Picture this: Your tenant comes to you with a letter stating that they need an ESA in a rental that has a "no pet" policy. Even though they signed a lease accepting the policy, they have the right to bring an ESA into their home.
What does this mean for you as a landlord? Even if your screen your tenants before drawing up the lease, it's possible that their need for an ESA developed over time. You have to provide reasonable accommodation for your tenants.
Continue reading to learn what you need to know about emotional support animal laws as a landlord in Baltimore.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal whose job is to comfort or provide companionship to its owner. This comfort and companionship aids in the emotional and/or psychological issues their owner may be struggling with.
This type of support animal isn't required to obtain any special training. They don't have to be trained to perform certain tasks because their presence is enough to offset the feelings of anxiety and depression in their owners.
While dogs and cats are usually thought of as emotional support animals, they can also be rabbits, mice, birds, or hamsters among others. The ESA must be manageable in public and not cause a nuisance.
What Does the Law Say?
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines don't consider them to be pets because they provide a service to make life easier for individuals with disabilities. As a tenant, pets don't have to be allowed by the landlord. However, Maryland law says that those in need of an ESA cannot be forced to pay unfair "pet" fees because ESAs are not considered pets.
This means that rental properties that do not allow pets have to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals who need to have an emotional support animal with them at all times, even after signing a landlord-tenant agreement.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act prevent tenants from being discriminated against. Refusal to accommodate the tenant's needs violates their basic rights. There are certain exceptions to this rule.
If the ESA poses a risk to other tenants or neighbors, the landlord can refuse to allow it on the premises. If the ESA is likely to cause additional administrative costs, it presents grounds for a refusal by the landlord. If the ESA causes damage to the property, the tenant will have to pay for the repairs.
Does a Tenant Need to Provide Proof?
As a landlord, you can require your tenant to provide proof of disability and a need for an ESA. If the claim is legitimate, a mental health professional will sign off on a diagnosis that requires an ESA. The proof is given by way of an ESA letter or a prescription for the ESA.
Landlords can contact the mental health professional to verify the letter and diagnosis if the tenant consents to it. But, due to patient confidentiality and HIPAA laws, you cannot inquire about the tenant's medical history.
Emotional Support Animal Laws
Landlords must be aware of emotional support animal laws because it's possible that they have (or will have) a tenant who needs an emotional support animal. It's important to remember that you can require your tenant to provide proof that they need their ESA, but it is well within their right to have one in their home.
Contact Home River Group in Baltimore for more information on ESA laws and how to approach the situation.