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Many rental tenants have and pay fees for having pets; however, new changes to federal law have the potential to change this fact completely. We are speaking today with Enrique Jevons, Regional Director with Mynd for the Pacific Northwest, about emotional support animals and how changing laws can affect how landlords can charge tenants for keeping an animal in a rental property.
Steve Rozenberg: Hey, everyone. My name is Steve Rozenberg and I’m the Vice-President of Investor Education here at Mynd Property Management and I’m joined here with my good friend, Enrique Jevons, who is the Regional Director for the Pacific Northwest area. Enrique, thanks so much for joining me today. I appreciate it, buddy.
Enrique Jevons: Yeah, it’s good to see you again, Steve. Thanks. Good to see you.
Steve Rozenberg: So let’s talk about emotional support animals. I know this is something that’s been popping up. It’s getting more and more prevalent and it can be some choppy waters if you don’t know what you’re doing. And I know in the Seattle area, Pacific Northwest, it’s definitely something that’s on the radar. If somebody has an emotional support animal, what are some of the rules and regulations that I need to know about as an investor when I have a tenant that has this?
Enrique Jevons: Yeah, so with the emotional support animals, it’s one of these really well-intentioned laws that unfortunately is being grossly taken advantage of. So essentially, you’ve got three different classifications going on. There are pets. Pets you can prohibit and you can charge pet rents depending on the particular city. They might have restrictions against pet rent. But in general, pet rents are allowed. Pet deposits are allowed, in general, unless a particular city ordinance that prohibits it. But the second classification is service animals.
Now service animals are something we’ve all grown up with. It’s an animal, typically a dog, that has been trained for a very specific function in order to aid someone with a disability. Of course, the blind dog is probably the most obvious, but then there’s also dogs that have been trained to, for example, their sense of smell can alert an individual who has diabetes if their blood sugar level is going low. So that’s another example of a service animal. So that’s a trained animal. Service animals are allowed to go anywhere. There are no restrictions.
So service animals can go to a restaurant. It can go to a grocery store. It can, of course, stay with you in a home. You’re not allowed to either charge pet rent, pet deposit, any monetary fees whatsoever. You cannot charge in relationship to a service animal. if they damage the home, yes, you can charge them for damage. If that animal is biting, acting aggressively, yes, you can then impose your restrictions on your lease against an animal, even though it’s a service animal because the individual must still maintain control of that animal.
But, and then the third classification now is the emotional support animal. So the emotional support animal is federally now protected. So it is nationwide and it is protected in regards to housing. So an emotional support animal, you still are not allowed to bring into a restaurant, although, unfortunately, a lot of people do. I’m starting to see their hand-carried-around little poodles in Home Depot and other locations. While those are emotional support animals, technically that’s up to the commercial establishment, whether or not they want to allow emotional support animals. But there’s no law that says they do; however, there is a law—HUD—that requires housing providers to permit emotional support animals.
So with emotional support animals, they don’t have to be trained on anything, which means they don’t even have to be a specific animal. So it can be a parrot, a snake, kangaroo, dog, cat, whatever because it does not have to be trained it all. The only requirement is that a medical professional writes a letter stating that you may benefit from having an emotional support animal. Well, how easy is that? I mean, that’s obviously super easy, to go to any kind of medical professional and say, “you know what I
I’m not feeling it. I need, I need something…”
Steve Rozenberg: “…I need this parakeet to walk me off the ledge…”
Enrique Jevons: “…otherwise, I get lonely. And so, that person just says, “well, I believe that this person may benefit from having parakeets.” So it’s a really tough one. Now I have, of course, spoken with lots of landlords who say, “oh, well, this is what I do to get around it.” My recommendation to you is, be very careful. I’ve spoken with my attorney about that asking that very same question. What can I possibly do to get around this. And what he stated to me is, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth the amount of assets that you’ve got. It’s not worth getting into a lawsuit over because, he said, generally speaking, the tenant is always going to win. All they have to do is show the judge a letter from a medical professional that states that they may benefit, those are the key words, they may benefit from having an emotional support animal.
So you cannot charge any kind of fees. You cannot charge deposit. You cannot restrict them. It’s a real problem. So, but I would say, speak to an attorney if you think that you’re going to try and get around it.
Steve Rozenberg: My understanding, as well, is that you cannot ask them what’s wrong with them at all. You can ask for documentation. I just need to see documentation that you have one. And then my suggestion to people is, at that point, I would go to fair housing.gov (https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp) just to make sure that all of your ducks are in a row, that you don’t say the wrong thing, that you ask the right questions. And I think, more importantly, you have got to remember that you’re running a business and you’ve got to remember that you being right does not mean that you’re going to be right, legally. Just because you showed that they didn’t really need that support animal and now you’re in legal trouble is probably not the best way to handle this situation because the law says that they can have it. That’s the law. We’re in the landlord-investor business. It’s the sandbox we’re playing in and you have to respect that.
Enrique Jevons: Yeah, that’s an unfortunate thing because your insurance company is not going to protect you. They’re not going to cover if you get sued for discriminating against somebody who has an emotional support animal. Your insurance company is not going to help you with that one. You’re just going to be hanging out there all by yourself. And you got to realize that just by virtue of having a property. You’ve got assets and there are also people who know this and target, specifically, owners who in their advertisements say no pets in their advertisement. All they have got to do is record themselves. They call up and say, “hey, I’ve got emotional support animal.” And if you say if you answer back, “no, you’re not allowed,” or, “no, you got to pay pet rent,” right there, they’ve got proof that you’re discriminating.
Or if you were to ask them, “well, what do you need the emotional support animal for?” Yes, again, you’re not allowed to ask that question that you can’t say, you know, “are you nutso? Why do you need that parakeet?”
Steve Rozenberg: I get it, I get it. Well, okay. So obviously, you’re the expert. So if somebody wants to know more about emotional support animals, service animals or managing their properties in the Pacific Northwest, how does somebody get ahold of you?
Enrique Jevons: Enrique.firstname.lastname@example.org is the best way by email. So, Enrique.email@example.com. If you don’t know how to spell it, if you type in any variation you Google Search me, you’re going to find me since it’s a unique enough name, which is nice. So do look me up. I’m happy to answer questions like this one and any other.
Steve Rozenberg: And if you want to join us on Facebook, we do have a Facebook group just for investors. It’s called the Mastermynd Real Estate Investment Club. Specifically, for investors. People like Enrique and myself are on there. We’re engaging, conversing. We’d love for you to join. And if you want to go to our website, it’s M-Y-N-D.C-O. I’m Steve Rozenberg. This is Enrico Jevons, I want to thank everyone for watching and we’ll talk to you guys later. Bye-bye.
Enrique Jevons: Thank you. Bye, everybody.
Laws surrounding emotional support animals have changed the rental landscape. As with service animals, tenants can no longer be charged for keeping emotional support animals. And as there is no requirement that an emotional support animal undergo specific training, such animals can be varied and outside of the purview of a rental agreement. Likewise, it is important for landlords to remember that questioning a tenant over the nature of an emotional support animal or their reason for having it is out of the question. As such, it is crucial that property owners and managers remain up-to-date on any changing laws or regulations that may affect the relationship with their tenant or the property, itself.