Here's what you need to know as a landlord about emotional support animals
Pet policies are often a sticky matter for landlords and tenants, and the issue can seem unclear, particularly when it comes to service animals and emotional support animals. As a landlord, it's important to know and understand the law regarding service animals, so you know your rights and responsibilities when a tenant presents with one. Let's take a closer look at the law and Wisconsin-specific regulations that may affect your obligations concerning service animals.
The law and service animals versus emotional support animals
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), only service dogs, miniature horses and monkeys are recognized as service animals — but the ADA covers places of public accommodation only. And it's important to note that only service animals can assist a person with a disability after specialized training. Another assistance animal category is emotional support animals. Those are the animals often at issue for landlords, and knowing the law can save you time and energy when questions arise.
Emotional support animals are determined to therapeutically benefit people with mental or psychiatric disabilities, like individuals with PTSD, depression or other mental health disorders. Emotional support animals require no specific training to assist an individual; they simply serve as companions that support their owner's mental and emotional well-being.
Under Wisconsin law, it is discriminatory for a landlord to refuse to rent to an individual, harass them, evict them or expect extra payment because they have an official service animal. Under Wisconsin's equal rights law, service animals are guide dogs, signal dogs or dogs trained to perform specific tasks for an individual with a disability. Wisconsin law does not specify whether animals that assist with psychiatric abilities are covered, but individuals who qualify for an emotional support animal must have a physical or mental impairment that meets the federal definition of disability. They also must have a record from a doctor or other professional illustrating that the emotional support animal benefits that individual's disability.
Under the federal Fair Housing Act and the ADA, emotional support animals are considered reasonable accommodations. They are to be allowed at rental properties even when there is a no-pet policy in place. The tenant is required to submit a request to keep an emotional support animal, disclosing that they have a disability — though specifics are not required — and that the animal helps support that individual's needs resulting from the disability. The request must also contain official verification from a doctor or other professional about the need for the support animal. The law also allows the landlord to charge a security deposit and seek damages if an emotional support animal causes them. But again, the landlord cannot levy additional pet fees onto the individual. Breed and weight restrictions for the emotional support animal are not allowed.
In certain cases of owner-occupied housing, a landlord may refuse to rent to the individual if they can prove a member of their family has a significant allergy to the animal. Other potential exceptions or accommodation requirements apply in situations where other tenants have significant allergies to the animal or if the animal poses a threat to the safety of others. It's essential to remember the landlord's obligation to provide reasonable accommodation, as failure to do so can result in a discrimination complaint.
Questions about emotional support animals?
Legal matters related to reasonable accommodation can be complex, as can all issues in landlord-tenant law. Having a trusted attorney on your side can help you navigate the confusion. Contact us to learn more about your legal options when it's time to pursue action related to a contentious situation.
By David Pierce, partner at Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC. For questions about landlord-tenant law, call him at 608-784-5678.