Pets, Service Animals, and ESAs Oh My!
Whenever anything is good, there's got to be that one person that ruins it for everyone. The big one in property management deals with animals. The classification of these varies dependent on the category in which the animal falls:
1.) Pets. Just as you would think. An animal that lives with you in or on your property that is not wildlife.
2.) Emotional Support Animal (ESA). This animal exists solely as a companion for the tenant. The animal does not do anything but provide emotional support, simply by being there physically. They have no specific training or skills, but we certainly hope they are housebroken. ESAs can even be pit bulls who help soldiers returning from war cope with the effects of PTSD. So they can absolutely be a legitimate necessity for people.
3.) Service Animals. Generally canine in nature, these are your animals that have an actual function or job. This could be a seeing eye dog for the blind, a dog that is trained to detect the onset of diabetic complications, or a dog that can predict seizures and can dial 911. Seriously, animals are incredible and amazing.
NC State Law allows managers and landlords to charge a "reasonable" pet fee that is non-refundable, purely for the privilege of having a PET on the premises. In addition, a tenant could be charged a monthly "pet rent" on top of that fee. The current pet fee at The Key Group is $250.00 per pet with a maximum of two pets per household. Not all properties allow pets, and some are governed by insurance or HOA guidelines.
Federal and State Laws prohibit a manager or landlord from charging a fee for either ESAs or Service Animals as they can be both instrumental and necessary in the day to day life of their human counterpart. Still, a landlord or manager may charge the cost of reparations on any damages created by either an ESA or Service Animal back to the tenant, if any.
As a landlord or manager, there are only 2 questions you can ask a tenant as it pertains to an ESA or Service Animal:
1.) Is the animal trained to perform any jobs?
2.) What jobs does the animal perform?
The reason behind this is to ensure the privacy of the human is protected. Asking just about anything else could cause the prospective tenant to feel the need to disclose private and confidential information about their condition, which is their right under Federal Law to keep private. Now, if the prospective tenant offers up this information, that is their right as well. Just as long as the landlord or manager were not asking questions to elicit this information.
It is for that same protection that we run into problems. Where people claim they have an ESA, simply to get out of paying a pet fee, because they know managers and landlords automatically put up their hands in surrender once they hear that. People will even go as far as purchasing fake credentials from the Internet to "prove" their animal is what they say it is. But, to be fair, you can never judge a person's emotional state. As previously mentioned, service members with PTSD may be the epitome of fitness on the outside, but may still be fighting a war in their heads and you'd never know it on a regular day. So it's always better to assume the best in people in this instance, rather than the worst.