In this video, Chris Lee and Eli Secor, founders of Landlord Gurus, discuss emotional support animals and pets, as well as the rules and regulations surrounding them. Chris and Eli also talk about thoroughly screening tenants to avoid surprises, especially regarding pets.
Topics in this video include:
- Eli’s experience with emotional support animals [0:25]
- Legalities of emotional support animals [2:23]
- Tenant screening [3:55]
- Pet rent and pet deposits [9:02]
- Landlord Gurus takeaway [10:50]
Chris Lee: Hi there. This is Chris and Eli with Landlord Gurus. And, today we are gonna talk about emotional support animals, service animals, and pets, and some of our experiences. Eli, I know you’ve had a recent experience with a tenant and their emotional support animal, so do you just wanna start with that? We can talk about your experience.
Eli Secor: Yeah, absolutely. This is actually a tenant that just took occupancy today. So it’s very fresh. I advertised the property, including all of my rental criteria, which we were required to do here in Seattle, as part of the ad. And, I said no pets. I was very specific about that in the application as well and I don’t think that this is an unethical move on this tenant’s part. But after we had signed the lease and made the initial payments and the deposit, they said, “Here’s my ESA letter, my emotional support animal letter from a therapist. I have a dog who will be living with us.”
Anyway, it’s very fresh. I firmly believe this is all very legit. This tenant will benefit from having this animal living with them. The dog I met was very nice and very well-mannered and trained. So I think it’s all good. But I know a lot of people are coming up with questions and issues around emotional support animals, so that’s why we decided to talk about this.
CL: Yeah, that’s true. We’ve been hearing about this a lot as well and I think a lot of landlords fear that animals and pets are gonna destroy their property. I know that you had a no-pets policy for a while and we allow cats in some of our units, but that’s it. How do you think landlords can either, kind of alleviate the potential for damage or is that necessarily even a problem?
To be clear, if a tenant does have an emotional support animal and an authorized letter, as landlords, we have to accept them regardless. Isn’t that right? And I think that there are some fears among landlords that it’s so easy to get an ESA letter and that people who might not necessarily need one end up getting one just so they can get their pets in even if you have a no-pet policy. So, I guess there’s that fear. What do you think we can do about that?
ES: First and foremost, ethically, as well as legally, I think that landlords have to err on the side of giving these tenants the benefit of the doubt. The threshold for acceptable documentation is quite low and we’ve written about that. We’ll post some links to articles we’ve written on these topics. And you can get yourself in a lot of trouble. Not as much trouble as you can get into with service animals, which are those animals that live with people who have official disabilities. And that’s a big legal can of worms to be very careful with. But these are real issues that people have.
Also Read: Should I Accept Pets in My Rental?
As one human providing a service to another, I think we need to err on the side of accommodating. I guess what I’d say is that, and you and I have talked about this, Chris, is that what’s really important is to thoroughly screen and vet the tenants themselves. Then to know what your rights and responsibilities are around ESAs and what you can and can’t do. There are some rules. There are some recourses if there are problems.
CL: True. And I agree with what you’re saying about thoroughly screening the tenant. I mean, this goes for everybody, not just ones with animals or with emotional support animals. This is for everybody. I don’t think enough landlords actually do this, but when you screen somebody, you can find out a lot about them. You might be able to learn whether this is somebody that is fit for your unit or not, regardless of whether they have an animal. I think that’s something that needs to be stressed here as well.
ES: So, critical in that is to have a set list of criteria, which are used uniformly to accept or deny a tenant. If you have that outlined and it is communicated clearly with every applicant, then even if a potential tenant has an emotional support animal, if they don’t qualify for separate criteria, then, you don’t have to accept them. Really, the key is to have a comprehensive, thorough, and consistent way of screening tenants. So Chris, maybe just a quick outline of what that looks like is what’s warranted here, right? What process do you go through to screen your tenants?
CL: Yeah. In Seattle, we have certain rules that we need to follow, and that includes posting your criteria with your advertisement. That gets created and that gets started right up front for everyone to see. In a certain way, that does limit the number of potential applicants I do get. It does kind of, narrow things down right off the bat. But also, like you said, following that criteria for everybody.
ES: What are a couple of examples of criteria?
CL: For example, there are credit score minimums, income minimums, the multiple of what the rent is. For example, we require at least three times income to rent ratio. We look at no smoking on our properties and things like that. So those are all in the criteria that we provide everybody.
ES: Yeah, I use all of those and I also include my ability to reach past landlord references. This is probably a topic of another conversation, but I find references to be important because even just the type of response and whether you get a response, is telling. I want to have somebody else take the trouble to say, “Yeah, I had a good experience with this person.” Yeah, exactly. This is my third experience with emotional support animals. This is the second one in this same building, and then one in our Portland rental. I’d say two of the three I think are absolutely legit. The other one, I’m not sure about. But to your point about the fears that landlords have, I have not had any problems with any of them.
I think that that’s partly good fortune, I’ll pat myself on the back a little bit for having done a good enough job screening and selecting the tenants upfront. They’re people that take care of their unit and their animal. So, I would just say, by and large, the fears I think are probably overstated in the landlord community and probably what else is in there is irritation. It rubs me the wrong way, sometimes, when I have a no-animals policy, which is really a no-pets policy at this point. That’s a distinction. So Chris, there’s something else we ought to touch on, is pets, emotional support animals, and service animals.
CL: Exactly. I know that you have not generally allowed pets in your rentals. Like I said, we do allow cats in some of ours. Is that something that you would reconsider in the future? I know that a lot of tenants do have pets and I think that’s becoming a bigger trend. Are you losing out on potentially good tenants by having that policy?
ES: Well, there are potentially good tenants and larger applicant pools. I think there are gonna be more applicants, you’re going to have more interest. A fairly large percentage of renters do have pets. So, larger applicant pool and an opportunity to make more money, potentially. We wrote an article about, and we have a calculator for pet rent and pet deposit versus pet rent and considerations there.
I have not allowed pets until recently in my Portland triplex, where I have been using a property manager. They allow pets and they have a whole process. They use a service called petscreening.com, which is not one of our partners, but it’s a handy tool. They’ve got criteria about the size and type of animal as well. And then they charge pet rent. So I am getting higher rent because of it. And yes, I’m seriously considering changing with other rentals that I manage.
CL: I think that the tenants that do have pets, they understand that yes, there may be a pet rent and there may be a higher deposit. A lot of ’em feel like they’re good pet owners, and I think probably most of them are. And so the damages are generally not as extreme as what people think they’re gonna be. If they are, you’ve got a deposit, specifically for that. There are some good things you can do to protect yourself, and we do write about those in some of our articles. We’ll put links to those as well.
ES: I’d say my takeaways are to give people the benefit of the doubt. The biggest takeaway is to screen thoroughly and methodically, and do the extra legwork. We’ve written lots about that: best screening services, how to screen, what questions to ask, all those types of things. That’s the biggest action item that I think you can do. And then, be careful legally. We’re not lawyers. Consult a lawyer if there’s any doubt at all, cause it’s more costly to get yourself in trouble.
CL: There are a lot of rules around emotional support animals and service animals. They’re not pets, so you need to know what you can and cannot do. We talk about some of that stuff in our post. Again, when in doubt, consult somebody. Consult a professional.
Good, okay. So I think we’ll end it here. Again, we’ll post those links to those articles where you can learn more. We’ll post a link to our pet calculator as well, so you can see kind of what income you might be able to get. Subscribe and like this content if you want more of it. We’ll talk to y’all next time.
ES: Thanks so much.
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