Archive for the ‘Housing’ Category

Airbnb has exploded in the past few years. These vacation rentals are a favorite for families and singles alike as they offer the comforts of home without the hassle of a hotel lobby. If you’re thinking about traveling with your service dog, you might find yourself wondering if you can stay at an Airbnb with your service dog. 

Peruse the Airbnb website, and you’re bound to find at least one or two homes that pique your interest. If your questions about service dogs are keeping you from booking an Airbnb stay, then continue reading. You may find the answers you’re looking for. 

Airbnb Hosts Allow Service Animals 

Airbnb utilizes a strict “Nondiscrimination Policy” that instructs the hosts to reasonably accommodate reservations with service animals. Service animals are not pets. Therefore, a host must allow a service animal to stay even if their listing states that “no pets” are allowed. Like hotels, Airbnb must follow ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), a federal law that prevents discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities.  In short, service animals are welcome at Airbnb.

How Does Airbnb Define a Service Animal? 

Airbnb places service animals under the umbrella term of “assistance animal.” According to Airbnb, assistance animals include service animals and emotional support animals (ESA) and fall under Airbnb’s Nondiscrimination Policy. It states that a service animal is a dog that receives training to perform a task to help a person with a disability. Some examples of service animal tasks are: 

Helping someone who is vision impaired.  Alerting people who have a hearing impairment.  Assisting someone who has a seizure disorder.  Retrieving items that have fallen.  Helping someone with a neurological or psychiatric illness by preventing destructive actions.  Alerting people with diabetes of dangerous blood sugar levels. 

An emotional support animal, on the other hand, does not receive training to complete a task, but they are part of a person’s medical treatment and provide vital comfort. Whether they qualify as service animals or ESA, all assistance animals can stay at an Airbnb with their handler. 

As stated in Airbnb’s Nondiscrimination Policy legitimate service dogs can stay at Airbnbs. Can an Airbnb Host Deny a Service Animal? 

For the most part, an Airbnb host may not refuse a service animal. A service animal can be denied or removed from the property for the following reasons: 

If an animal is not under the control of its handler, and measures the handler takes are not effective.  If an animal is not housebroken. 

However, if an Airbnb is a shared space and a service animal would create a health hazard to the host or others, Airbnb will not require the host to allow a service animal. Airbnb encourages their hosts to disclose information about shared spaces, health concerns, and service animals within their listing. By doing so, the host provides future guests with enough information to decide what’s best for them. 

If a host must ask to remove a service animal for the above reasons, the guest must receive an offer to stay on the premises without the service animal. Also, due to safety concerns, assistance animals must always have supervision.

 

Can an Airbnb Host Ask for Documentation? 

Documentation isn’t required for a service animal to stay at an Airbnb. However, a host may ask the following two questions: 

What task is the service animal trained to do?  Is the service animal required because of a disability? 

Disclosure of the presence of a service animal isn’t necessary before booking an Airbnb. However, the company encourages guests to communicate their animals’ presence when booking to foster an environment of transparency. In addition, when traveling overseas and staying at an Airbnb with a service animal, it’s vital to check on the service animal laws for that country.

Can an Airbnb Host Ask For Extra Fees? 

An Airbnb host cannot charge pet fees or additional fees because of a service animal’s presence. They are not allowed to charge any fees that pertain to the service animal. When it comes to damages or repairs, any costs incurred should align with any damages or injuries that other guests without a service animal or pet would be held responsible for. 

What Should You Do if You Were Denied a Reservation Because of a Service Animal? 

Airbnb seeks to welcome all people and does not condone any types of discrimination. If a customer feels they’ve experienced discrimination due to their service dog or condition, they can submit a report to the company through a form

The Federal Fair Housing Act does not allow landlords to discriminate based on disability. However, the scenarios surrounding this law may not appear cut and dry; each situation can look different. Therefore it is essential to look at every scenario individually and take action accordingly. 

