposit or Pet Fee
An emotional support animal is any animal that provides emotional support, well-being or companionship for a tenant with a diagnosed disability.
An emotional support animal is not individually trained, and are not limited to dogs or miniature horses, as required under the ADA.
Side Note: To this day, we have never looked up how miniature horses are trained as service animals. But it would be kind of cool to see one in action. And why does the horse have to be miniature? Sounds like discrimination to us.
But we digress.
How Does a Tenant Obtain an Emotional Support Animal?
Validating an emotion support animal is not as easy as just getting a form from the internet, and this is also a common misconception.
There are some steps the tenant must take in order to verify a bonified need for the animal.
First, the tenant must have a diagnosed mental disease or illness.
Second, a license mental health professional must prescribe the emotional support animal to the tenant as part of the tenant’s therapy.
Third, the therapist then provides an emotional support animal letter to the tenant, and now the tenant is protected under the Fair Housing Act, to a similar extent as a service animal.
If the tenant has gone through all of these steps in the process, the emotional support animal letter now becomes a binding document on the landlord, and as a result, the landlord is forbidden by law to charge pet deposits, pet fees, or pet rent.
If the tenant does not have an emotional support letter from a mental health provider, then the animal is considered a pet, and all the rules for pets in our property apply.
What Fees Can I Charge for an Emotional Support Animal in North Carolina?
Under federal and North Carolina state law, a landlord is not permitted to charge a pet fee, in whatever format, to a tenant who has an emotional support animal.
And don’t try to get crafty and attempt to increase the amount of your security deposit to cover the pet. This is still illegal.
Why Can’t I Charge Fees for an Emotional Support Animal?
Not only is it against the federal law and the state law, but emotional support animals are considered a reasonable accommodation for a tenant who has gone through the appropriate process, and has an emotional support animal.
As a landlord, you are required to follow the law when it comes to charging a pet fee for animals who are properly classified as either emotional support animals, or service animals.
You can, however, charge a fee and pet deposits for therapy animals. Therapy animals, are not protected to the same extent as emotional support animals and service animals when it comes to a pet deposit or a pet fee.
Therapy animals, while they perform some of the same functions as an emotional support animal, do not require a mental health professional’s recommendation, and therefore are not covered under the Fair Housing Act.
What Questions Can I Ask About Whether it is an Emotional Support Animal?
You are limited to the type of questions you may ask.
You can ask if the animal was recommended by a mental health professional. You can then ask for proof of the recommendation.
You cannot, and do not, under any circumstance whatsoever, ask the tenant what condition the emotional support animal is for. It’s not a HIPPA violation as some landlords believe, but it is against the law.
What if the Emotional Support Animal Damages My Property?
In the even the emotional support animal damages your property, you can still charge for the damages, and the tenant is responsible for the repairs.
Just because your tenant is entitled to an emotional support animal, or a service animal, doesn’t mean they get a waiver for the conduct of the animal.
This includes not only damages to your rental property, but also damage to the surrounding area, as well as not picking up after the animal during bathroom breaks.
In other words, aside from not being able to collect pet rent or a pet deposit, the animal and the tenant are held to the same standards as other pets. If the emotional support animal damages your property, charge it against the tenant’s security deposit.
Are There Any Instances Where I Can Deny an Emotional Support Animal?
Yes, there are some exceptions.
Landlords can deny a request for an emotional support animal if:
- The emotional support animal would be a direct threat the safety or health of others.
- Would cause substantial damage to the property of others, and the risk cannot be eliminated or reduced significantly by way of a reasonable accommodation;
- Would present and undue financial and administrative burden on the landlord; or
- Would fundamentally alter the nature of the landlord’s operations.
As you can see, it is a pretty high hurdle to deny an emotional support animal.
While you may try to fit your situation into one of the enumerated reasons for denial, we would strongly caution you against it.
The result of a misstep, is a costly mistake you don’t want to make.
Wrapping Up Charing Pet Fees and Deposits for Emotional Support Animals
Navigating when an animal is an emotional support animal, and as result, you aren’t able to charge a pet fee or pet deposit isn’t as difficult as it may seem.
Issues arise when a landlord, trying to protect their property, makes an misinformed decision, and lands on the losing side of a lawsuit.
Follow the steps we outlined above, and you will make the correct decision.
If you have any questions, or would like help evaluating whether or not an animal is an emotional support animal, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
We are here to help.
The Team at Linchpin Property Management
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As always, information on this website is not intended to constitute legal advice, or the retention of our property management services, and is for general information purposes only.
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