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Can landlords refuse to accommodate emotional support pets?

On Behalf of | Jul 5, 2022 | Real Estate Litigation

In recent years, there has been a lot of confusion about the blurry line between emotional support animals and actual service animals. Emotional support animals are often pets with very little, if any, formal training. On the other hand, service animals receive months, if not years, of professional training so that they can perform specific medical functions in public and private settings alike.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has always required that landlords accommodate service animals that perform medical functions, but emotional support animals were a gray area. California lawmakers recently changed that. They enacted a law that gives anyone with an emotional support animal the right to rental accommodations.

Does that mean that your tenants can now all have their own pets?

There are rules that apply to emotional support animals

Emotional support animal certificates or letters are available for purchase online for just a few dollars. Many tenants who want to get a pet of their own while subject to lease restrictions including pet rent and deposits or those who want to rent a unit in a building that is typically animal-free may purchase some questionable certificate online. The prevalence of bad-faith actors in the emotional support animal market should give you an idea of how questionable some of these certificates or letters may be.

A tenant asking you to accommodate an emotional support animal should have a letter from a California-licensed mental health professional. The professional needs to have maintained that relationship for at least 30 days before writing the letter and have proof of adequate clinical documentation to support their claim that the tenant requires an emotional support animal.

However, before you take any action, investigation is crucial. A mistake in judgment on your part could violate a tenant’s or prospective tenant’s rights.

Disability accommodations can be a tricky area of real estate law

Landlords often have a hard time making sense of their obligations to tenants under both federal and California state statutes. Given how the laws are constantly in flux and how violations of certain laws could lead to financial penalties, it is crucial that you ensure compliance with anti-discrimination and accommodation laws when making property decisions.

Getting accurate legal advice when handling a complex real estate matter can help you protect your property and minimize disputes with your tenants.