Seeking a Home with a Service Animal

Let’s go over a common event when landlords accept service animals but still require a pet security deposit.

Typically, a landlord —or their designee—schedules a rental unit showing with a prospective tenant. When the tenant attends the showing, she brings her Golden Retriever with her. She discloses that her dog is trained to monitor her for impending seizures. The landlord happily approves the tenant for the rental. However, the landlord also expects a pet security deposit, to ensure that the unit remains in good condition. The landlord states that they can offer her 20% off the usual pet fee and pet security deposit because her dog is a service dog. 

1. What Does the Federal Fair Housing Act Say?

Does the pet fee and pet security deposit request, even at a discounted rate, violate the Federal Fair Housing Act? 

According to the Federal Fair Housing Act, a landlord discriminates against a disability if the landlord refuses to provide “reasonable accommodation.” This means an individual with a disability should have the same opportunities to live within a rental as a person without a disability. 

Since the service animal performs a specific task required for a disability, the Golden Retriever is more than a pet. The dog is a service animal and a necessity for its owner. Therefore, the pet fee and pet security deposit do not apply to service animals. 

2. How Does a Service Animal Relate to a Person’s Disability?

People often forget that although a service animal is an animal, it’s much more than that. The service animal helps fulfill a specific task that an individual with a disability needs for safety or for daily life. A service animal is a critical medical tool to overcome a disability. To charge an additional fee for the service animal would be like charging an individual for using a cane or a wheelchair—the service dog is a vital “tool” to the owner to overcome the disadvantages of their disability.

Charging a pet security fee or a pet deposit for a service animal is unethical and illegal. 

3. Who Pays for Damages? 

Does this mean that a person with a disability would never need to pay for damages incurred by their service animal?

Of course, they do. No matter how well-trained a service animal is, they’re still animals. Accidents happen. If the rental property sustains damages from a service animal, then the fees would come out of the usual security deposit or need to be paid for by the owner of the service animal. 

A pet security deposit cannot be demanded because of the service animal. Instead, any service animal damages—aside from usual wear and tear—would be treated like any others would. The only difference is that the damage would be classified as done by the owner, not charged as damages done by a pet. 

However, if a service animal owner fails to demonstrably care for their animal—fails to toilet them properly or keep them clean—then the issue can be reported as a situation of animal neglect.

It’s always essential, in any residence, for service animal owners to care for their pets well and respect the rights of others around them. 

4. What If the Landlord Does Not Allow Pets At All?

If a landlord doesn’t allow pets, can a service animal still reside in the rental unit?

Yes! Remember, service animals are more than pets. A legitimate service animal is part of an individual’s treatment and care, they are considered a medical tool to assist in a person’s disability. By law service animals are allowed in residences and most anywhere their handler wants to take them. According to the Animal Legal and Historical Center, landlords may not ask for medical records, a doctor’s note, or prohibit an animal due to species or breed.

Be a Good Service Animal Owner

Each service animal owner is a representative of other owners, so it’s essential to approach disagreements responsibly and respectfully. Prepare yourself beforehand. Gather your documentation and have your questions and answers ready before seeking rental housing or engaging in disputes. 

Most landlords will be aware of service animal laws and readily accommodate them. For others, they may only see animals as pets. These landlords may benefit from a referral to Federal Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Act laws. Service animals are much more than pets—they’re a vital intervention for a disability. 

According to the NAMI, an estimate of 61.5 million Americans (or 1 in 4) suffer from a mental or emotional disability.

For this reason, the use of Emotional Support Animals (ESA) is becoming more prevalent, and many mental health professionals are recommending animals and writing prescriptions as a therapy tool.

As a landlord or property owner, you might ask yourself, what does that mean for me and for my rental units that have “no pets” policies in place?

In this post, we will cover landlord rights when renting to a tenant with an emotional support animal.

