Highly-trained service animals have been part of American culture for decades. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enshrined the right of those with physical and emotional disabilities to work with animals that can help them overcome their condition. Highly-trained dogs can open doors, pick up dropped items or even alert others to a medical emergency that their handler experiences.
Unfortunately, emotional support animals often get lumped in with true service animals. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals require no training. It has become increasingly common for those with untrained pets to try to claim their four-legged friends as emotional support animals as a means of bringing animals to a property they otherwise could not because of the terms required by the landlord or to sidestep animal deposits and reasonable rentals increases.
What can you do if a tenant in a manufactured home community that you own or operate tries to claim that their lease-violating cat is really an emotional service animal?
Request their certifications, and be ready to investigate
Individuals with disabilities do not have to provide their diagnoses with other people. They simply have to provide documentation of a qualifying medical condition and the necessary paperwork for the accommodation that they request.
In the case of emotional support animals, the animals typically will have a certificate or medical letter that validates their use as an emotional support animal and their owner’s need due to a disability. Requesting this from your tenants can be a good starting place to investigate their request for an emotional support animal or a waiver of the fees associated with the pet.
It may only take a few minutes on Google to determine that the letter your tenant produced is the product of a certificate mill. Searching the doctor’s name or contact information can help you potentially find a website where they offer letters for a flat fee without having an existing medical relationship with the pet owner.
Disability accommodations are a complex area of law
If you asked your tenant whether or not they have a disability, they affirm they do and then proceeded to hand you a letter theoretically validating their need for an emotional support animal, you need to tread carefully.
Violations of a disabled person’s rights can come with legal and financial repercussions, to say nothing of the damage it could do to your reputation. Getting advice early in the process and being careful about how you communicate with your tenant will be of the utmost importance.
Owners and operators of manufactured housing communities, especially if they own the individual units and not just the lots, have a vested interest in minimizing the damage that the animals cause to their property. Before you try to stand up for yourself, it’s important to make sure that you do so in compliance with state and federal laws.