Pets and Leases

Pets and Leases: Navigating ‘No Pet’ Clauses and Emotional Support Animals

Renting out a house or apartment requires an in-depth understanding of both real estate and discrimination laws, as unintentionally violating either could land you at the center of a lawsuit. If you have a strict no-pet policy in your rentals, you may wonder what means for applicants with service animals or emotional support animals. 

This is an area where you must tread carefully. Violating the rights of someone with a disability could not only get you in legal trouble, but it could also destroy your reputation as a landlord in Annapolis. If you have an applicant wishing to bring their emotional support animal with them, know your rights and theirs.

No Pet Clauses and Your Lease

Maryland is fairly straightforward with no-pet clauses in leases. Nothing in the law prohibits landlords from banning pets from their rentals. Additionally, landlords who do accept pets can charge an additional deposit or monthly fee to account for the additional damage or wear and tear.

What About Service Animals?

However, as you likely already know, service animals are not pets. Therefore, they are not part of the no-pet clause in a lease. People with service animals enjoy federal protections that allow them to keep their service animals with them, regardless of whether or not a rental, restaurant, store, or other facility allows animals. Basically, the law looks at service animals as medical equipment in these circumstances—not as animals.

Emotional Support Animals Under Maryland Law

The line gets a bit more muddied when it comes to emotional support animals. They are not service animals, so they are not granted the same protections as those given by the ADA. However, people with emotional support animals also don’t necessarily consider them pets. They may rely on them for help with anxiety, depression, and other mental health needs. Each state approaches the issue of emotional support animals differently.

Under Maryland law, there is little confusion about emotional support animals in rentals. Maryland grants most emotional support animals the same protections that service animals benefit from under the Fair Housing Act. What does this mean for you as a landlord? It means that you cannot discriminate against a renter for having an emotional support animal. Furthermore, you cannot charge additional application fees, monthly fees, or a security deposit.

Owners of emotional support animals must do their part to assert these rights, though. They have to provide documentation of the need for an emotional support animal from a licensed mental health professional. These letters are relatively easy to get, however, thanks to many websites and service providers that give applicants these letters after a consultation.

When Emotional Support Animals Become a Problem

Even the ADA does not provide protection for service animals that are unruly, poorly behaved, or disruptive to businesses and their normal operations. Service animals cannot create undue hardship for landlords, business owners, and others who are legally required to accommodate them. This is rarely an issue for service animals, as they undergo such rigorous training that any animals with behavioral issues are likely to fail out of service dog training. 

Emotional support animals do not have any specialized training and are not equipped to perform specific tasks. For that reason, there is a risk that an emotional support animal will create undue hardship for a landlord. If an ESA causes an exorbitant amount of damage, is out of control, is dangerous to other animals or humans, or is excessively loud, a landlord can deny the ESA accommodation request. This requires the owner to either get rid of the ESA or vacate the property. 

What is considered “undue hardship” depends a lot on the type of animal a renter has. A dog that is crated during the day and barks nonstop may cause enough disruption to other renters to be considered an undue hardship. A cat that is not litter box trained and destroys a rental’s carpeting and walls with urine is likely too disruptive to stay.

It’s important that a landlord not take these matters into their own hands. Working with a landlord-tenant attorney can protect you from discrimination lawsuits based on service or emotional support animals.