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Must Massachusetts landlords allow emotional support animals?

On Behalf of | Mar 7, 2024 | Landlord/Tenant |

There are numerous laws that govern landlord-tenant relationships in Massachusetts. There are rules about deposits and rules regarding property maintenance. There are also both state and federal statutes addressing the need to accommodate tenants in certain circumstances.

For decades now, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has given tenants the right to request the accommodation of service animals. Animals trained to provide crucial support to individuals with disabling medical conditions can accompany them in public or live with them.

Very few people actually have qualified service animals. However, in recent years, there has been an explosion of people obtaining certification for emotional support animals. Do Massachusetts landlords need to accommodate cats, peacocks and other animals that tenants claim are there for emotional support?

People could abuse support animal rules

While the standards for service animals are very clear and relatively strict, there is much less certainty about emotional support animals (ESAs). Generally speaking, only dogs can be service animals. Any type of pet might become an emotional support animal.

For someone’s accommodation request for an emotional support animal to be legitimate, they must have a disabling condition, and the animal must help alleviate their symptoms. Typically, a tenant with an emotional support animal should have a letter from a medical professional with whom they have a pre-existing therapeutic relationship attesting to its necessity.

Unfortunately, there are some fly-by-night services that offer such letters for a fee with little regard to the actual condition of the applicant or the behavior of the animal that the client wants to certify. Although landlords face very strict restrictions when questioning the necessity of emotional support animals and other accommodations, they may need to look into the situation carefully to protect themselves.

A landlord may not be able to prevent a tenant from bringing a service or emotional support animal into a unit or building that is otherwise animal-free. They may not be able to charge a pet deposit or pet rent for having the animal in the unit either.

Animals can be a nuisance to other tenants and can also cause damage to residential units. Understanding the rules that apply when a tenant or applicant claims to need an emotional support animal in their rental home can help Massachusetts landlords avoid compliance issues and potentially damaging rental agreements with problem tenants.