Emotional support animals and service animals are two very different concepts. For investors, knowing the difference can either cost or save a lot of time and money. Our guest today is Celeste Robertson, Portfolio Manager for Las Vegas with Mynd Property Management. Celeste is here to help explain what it means, from an investor’s perspective, to have a tenant with an emotional support animal and how investors and property managers should approach such a scenario.
Steve Rozenberg: Hey, everyone. This is Steve with Mynd Property Management and I am here today with my good friend, Celeste Robertson, who is the Portfolio Manager of the Las Vegas division of Mynd. Celeste, thanks for joining me today. I appreciate it.
Celeste Robertson: Thank you for having me.
Steve Rozenberg: So, what I want to talk about today is something that's obviously becoming a bigger challenge in the landlord industry when you own a property, and that is an emotional support animal, which is obviously a little bit different than a therapy animal or service animal. They've all got their own categories.What is your experience on what you should know about an ESA, an emotional support animal, and if I'm an investor and somebody has one, what are some things that I need to know about?
Emotional Support Animals—Occupants or Pets?
Celeste Robertson: The most important thing with an emotional support animal is you cannot look at them as an animal or a pet. Your simplest way to protect yourself is, that's an occupant with a collar.
Steve Rozenberg: Absolutely, yeah. Now, what type of things would you say like, because there is certain documentation, now there are certain things you cannot ask someone when it comes to emotional support animals, but there's certain things that you can get information-wise to verify that it actually is a legal emotional support animal. What are some things that you can't ask—and I don't know if you know this—and what are some things that you should be asking about as far as documentation?
Celeste Robertson: Well, first of all, you can't ask them “what is it for?” Like, “why do you have it?” That's a privacy issue. You can't go there. But what you can do is get a letter of verification from their caretaker. Now, that does not mean that has to be a medical doctor or psychiatrist. This is somebody that is their caretaker, that is going to support the fact that they need this.
Are there Laws or Limits?
Steve Rozenberg: And is there a size or type of animal limitation on what is considered an emotional support animal in Las Vegas?
Celeste Robertson: Well, you're going to get into something where you're going to have, let's say someone comes in and goes, “I’ve got a little Shetland pony that’s mine,” you're going to have to go with the regulations of the county and the city that they're going to be in, if you can have it or cannot have it.
Steve Rozenberg: So if the city says, “hey, you cannot have a horse in this subdivision,” does that come back on you as the owner or is that more of the city now is taking on that challenge?
Celeste Robertson: That would be more of the city that's going to be taking on that challenge.
Steve Rozenberg: But you would direct them and say, “hey, we’ll take you. This is a city challenge, now, that you have.”
Celeste Robertson: I have not, myself, come across that. You're still seeing here, in Las Vegas, cats and dogs. I haven't had anything actually super weird yet.
Steve Rozenberg: Not a ferret or a lizard or something along those lines, huh?
Celeste Robertson: Not yet. But you've seen situations where you’ve got peacocks walking through airports and things like that. But, we haven't seen anything too spectacular here in Vegas in the properties.
Steve Rozenberg: Which, with Vegas, I'm shocked because Vegas is all about show. I would have thought it'd be the biggest, baddest ESA that exists is what they would want to have.
What Can You Do?
Steve Rozenberg: So, let me ask you this. When it comes to people having one, as far as the lease goes, can you enlighten us a little bit on what you can and cannot charge—deposit, no deposit, damage to the property. How do you factor that in?
Celeste Robertson: Again, you have to say, “this is an occupant when a collar.” So, you cannot charge pet rent. You cannot charge a pet deposit, pet fees, anything like that as long as it has been verified. But they are still responsible for the damage, just like an occupant would be responsible for the damage that's done to the property.
Steve Rozenberg: Okay. Yeah. And, from my past experience, we tell an owner just like you said, this is treated just like a human being. From the legalese perspective, this is a human. You can't charge a pet fee or pet deposit or anything like that. If there's damage, it’s just like anything else.But we've had several owners say, “well, I'm not taking the pet.” And we tell them, “I hate to tell you this, but you're going to have a very big legal challenge on your hands if you go down this path,” because this is, in the eyes of the law, an emotional support animal. This is not considered just a regular dog or regular cat. And you really don't have a choice, unless you're willing to go to court and do a very big battle, which you probably won't win because it's a protected class, essentially. Is that the same in Las Vegas?
Celeste Robertson: Yes, yes it is. Owners or investors will say, “hey, no pets.” So, we could put no pets, but if you're going to come across an ESA or service animal, there is going to be no approval or non-approval. So, it's going to have to be accepted. And that's as long as the applicant meets all the application criteria.
Steve Rozenberg: Great. Well, Celeste, if somebody wanted to talk to you more about managing in Las Vegas over at Mynd, how would they do that?
Celeste Robertson: I think reach out via the telephone at 833-MYND.
Steve Rozenberg: Okay, great. And if you want to find us on the internet, you can go to mynd.co. So, it's M-Y-N-D.co. We also have a podcast show, The Myndful Investor podcast show on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, wherever else shows are played nowadays. And, also, you can go on our Facebook group, the MasterMynd Real Estate Investor Club on Facebook. A lot of investors on there talking, chatting, and conversing.And feel free to join in and see what we have. And we will talk to you later. This is Steve and Celeste. We'll talk to you then. Bye-bye.
Having an emotional support animal is quite different from having a pet. This is especially true from an investor or property manager’s perspective. Tenants with emotional support animals are, in many cities or jurisdictions, offered certain rights to which investors or property managers must abide. Therefore, it is very important for anyone acting as a landlord to remain mindful of any changing laws or ordinances.
For example, it may seem obvious that, as the tenant has an animal, the tenant can be charged a pet fee. This is not necessarily the case. As such, it is always best to keep up-to-date on any laws or ordinances that may govern the tenant-landlord relationship. Likewise, with any tenant or property, the lease agreement should dictate what is and what is not allowed. Knowing what rights you have, as an investor, is paramount. While a tenant may be allowed to have an emotional support animal, there are certain responsibilities and liabilities that can ultimately be spelled out in the lease agreement. This can save any investor or manager a tremendous amount of time and money, in the long run.