Table of Contents The Fair Housing Act (FHA) & Landlords Emotional Support Animal Letters for Housing How Can a Landlord Verify an ESA Letter? ESA Questions a Landlord Has the Right to Ask a Tenant ESA Questions a Landlord Does Not Have the Right to Ask a Tenant What Kind of Animals Do Landlords Have to Allow? How Many Emotional Support Animals Do Landlords Have to Allow? Where is the Emotional Support Animal Allowed? When Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal? What About Insurance for Banned Breeds? When Can a Landlord Evict a Tenant With an ESA? What Fees (If Any) Can a Landlord Charge for an ESA? What Could Happen if a Landlord Denies a Tenant Based on an ESA? The Fair Housing Act (FHA) & Landlords

Under the Fair Housing Act, it is against the law for a property owner or landlord to refuse to house those with a disability.

The housing provider also cannot impose a different application or qualification criteria to those with disabilities. This means the rental fees, sales price, or rental terms or conditions cannot differ from those required by non-disabled persons.

However, the FHA does require written documentation or ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional attesting to the tenant’s need for an Emotional Support Animal. Simply having an ESA registration or vest is not enough to qualify an animal as an ESA.

Emotional Support Animal Letters for Housing

You may or may not have encountered an Emotional Support Animal Letter – these are validation letters from a licensed mental health professional telling you the renter has been prescribed the animal for mental health-related purposes.

This animal is NOT a pet but is there to give the needed therapy the person requires – the emotional support animal or ESA must be responsible for alleviating at least one identified symptoms or effects of an existing disability. This does not mean the animal simply makes the person “feel good.” The ESA must be there for a diagnosable condition such as depression, severe anxiety or phobia.

How Can a Landlord Verify an ESA Letter?

As a landlord, you do have the right to verify that the letter from the therapist is real and from a therapist that is licensed. To do this, you will need to check that the letter is written on the mental health professional’s letterhead, along with their contact information (phone number, email address, practice address).

An ESA Letter should include the professional’s license number, date it was issued, and signature.

If you have any concerns about the validity of the letter, you should NOT contact the mental health professional directly. This could be considered a violation of the patient’s right to privacy.

Questions a Landlord Has the Right to Ask a Tenant That Needs an Emotional Support Animal

As a landlord you have the right to ask your tenant the following questions about their emotional support animal. Remember how you ask is important as well. Here are some tips for speaking with your tenant about their Emotional Support Animal.

Tip 1: Politely speak to the tenant about your concerns.

Let them know you would like to work together to alleviate your concerns. Arguing with the person can make them feel discriminated against and can be used against you should the case go in front of a judge.

Tip 2: Verify the licensed mental health professional’s license number.

You do have the right to verify the mental health professional’s credentials. You can do this by visiting the listed state’s website for the mental health professional’s licensure and entering their license number. You cannot repeatedly call or their LMHP or ask them details about their client’s disability.

Tip 3: Ask tenant for a Reasonable Accommodation Form.

As a landlord, you have the right to ask your tenant for a Reasonable Accommodation Form which would be filled out by the mental health professional that wrote the letter.

Questions a Landlord Does Not Have the Right to Ask a Tenant That Needs an Emotional Support Animal

Remember, you cannot contact the tenant’s therapist directly. There are also limits to the questions you are permitted to ask.

There are several common questions that go against the disabled person’s rights and should not be asked, examples include:

“Do you have a disability and how severe is it?” “How long have you been in therapy?” “What medications (if any) do you take?” “Let me see your medical records?” “Have you ever been hospitalized because of a mental disability?” “Have you ever been in a drug rehabilitation program?” “How many sessions have you had with your therapist?” “Is there anything else at all about your symptoms or diagnosis besides what is provided in this letter?” What Kind of Animals Do Landlords Have to Allow?

Although dogs and cats are the most common animals used for therapy, your tenant has the right to possess just about any animal as an emotional support animal.

However, that does not mean you have to allow a pet tiger or full-grown horse inside your building. Animals that pose a danger to other tenants or causes an undue financial burden to you can be denied.

