What Boston Property Owners Should Know About Lease Agreements and Emotional Support Animals

Updated August 8, 2022

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are becoming a more common resource for people than ever before. When you own and operate Boston rental properties, it's essential to understand how to handle renter requests for ESAs and how they apply to your lease

Do emotional support animals count as pets? Are they the same as service animals? These questions can be tricky without the right insights. In this blog post, we'll discuss what Boston property management companies want you to know about emotional support animals and how to set up the lease agreement to help you be a successful landlord.

Selective focus of excited, curly woman holding jack russell terrier dog, low angle view (R) (S)A Pet, a Service Animal, and an Emotional Support Animal: What's the Difference?

You might have renters that want to keep many types of animals for pets: dogs, cats, rodents, snakes, fish, birds, and others. However, landlords have a legal right to restrict or deny pets for their rental properties—as long as they follow anti-discrimination policies when denying a pet. 

When it comes to denying services animals and emotional support animals, property owners must avoid legal problems. First, let's take a look at the differences between service animals and emotional support animals, including: 

Service Animals

Service animals are trained to perform tasks for people with physical or mental impairment under the Americans with Disabilities Act. For example, they can be trained to guide people who are blind, let a deaf person know a phone is ringing, pull a wheelchair, remind people to take their medicine, and do many other tasks. 

Emotional Support Animals 

In most cases, to be recognized as an emotional support animal (ESA), a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist must authorize the animal. A licensed mental health professional must decide whether the animal's presence is required for the patient's mental health. While service animals are almost always dogs, emotional service animals can vary.

While there are differences between service animals and emotional support animals, neither are considered "pets." Therefore, property owners cannot force these animals and owners to comply with pet policies outlined in the lease or rental agreement. 

Know the Laws About Emotional Support Animals

The primary difference between a service animal and a support animal is that a service animal has the training to perform a function that its owner can't down on their own. Because they provide an essential function, service animals are considered "medical equipment" and can qualify as a reasonable accommodation under the federal Fair Housing Act. Service animals are protected under the ADA and most state laws. Denial of a service animal for a tenant is considered discrimination under federal law. 

In most situations, landlords must allow service and emotional support animals at the request of a renter. However, not every request is legitimate, and property owners must beware of tenants requesting an "emotional support animal" to get around no-pet policies. Work with a Boston property management company to analyze these requests, and work with your lawyer to avoid discrimination violations. 

Lease Contract (R) (S)

Explain the Rules in the Lease Agreement

Whether you allow pets or not, the rules need to be spelled out entirely in the lease agreement. Since ESAs and service animals are not considered pets, landlords are not allowed to charge a pet deposit or monthly pet fees. However, if the animal causes damage while staying in the real estate investment property, it can be appropriate to deduct the tenant's security deposit for this loss.

A landlord can also restrict a tenant from having certain dog breeds in a standard no-pet policy. However, when it comes to service animals and emotional support animals, a landlord is not allowed those same restrictions. Check with a real property management company to ensure that you and your lease agreement follow the law. 

Allowing Pets Could Be an Advantage

Should a landlord allow pets in your rental property? Let's take a look at the benefits from one of the best Boston property management companies' perspective: 

  • More tenants interested in your property. In a recent survey, 42 percent of renters in the Boston area said that having a pet-friendly policy was important.

  • Make more money. In addition to the pet deposit, many landlords charge a monthly pet fee or a higher monthly rent for renters who have pets. 

  • People who own pets are more responsible. Taking care of a pet requires a significant amount of focus and time. Most pet owners will devote the same level of attention to your house to prove themselves as excellent residents. 

  • Pet owners are more likely to stay longer. Since finding a pet-friendly rental can be a challenge when a pet owner finds a place, they are more likely to renew their lease for the residential property and stay longer. 

Work with a property manager to develop excellent pet policies for the lease (and enforce them)!

A Boston Property Management Company Handles Pets and Service Animals

Avoiding problems with discrimination and making sure everything is covered in a residential lease agreement can be a challenge. However, working with a Boston property manager can help you follow federal and state guidelines for service animals and emotional support animals. 

Give CHARLESGATE Property Management a call if you don't currently have a Boston property management team to help you navigate the laws and lease agreement details for pets and emotional support animals. We would love the opportunity to help you get the most out of your rental property!

Learn more about creating strong leases! Get a free copy of "How to Create a Custom Lease Agreement."


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