Steve Rozenberg is the VP of Investor Education with Mynd Property Management, and he asked Brandon Graham, the Portfolio Manager of Phoenix Operations with Mynd to talk about some of the common issues and challenges that face Phoenix real estate investors and landlords.

Today, the topic of discussion is one that’s coming up a lot lately. Emotional support animals are growing more common. As a real estate investor, you need to pay attention because it has an impact on how you rent your property and who gets to move in.

With emotional support animals, there have been a lot of laws and regulations, and there have also been a lot of people who are taking advantage of this. If someone has a pet and wants to avoid paying pet rent or a pet fee, calling that pet an emotional support animal seems like a good way to save some money. It can also work in a tenant’s favor if they want to move into a no-pet property. The law doesn’t see emotional support animals as pets.

There are a few requirements for how you handle these animals, and today we’re talking in general terms about what you can and cannot do. Remember that things change quickly with laws and best practices, so stay in touch with your Phoenix property management company, or keep yourself educated on the law.

Emotional Support Animals and Medical Documentation

Emotional support animals meet a specific need for the people who own them. As a landlord, it is perfectly acceptable for you to ask for documentation that proves an animal is necessary for emotional support. You cannot deny a tenant with an emotional support animal, even if you have a policy of not accepting pets into your properties. So, protect yourself and your investment by asking to see documentation that proves it’s an emotional support animal and not a pet.

You cannot aggressively ask a tenant what’s wrong with them or why they need the animal. But, you can ask to see documentation from a medical provider that states what type of animal is being used as an emotional support animal, and what the purpose of the animal is.

This isn’t a violation of your prospective tenant’s rights, and it doesn’t violate any HIPPA rules. You’re not digging into the tenant’s medical history or asking them to prove a diagnosis or an illness. Your focus is on the animal, and the documentation you’re collecting will establish the role that the animal plays in your tenant’s life.

Beware of the certificates that can easily be printed from a website. You are entitled to get verifiable and authoritative documentation from a medical doctor or healthcare practitioner.

Avoid Legal Issues with Documented Policies

We always say to trust but verify. If a tenant shows up claiming to have an emotional support animal, take the steps you can take to document the animal and the need for it. Make sure you have a policy in place that addresses how you handle emotional support animals. This should be separate from your pet policy since the law does not see these animals as pets.

Check out the full fair housing verbiage on emotional support animals if you’re not sure about what you should include in your policy. It’s not uncommon to have applicants and even current tenants who want to bring emotional support animals into your property. If you haven’t run into the situation already, it’s going to happen eventually.

Protecting your tenant’s rights is important. You also want to protect the condition of your property and your business model. So, handle these things correctly. There have always been pets and there have always been service animals. Now, there are new classes of accommodations that must be made such as emotional support animals and therapy animals. You have to know the difference between all of these things and if you don’t, get in touch with a Phoenix property management company so you don’t end up violating the law.

Emotional Support Animals and Deposits

When you allow tenants to move in with pets, you might charge a monthly pet rent. However, you cannot charge that pet rent for an emotional support animal. You also cannot charge a specific pet fee or pet deposit. Remember – the law does not see the animal as a pet.

You can still collect a security deposit that’s large enough to cover any potential damage that the animal may do while in your property. A higher security deposit isn’t a separate pet deposit; it’s what your tenant must pay before moving in to protect your investment. From a legal standpoint, you don’t have a pet moving in. Don’t charge pet rent and don’t charge a pet fee. Stick to the security deposit and make sure it’s at least the equivalent of one month’s rent.

Conduct a background check on the animal by asking for documentation. It’s fair to give the appropriate medical authority a call to verify the information you have is correct and legitimate. Part of your policy and procedure manual must address emotional support animals so there is clear documentation available that describes how you operate in such a situation.

As with everything in the Phoenix real estate market, the policy and law on tenants with disabilities is ever evolving. Things change, and it’s important to keep up. Always be compliant and make sure you’re not violating the rights of your residents.

This is what we do here. We watch federal, state, and local laws carefully. We draft policies that protect our owners. If you would like some help with Phoenix property management, don’t hesitate to contact us at Mynd Property Management.

You can also visit our Facebook group of investors, which is called Master Mynd. It’s a real estate investors’ club, where you can exchange ideas with other owners. Check out our weekly podcast as well, called The Myndful Investor. We invite leaders in real estate and property management to talk about their success and, more importantly, their failures. There’s a lot to learn from this relatable content.