As a property manager, pet fees and deposits are the best way to protect your property from pet-related damages and unexpected costs. Unfortunately, pet owners have found a convenient loophole using Emotional Support Animal (ESA) letters to help them get out of paying any pet fees.
Emotional Support Animals provide a sense of safety and companionship to individuals suffering from various emotional and psychological conditions. While ESAs are not service animals, according to the ADA, they do receive some of the same rights. As they are not considered pets, owners of ESAs are not required to pay pet fees, pet deposits, or pet rent.
While you can require that your tenants provide documentation for their ESAs, many tenants have found ways to secure fraudulent documentation that can easily be mistaken for the real thing.
What Happens When You Accept Fraudulent ESA Letters?
- Tenants avoid paying any pet fees, leaving you to cover the cost of damage, maintenance, and other pet-related expenses associated with your property.
- Pet-owning tenants tend to rent much longer, costing you the opportunity to obtain pet rent and fees from future rule-abiding tenants for an extended period of time.
- Tenants who pay the fees outlined in your pet policy can become disgruntled by the amount of untrained and poorly behaved imposter ESAs on your property.
- Without getting a deposit upfront, it can be much more challenging for you to recoup any repair costs from a tenant that has already vacated your rental.
The Cost of Verifying ESA Letters Yourself
Verifying each ESA letter for authenticity is necessary to prevent fraud, but the process itself can be very challenging and time-consuming. You'll either need to do it yourself or spend the time training a member of your team on the many steps required to confirm that the letters are legitimate.
- Confirm that the letter is certified and is on the professional letterhead of a mental health professional.
- Check that the letter includes the health professional's contact information, email address, phone number, and license number.
- Verify the validity of the license number and that the licensed mental health professional that issued the letter is licensed in the state you're renting in. This can be confirmed on your state's license verification portal.
- Verify that the ESA letter was awarded after a mental health screening.
- Check the date of the letter.
What Are The Consequences if Your ESA Verification Process is Not Done Correctly?
HIPAA or Fair Housing Act Violations
While it is your right as a landlord to verify an ESA letter, it is a delicate subject. You need to be very cautious in how you handle the situation as certain questions, actions, or requests can be in direct violation of the Fair Housing Act or HIPAA privacy laws.
Loss of Pet Fees
As the verification process can be stressful, risky, and time-consuming, you may be inclined to approve all ESAs. Unfortunately, this means losing out on pet fees and deposits that you're entitled to.
If you deny a valid ESA letter under the suspicion of fraud, you can face costly legal action.
Poorly Behaved Animals on Your Property
Approving fake letters runs the risk of inviting poorly behaved ESAs and untrained animals onto your property. As you won't have the pet fees or deposits to cover any damage, accidents, or incidents caused by the animal, these issues can be costly.
Neighboring tenants that are surrounded by poorly behaved emotional support animals can become disgruntled by the level of noise and messes in the common areas. This leads to more complaints and pet waste management issues for you and your staff to deal with.
Advantages of Using a 3rd Party ESA Verification Process for Liability
OurPetPolicy offers a thorough ESA verification process that is designed to protect property managers from fraudulent ESAs.
- As an experienced and knowledgeable 3rd party service, we can reduce the risk of legal complications from accidental HIPAA or FHA violations.
- We assume all liability regarding the verification of ESA letters, including the denial of fake letters and the approval or legitimate ones.
- We will ensure that your legitimate ESAs and Service Animals receive reasonable accommodations.
- We help reduce costs by saving on the time and training required for ESA verification.
- We help ensure that you're renting to tenants who pay their pet fees, increasing the funds you have to cover pet-related maintenance and repairs to your property.
- Increase the amount of time you have to handle other property management activities.
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