How to Spot Fake Emotional Support Animal Letters
Over the past decade, emotional support animals (ESA) have become the topic of discussion, popping up everywhere, from airports to rental properties.
While these animals can provide their owners with great companionship and support, people have been faking emotional support animals just to bend the rules and keep their pets in rental units where animals aren’t allowed and avoid pet fees and restrictions.
Nonetheless, ensuring that your tenant’s ESA letter is genuine is crucial if you want to protect your rental property away from irreparable damage caused by animals.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal is an animal that provides mental relief (e.g., comfort, companionship, emotional support) to a person diagnosed with a mental or psychiatric disability. Under U.S. law, ESAs are not considered pets and can be any domesticated animals—from ferrets to minipigs.
Unlike service animals which are specially-trained animals for people who are blind, deaf, restricted to a wheelchair, or suffer from medical conditions, ESAs do not require any form of training. So, you can’t expect the animal to behave at all times—a potential risk to your property.
Why Do Tenants Fake ESA Letters?
One of the main reasons why rental applicants scam landlords with a fake ESA is to have their pets in the rental unit, regardless if you keep a “no pets” policy. Plus, landlords have the right to legally deny applicants with pets, or they can also do the following:
- Charge a higher rent
- Require a co-signer to the lease
- Charge a higher deposit
According to the Fair Housing Act, landlords should not discriminate against people with disabilities. This means that you cannot impose different application requirements for every applicant and should charge the same rental fee for every tenant.
Just know that the Act also forbids you to require your rental applicant with proof and details of their disability. However, you’re legally allowed to ask for an ESA letter. You can reject their application if your rental applicant cannot provide a legitimate letter.
7 Signs of a Fake ESA Letter
Here are the most obvious signs of a fake ESA letter:
1. A licensed mental health professional did not write it.
Only licensed healthcare professionals, such as a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, nurse, or doctor, can evaluate patients regarding ESA application and issue an ESA letter. You can check the letter’s authenticity by contacting the signatory health professional or verifying their license number with the appropriate licensing board.
A quick call or email can save you from potential trouble down the road.
2. There are missing details in the letter.
If the letter doesn’t include information about the healthcare provider, that’s a major red flag. Legit ESA letters contain the following:
- Name and specialty of the licensed health professional
- Health professional’s medical license registration number
- Issuance and expiration date of the health professional’s medical license
- Complete contact details of the health professional
If the letter doesn’t contain all these details, the rental applicant is submitting a fake ESA letter.
3. It is not written on official letterhead.
Most fake ESA letters are often written with more generic formatting. Meanwhile, legit health professionals always issue documents with official letterhead to make it obvious it come from their office.
4. The health professional is not registered in the state of your property.
Even if you’ve verified that the health professional is legitimate, if they are not licensed to practice in the state the rental unit is in, then the ESA letter is null.
5. The date of issuance is over a year old.
Your tenant may be providing you with a legitimate ESA, but if the date of issuance of the ESA letter is more than a year old, then it’s not valid anymore. This is because people with ESA have to renew their ESA letters yearly.
Therefore, it’s also a red flag if the ESA letter doesn’t include the date of issuance.
6. It uses inconsistent names or terminology.
Read thoroughly and see if the letter refers to the ESA as a “service animal” or a “therapy animal” instead of only referring to the animal as an “emotional support animal.” If so, the letter is fake. As mentioned above, an ESA is different from a service animal.
7. The letter indicates “Take the animal anywhere.”
ESA letter allows owners to take in their pet to live on any property, even in places with a no-pet policy, without paying a pet security deposit. If the letter claims that the owner can bring the ESA anywhere and everywhere, that’s a lie. Owners cannot bring ESAs to any public places (unless allowed by authorities), like restaurants, airplanes, theaters, libraries, etc.
Avoid ESA Scams and Protect Your Rental Property
As a landlord, you’ll inevitably encounter potential tenants with emotional support animals. While most ESA letters are legitimate, it’s crucial to stay vigilant against fake ones.
Animals can cause a lot of confusion for landlords, especially for those adamant about having pets on their properties. To better handle interactions and avoid conflicts with potential tenants with emotional support animals, contacting a property management company is highly recommended.
Logical Property Management in Metro Detroit deals with ESA situations, and our experienced real estate experts can assist you throughout the process to ensure your rental property is safe and secure.
Contact us today!