How can I verify an ESA letter: Landlord Rights and Tenants
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It’s possible that as a landlord or other housing provider, you’ve gotten a request from a tenant asking to have an emotional support animal live with them (ESA). Housing providers seek to ensure the request is legitimate while complying with their Fair Housing legal requirements to accommodate tenants with ESAs. Housing providers must be cautious to respect the HUD’s (U.S. Department of Housing) rules governing renter privacy simultaneously.
We will examine how housing providers can confirm a tenant’s ESA request while complying with HUD regulations. This article will also be helpful to tenants who want to know the restrictions on what a landlord can demand of them about their emotional support animal.
What can I ask a tenant to prove they really need an ESA?
An emotional support animal falls under the umbrella of service animals under the Federal Laws of Fair Housing regulations. With some exceptions, landlords are required to allow assistance animals in buildings that forbid pets. In addition, no fees or deposits may be imposed by housing providers on assistance animals.
Service dogs and emotional support animals are two different kinds of assistance animals. In the case of service animals, the landlord is not allowed to raise any questions if it is clear from the outset that the dog has been trained to carry out work or perform activities for a tenant with a disability. For example: when a dog is seen pushing a wheelchair or guiding a person who is blind, for instance, it is evident that the animal is a service dog, and the landlord is required to let the dog inside the house.
However, the function of the service animal is only sometimes apparent. In these circumstances, the landlord may pose the following two queries:
- Is disability a reason for an animal?
- What job or job functions has the animal been taught or trained to carry out?
The landlord is prohibited from inquiring further about the nature of the tenant’s disability or requesting supporting evidence if the tenant can respond to these inquiries appropriately.
According to the Federal Housing Legislation, the animal might be an emotional support animal if the response to either question is no.
What type of documentation is valid for an emotional support animal?
The Fair Housing Act permits landlords to ask for a letter of recommendation from a licensed healthcare professional as evidence of the necessity for an emotional support animal. Many qualified professionals with knowledge of the tenant’s mental health may submit an ESA letter. According to HUD, specific examples include:
- physician’s assistants
- nurse practitioners
- social workers
- licensed counsellors and therapists
Sometimes items like ESA registrations, certificates from non-healthcare professionals, ID cards, badges, and other accessories are given to housing providers. Landlords should know that these items alone are insufficient to prove a tenant’s need for an ESA. They are thus free to request additional documents from the tenant’s medical professional.
How can I further verify that a tenant’s ESA letter is genuine?
When a tenant presents a housing provider with an ESA letter, the provider might question what kind of verification they can complete to ensure the letter is genuine. The housing provider should confirm that the ESA letter is signed by a licensed healthcare professional. In the majority of the ESA letters, only the therapist’s name, phone number, and license number of the therapist are often included.
To check whether the therapist is licensed, you can check the license number on the relevant state’s website for licensed professionals to see if the therapist has a current license. This website will help you know whether the therapist is actively licensed. Documents not supplied by a registered professional should raise red flags for housing providers.
What can’t I ask regarding a tenant’s emotional support animal?
Landlords need to be careful while dealing with tenants who ask for accommodations for their ESAs to avoid infringing upon their right to privacy. According to HUD guidance, landlords are not permitted to demand that tenants disclose information about their diagnosis or the extent of their disabilities.
However, some landlords make the mistake of rejecting an ESA letter because they believe the tenant’s need for their emotional support animal is not explained correctly. According to the Fair Housing laws and ethical requirements of confidentiality, therapists are prohibited from sharing too much information about a client’s illness. It can result in purposeful omission on their part.
If the landlord is still in doubt, then the landlord can contact the therapist by taking the tenant’s permission. If the landlord reaches the therapist, they must make sure that they do not inquire about the tenant’s condition or medical background in a way that is contrary to HUD’s regulations. Typically, this entails keeping the conversation to simple affirmative questions, like whether the therapist wrote the letter on behalf of the tenant. A duty of confidentiality also binds the medical practitioner, so in any case, they would not be able to divulge any more information than what is in the letter.
If the tenant has presented an ESA letter, can I ask for additional proof?
Housing providers must exercise caution when asking for extra documents from tenants who have presented a valid ESA letter for an apartment. Housing providers cannot request records like certifications, registrations, or ID cards because they do not have any legal weight and cannot be used to certify an emotional support animal, as mentioned above, officially.
Many landlords also tried to validate an ESA request in the past by having renters complete additional paperwork and provide various attestations. Recent HUD guidelines prohibit housing providers from requiring a health care professional to use a particular form, provide notarized statements, make statements under penalty of accusation, or provide an individual’s diagnosis or other specific information about their physical or mental impairments to stop these practices.
Asking for an ESA letter from a qualified mental health professional is the landlord’s primary method of verifying a tenant’s request for an emotional support animal. When it comes to an ESA, a landlord doesn’t have to depend on the tenant’s word or a dubious registration number or ID card. According to Fair Housing Laws, a landlord can confirm a tenant’s ESA request with written confirmation in the form of an ESA letter verified from the qualified healthcare provider. However, when making additional inquiries and requests, landlords should proceed cautiously and ensure their activities comply with their Fair Housing requirements.
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