Emotional support animals are different from pets. If you don’t know this, it’s important that you understand the difference. The laws around emotional support animals have recently changed, and we want to talk about it with anyone who owns a Reno rental property and may have a resident who claims to need such an animal.
Nationally, this is a big thing, especially in the property management industry. We are providing some local expertise today, which can help you avoid making an expensive mistake that may result in a discrimination lawsuit.
Defining Emotional Support Animals
The million dollar question that has been brewing for the last five years is: how do we define and identify an emotional support animal? The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at the federal level has only released ambiguous statements on emotional support animals. They have been overly cautious about clearly defining it and then getting caught up on something. So, we don’t really have a blanket policy that we can use, and it’s been causing more problems than solutions over the last few years as more and more people want to live in properties with their support animals.
Pets versus Support Animals
Pet are not always the most welcome residents in a rental property. Lots of investors prefer not to allow pets because they worry about the potential for damage and the replacement costs that can really be scary. We have all heard horror stories about the damage that a large dog has done or the smell of cat urine that can never be completely eradicated.
Not all investors are worried about pets. There are a lot of really good pet owners out there who rent responsibly. Now, when investors are making decisions about whether to allow pets or not allow pets, they have no choice in the matter of service animals and emotional support animals.
People who need a support animal must have paperwork and documentation to back it up. When this is eagerly provided and everything checks out, there’s not much you have to do. But, some people abuse the system and try to turn their pets into emotional support animals so they can avoid things like pet fees or pet rent.
This makes working within the federal rules and regulations so difficult.
Mynd Uses Petscreening.com to Verify Support Animals
At the end of the day, every landlord and investor and property manager has to follow the HUD guidelines, which were recently updated a month or two ago. There’s more structure to the policy now, but it’s still easy to misrepresent your position on pets and service or support animals. You can get into a lot of trouble if you’re suspected of discriminating against residents who need an emotional support animal.
At Mynd, we use a third part service which keeps us very much above the legal dangers involved in emotional support animals.
We work with Petscreening.com, which is a great service for Reno investment property owners. The company is comprised of a panel of attorneys who vet the medical professionals who are issuing the documentation residents provide. These days, people can buy certificates online to bypass the need for medical documentation. We want to avoid that and make sure the residents are complying with their own requirements.
The screening service is very professional. They call the doctor or medical professional who signed off on the certificate and verify that the patient (who is our resident or prospective resident) needs the prescribed pet for the specific listed reasons. We want to make sure that letter came from the doctor’s office. They are usually happy to verify it when they’re legitimate medical professionals.
Companies like this are at no cost to our landlords. It’s a free service we offer at Mynd, and we pay for it by asking the residents to pay a screening fee for their emotional support animal. We disclose the fee upfront. Whatever the outcome, you will be protected.
This is a true form of leverage. If you own or manage a property, you don’t want to be the person who has to stay up to date on all the laws and protections. When there’s a professional property manager or an attorney-led screening service who can take care of these things for you, it’s much easier to rent out your property.
Basically, Petscreening.com is doing a background check on the animal. They’re verifying that it’s an emotional support animal and they’re following all the regulations that are legally required.
This area of the law and the property management industry is still fairly new. You need to understand the difference between therapy animals, service animals, and emotional support animals. As a rental property owner, you can’t say you won’t take these animals. Laws protect both the animal and the owner.
Don’t get on the wrong side of this issue. Be transparent and document everything. You don’t want to find yourself on the opposing end of a HUD complaint, which starts at around $10,000 per violation
If you have any questions about emotional support animals or anything pertaining to your Reno rental property, please contact us at Mynd Property Management. We love talking to investors about all things pertaining to real estate.
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.