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 fees or additional security deposit.
So, as a landlord or apartment building owner, what else should you do if you get an accommodation request or encounter a situation in which you are unsure if an animal is a service or emotional support animal? Under the Fair Housing Act, denying housing to a person because they have a service or emotional support animal, or prohibiting the service animal in the residence, is illegal. Additionally, dog age or breed restrictions cannot apply in the case of service or emotional support animals. Landlords also cannot evict a tenant because they acquired an emotional support animal. However, tenants are responsible for any damage the emotional support animal causes to the property.
Contrary to popular belief, service animals are not required to wear specific vests, identification tags, or harnesses identifying them as such, and these accessories would not constitute sufficient documentation. The tenant must; however, provide documentation from a mental health professional that their animal provides support of their disability. Landlords have the right to verify that the letter is authentic and from a licensed professional by checking that the letter includes the professional’s contact information and license information, then checking the validity of the license. They are also allowed to request a Reasonable Accommodation Form, which would be filled out by the professional. Landlords should not contact the professional directly, as that would be a violation of the patient’s privacy rights under the Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Fair Housing Act. Other documentation that landlords are permitted to ask for includes identification of the service animal and copies of the animal’s medical records to ensure they are in good health and do not pose a threat to other tenants.
However, there are some things landlords are never permitted to ask for. Landlords are not allowed to inquire about the specific disability a tenant has (such as asking questions like “How severe is your disability?” or “Do you take medication?”) or ask to see the tenant’s medical records, ask for a service animal’s official certification. These actions could be considered discrimination and in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
There are a few exceptions in which a service animal or emotional support animal can be denied. This includes buildings with 4 or fewer units where the landlord occupies one of the units, single-family housing sold or rented without a real estate broker, hotels and motels, and private clubs. , if the animal itself is illegal, poses an immediate threat to the health or safety of other tenants, or is too big for the residence to be reasonably accommodated, service or emotional support animals can also be denied.
While service animals and emotional support animals are extremely valuable and help people with disabilities, you need to know your rights and your tenant’s rights under the Fair Housing Act. As a landlord, it is your responsibility to treat tenants with respect and trust when getting an accommodation request.
 Ari Chazanas is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Lotus West Properties. Lotus West Properties is a property management firm based in West Los Angeles and was recently voted the “Southland’s Best New Property Management Firm” by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. You can reach them at (323) 380-2783 or contact Byron at byron@lotusproperties.com.
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