A hot topic lately with most landlords and real estate investors is pets and how they differ from emotional support animals. One of the problems we frequently see is tenants who claim that they have an emotional support animal when 95 percent of the time, it’s really just a pet being disguised as an emotional support animal.

The laws being what they are these days, many tenants have discovered the loophole and figured out that they can call their pets emotional support animals to ensure they can move into the property without paying a pet fee or a pet deposit. Unfortunately, anyone can go online and get all the information and documentation they need to claim a support animal for less than $100.

Support Animals and Pets: Know the Difference

Some tenants, however, do legitimately need an emotional support animal and they’re entitled to have one. It’s important to know the difference between an emotional support animal and a pet.

The law requires that you make reasonable accommodations for people who have disabilities. That includes an emotional disability that requires the help and support of an animal. To stay compliant with the law, you must allow the tenant to have the emotional support animal when they can provide the necessary paperwork.

The law does not see service and support animals as pets. They see them as accommodations. You have to act similarly to what you’d do if your tenant needed a wheelchair. You cannot stop a tenant from using a wheelchair in your rental home, and you cannot stop a tenant from having an emotional support animal, even if you don’t allow pets in the property.

You also cannot charge an additional deposit or pet rent or any extra pet fees for the service or support animal. When a tenant moves in with a pet, you can charge additional pet rent, additional security deposits, and pet fees. You cannot do this with a support animal.

Be very careful navigating this law, as you can wind up in litigation if you make a mistake. You must know the difference.

Watch for Damages Caused by Support Animals

You are not permitted to ask the prospective tenant what kind of emotional problems he or she has. You cannot ask why they need the emotional support animal. You can, however, ask what the emotional support animal does.

Watch for Damages Caused by Support AnimalsUpon move out, if there is damage from the emotional support animal, such as urine in the carpet, you can charge the security deposit for the cost of cleaning and repair. If the amount that is spent exceeds the amount of the tenant’s security deposit, you would take the same collection actions that you would with any other tenant who owes you money.

We know that this particular issue can be complex and confusing. You want to follow the law, but you don’t want tenants taking advantage of the law. We can help you, so please contact us at SunWorld Group Property Management for assistance. We’d love to be your Vancouver property management resource.