Remember, that the tenant is always responsible for their animal(s).

How Many Emotional Support Animals Do Landlords Have to Allow?

The tenant is allowed, under Federal law, to have more than one emotional support animal. As long as the therapist has diagnosed these animals to help alleviate at least one of their patient’s symptoms, it is allowed.

The law does not specify the number allowed or not allowed. It would be difficult to argue against 3 dogs, but if you find that having 10 chickens in the apartment is causing a disturbance or an undue financial burden, you may have the right to deny the request.

Where is the Emotional Support Animal Allowed?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has deemed it possible for the tenant to bring their ESA;

“in all areas of the premises where persons are normally allowed to go unless doing so would impose an undue financial and administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider services.”

Generally speaking, this would allow the animal in all common areas of the building and the tenant’s apartment.

However, Emotional Support Animals are not permitted to roam off leash throughout the property and must be in their handler’s control at all times.

When Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal?

This is a tricky situation; however, there are times when the law is in the landlord’s favor. To deny a tenant the Emotional Support Animal, the animal must be:

Causing an administrative, financial, or programmatic repercussion to the premises Causing disturbance to other tenants

If the emotional assistance animal is particularly disruptive, or the tenant fails to take proper measures to ensure that the animal does not bother other tenants, the landlord may be justified in denying the accommodation or ultimately filing for an eviction.

What About Insurance for Banned Breeds?

Some regions are now imposing breed restriction laws. How does this affect the person with a breed restricted ESA?

According to HUD:

However, it’s not as simple as that. The landlord must then substantiate the claim with the insurance company directly. He or she must then see if the insurance company has a policy that has an exception for the assistance animal. If not, then an investigation may be launched against the insurance company itself for potential disability discrimination. We do not recommend denying a tenant’s Emotional Support Animal due to their breed.

When Can a Landlord Evict a Tenant With an Emotional Support Animal?

There may be circumstances that arise when a landlord does have a right to evict a tenant with an ESA. This will be if the person’s emotional support animal is a threat to the safety of the building or the tenants or the presence of the animal is causing an undue burden on the landlord.

What Fees (If Any) Can a Landlord Charge for an Emotional Support Animal?

According to HUD’s handbook for subsidized multifamily programs:

“A housing provider may not require an applicant or tenant to pay a fee or a security deposit as a condition of allowing the applicant or tenant to keep the emotional support animal.” 

However, a landlord can charge fees to repair any damages to a tenant with an Emotional Support Animal. An emotional support animal is not a “get out of jail” free card when it comes to damages caused by the animal. Each tenant is responsible for their animal’s actions and behaviors.

Occupancy Requirements of Subsidized Multifamily Housing Programs, HUD, No. 4350.3, 2-44(E) (2013). 5

“If the emotional support animal causes damage to the housing unit or the common areas of the dwelling, however, the housing provider may charge the cost of repairing the damage.”

What Could Happen if a Landlord Denies a Tenant Based on an Emotional Support Animal

If a tenant believes they have been mistreated due to their ESA, they can file a lawsuit under the Housing and Urban Development Act within one-year of the incident.

HUD will then investigate the complaint at no cost to the disabled individual (the person can also go to the federal district court within two years of the alleged denial).

If the case is substantiated, it will then go to an administrative hearing with HUD attorneys litigating the case.

An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will consider all the evidence from the tenant and the landlord. If the ALJ decides that discrimination occurred, the respondent (landlord) can be ordered:

To compensate the tenant for actual damages, including humiliation, pain, and suffering. To provide injunctive or other equitable relief. To pay the Federal Government a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest. The maximum penalties are $16,000 for a first violation and $70,000 for a third violation within seven years. To pay reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. Know the Law as a Landlord

You do have rights as a landlord; however, it can be tricky. Before you attempt to evict or deny a person with an ESA, you will need to be sure you are in the right, or you could be facing some stiff penalties.