Property Management

Reducing The Stress Surrounding Emotional Support Animal Requests

by Vince Wong

There is no disputing that apartment operators have experienced a significant increase in emotional support animal accommodation requests in recent years. These can be a source of stress for onsite teams, but they don’t have to be. 

What’s often misunderstood is that policing these requests isn’t the best solution. 

Many ESA requests involve large dogs and what some apartment operators categorize as dangerous breeds. For residents with legitimate ESA documentation, the restrictions don’t apply. But residents who don’t have ESA documentation for their pets in the restricted categories are prevented from living with their pet at many apartment communities. 

In an effort to keep their pets, some of these residents understandably feel compelled to take action. After all, 92% of residents believe pets are an important part of the family and 93% of property managers also agree, according to the Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative, a research and resource development initiative that promotes access to the joy of pets.

While it has been assumed that some will attempt to get the pet verified as a service animal, others might try to sneak it into the community, while another small percentage will attempt to utilize fraudulent documentation. According to the Assistance Animals in Housing Report by PetScreening, less than 1% of animal accommodation requests meet the definition of fraud, although 36% are returned as insufficient. 

This is where it gets difficult for onsite teams, which must sort through the various ESA requests and determine which of them are fully compliant.

But there are ways to resolve this challenge. 

By eliminating size and breed restrictions, apartment operators can reduce insufficient emotional support animal requests. Residents with pets won’t feel compelled to designate their would-be restricted pets as emotional support animals, Instead, they will pay rent regularly and continue to enjoy the company of their beloved pet. Apartment operators will experience the dual benefit of increased pet-related revenue by allowing this new pet demographic. 

Rental properties are in the fledgling stages of this metamorphosis, as 76% of properties allow pets, but only 8% do so with no restrictions. Of those that allow pets, 72% restrict the number of pets while 50% impose size and breed restrictions. That’s despite widespread data showing that larger animals are good house pets, and the idea that an increasing number of communities are having success by evaluating pets on an individual basis rather than breed characteristics. 

Another component of the rental-housing industry’s quest to move past any ESA accommodation request consternation involves training teams on ESA friendliness. Teams should be trained to treat each case as valid—as noted, cases of attempted ESA fraud are extremely low—and remove any preexisting biases. Just because an animal is large or falls into a common restricted category, it doesn’t exclude it from being a verified support animal. Let the verification process unfold before making any judgments.   

Additionally, don’t ignore the human component. Individuals with ESAs typically have been through something traumatic, whether it’s the death of a loved one, an accident or a medical condition. Onsite teams that exhibit compassion rather than skepticism will help shape the resident’s initial impression of the community, which could have a long-lasting positive effect. We’ll discuss this in more detail during The Impact of the Emotional Support Animal Friendly Community panel discussion during the National Apartment Association’s 2020 APTVirtual Conference at 2:50 p.m. EST on Nov. 3.

Properties have generally done a good job on this front, as the PIHI data indicates 95% of residents claim their property manager gets along with their pet and 86% of property managers believe they have a positive relationship with most of their pet-owning residents. 

The next step is to reduce restrictions to help ensure a smooth ESA request process. 

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