Legal Ways for Landlords to Remove Emotional Support Animals.

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An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) can provide significant comfort and assistance to an individual suffering from a mental health condition. However, an unruly or untrained ESA can result in serious property damage and financial burdens for landlords. An ESA’s presence, in an otherwise pet-prohibited building, can increase property wear and tear, invoke allergies in other tenants, cause noise disturbances, create unsanitary conditions, and add responsibilities related to managing the ESA’s impact on the neighboring rental community.

Given the complex legal landscape surrounding ESAs, landlords must carefully navigate numerous federal and state regulations to respect their tenants’ rights while simultaneously protecting their property interests. To ensure your actions comply with all relevant laws and regulations, while mitigating the risks, an unruly ESA can pose to your property, contact an 1818 attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant law for expert guidance and support.

What is an ESA, and how is it different from a service animal?

Both ESAs and service animals are not legally considered pets, and both involve certain rights and protections for their owners. However, ESAs and their accompanying rights and protections differ distinctly from those guaranteed to service animals.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), a service animal must be trained to perform specialized tasks that accommodate a person’s disability. Because service animals undergo extensive training before they may assist in managing their handlers’ disabilities, certified service animals are legally allowed in public and private areas. Typically, only dogs can work as certified service animals, and a person who relies on a service animal cannot be denied housing accommodations based on a no-pet policy.

An ESA is an assistance animal that provides a therapeutic benefit to an individual suffering from a diagnosed mental or psychiatric disability. Any animal can be certified as an ESA. Because ESAs are used to therapeutically treat psychiatric conditions rather than perform specific tasks that aid individuals with physical ailments, ESAs do not need any training before their certification. Under the Illinois Assistance Animal Integrity Act, the presence of an assistance animal such as an ESA “qualifies as a reasonable accommodation under the federal Fair Housing Act or the Illinois Human Rights Act.” Thus, as with service animals, a person who relies on their ESA’s aid cannot be denied housing accommodations based on a no-pet policy. However, ESAs are distinctly different from service animals in that a person who uses an ESA does not have a legal right to have their ESA accompany them in non-housing-related areas, and ESAs do not undergo specific training to achieve their certification.

Because ESAs do not need to undergo any official training, they are far more likely to cause property damage and disturb neighboring tenants than formally trained service animals. Thus, it is imperative that you, as a property owner, understand your rights and how to protect yourself against a disruptive ESA or an animal that lacks proper ESA documentation.

What documents does an ESA require?

Online vendors increasingly target ill-informed renters with offers to sell illegitimate ESA documents and certifications.

Under the Illinois Assistance Animal Integrity Act, a letter certifying an animal as an ESA may only be issued by:

  • A physician or other medical professional
  • A mental health service provider or
  • A non-medical service agency or reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual’s disability and with whom the individual has a “therapeutic relationship.”

Many online vendors who issue for-pay ESA certificates merely have renters complete virtual mental health questionnaires before issuing their “diagnosis” and accompanying ESA recommendations. These services typically do not constitute legitimate therapeutic relationships, and many ESA letters obtained under these practices will not qualify as a legally sufficient ESA certification.

However, not every ESA letter obtained online is invalid.  Under certain circumstances, renters may use virtual mental health services that legitimately diagnose psychiatric impairments and the genuine need to own an accompanying assistance animal.  If you suspect your tenant’s ESA certificate may be inadequate or unenforceable, we invite you to fill out our online contact form or to call us at (312) 584-5444 to further discuss your situation with a qualified 1818 attorney familiar with the complexities of federal and state animal assistance and housing regulations.

Are There Any Legal Grounds for Removing a Certified ESA Animal?

Even when a legitimate ESA certification supports a tenant’s animal, you may have legal grounds to remove the ESA from your premises.

It is within a landlord’s rights to deny a request for an ESA accommodation or rescind a previously granted ESA approval if:

  •  Accommodating the ESA imposes an undue financial and administrative burden
  •  Accommodating the ESA imposes a fundamental alteration to the nature of the housing provider’s operations
  • The ESA poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others
  • The ESA has caused substantial physical damage to the property
  • The ESA has engaged in a pattern of uncontrolled behavior that its handler has not taken effective action to correct

Why Contact 1818?

Navigating the nuances of ESA regulations requires specialized legal knowledge and experience. Our firm is dedicated to vigorously representing landlords and ensuring rights and properties are protected. If your tenant attempts to enforce an illegitimate ESA certificate or your tenant’s unruly and untrained ESA puts your property at risk, fill out our online contact form or call us at (312) 584-5444 for legal assistance and advice.

Jordan Matyas - 1818 Founder

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.