If you are a landlord and you have a no-pet policy, you may be a bit dismayed when a tenant says they are allowed to have an emotional support dog and are looking for one. Even though you have an existing no-pet policy in place, emotional support dogs are protected under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504. Here's what you need to know and how this protection could affect your landlord's insurance policy. 

Ask your tenant for proof that an emotional support dog is needed

While it would be great if you could take your tenant's word for it that they are approved for a support dog, doing so could trigger a landslide of other tenants claiming that they also need emotional support dogs. Ask your tenant to show you proof that an emotional support dog is needed. Your tenant will need to have their physician or mental health doctor write a letter stating the need for an emotional support dog.

This letter is, essentially, a prescription, yet it should be typed on paper with a letterhead from the doctor's office. Due to privacy laws, this letter should not state your tenant's health condition(s) that require assistance from an emotional support dog. You cannot legally ask your tenant why they need to have an emotional support dog. 

Speak with your insurance agency regarding having a dog on the premises 

If your insurance policy has a no-animal stipulation, you will need to contact your insurance agency to have that changed. However, be prepared. They may require higher premiums to cover any damages from the dog. More importantly, the insurance company may want to know the exact breed of the dog before making their determination as to whether or not to continue or cancel your insurance policy, as some breeds are known to be cause more damage and personal injuries than others.

Therefore, give your tenant a list of unacceptable dog breeds to avoid. If your tenant does adopt an unacceptable dog breed while being fully aware, that it could cause you undue financial stress, and you could present the situation as a case against your tenant in civil court. Speak with an attorney if this becomes the situation. 

Modifications to the property may be necessary 

Your insurance policy may require the installation of a fence due to a dog being on the property. This helps prevent the dog from biting passersby and leaving the property and causing an accident when it runs into the road, which could result in insurance claims against your policy should these types of situations occur. If your insurance requires a fence, you will have to pay for the installation.

If there is no fencing requirement, your tenant may want to install a fence surrounding the back yard as a fence is sometimes necessary in keeping dogs safe, healthy, and happy. Your tenant may also want to install a doggy door in an exterior door. If your insurance policy does not require a fence for the dog, allow your tenant to make changes to the property with the stipulation that they return the property back to the condition it was previously after their tenancy. Also, produce another contract stating the new terms and conditions regarding changes to the property for the dog and have your tenant sign it. 

Require your tenant to get renter's insurance

If you don't already require your tenants to have renter's insurance, this is the perfect time to start. Dogs can do a lot of damage, especially when they are puppies and haven't been trained to alert their human parent when nature calls and they have to relieve themselves. Include this stipulation in the new contract and ask your tenant to show proof of having obtained renter's insurance by a certain time frame, such as 30 days after signing the contract. 

For more information about how a tenant with an emotional support dog could affect your insurance, contact your insurance agency and discuss your coverage options.