The CantonRep
Real Estate
- Page 11
Owners of ‘emotional support animals’ have special rights in
By David Myers

Homeowners and tenants who need emotional support from a four-legged friend have some extra-legal rights, much like those who need a seeing-eye dog.

DEAR DAVE: You have written that the Americans with Disabilities Act allows sightless people to have a seeing-eye dog in their rental unit, even if their landlord has a strict “no pets” policy. But what about “emotional support” animals? I ask because my best friend returned home from Afghanistan last year and recently was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Two different doctors have recommended that she get either a cat or a small dog to help to ease her emotional problems, but can she do that if she lives in a “no-pets” building?

ANSWER: Yes, she probably can get a cat, dog or other type of small animal despite the fact that she lives in a development where household pets are banned.

So-called emotional support animals typically are allowed in a no-pets building provided that the tenant can produce documentation from a medical professional stating that the animal is needed to help with the person’s mental-health issues.

Physicians, psychiatrists, therapists and other medical experts often suggest that their patients obtain an emotional-support animal to ease a wide variety of problems, from unusually high levels of stress or anxiety to depression or even anti-social behavior.

An emotional support animal, commonly referred to as an “ESA” or a “companion” animal, can be virtually any type of species, as long as it can be controlled by its owner, provides a legitimate mental-health benefit, and poses no health or safety threats to others.

Beyond cats and dogs, some courts have even approved the use of pot-bellied pigs, rabbits and ferrets -- and even (in an Ohio case) the use of a miniature horse as an ESA in a community that had previously banned equines in residential areas.

Most landlords that I know are good people. If they field a rental application from someone who, say, is blind and needs a seeing-eye dog to get around, they’ll treat the prospect like anyone else. Besides, federal law demands it.

It’s a bit tougher for landlords, though, if a prospective or current tenant says that he or she needs a dog or other animal in a no-pets home or apartment but doesn’t show any obvious signs of blindness or other disability. Every landlord can discern if a sightless person needs help from a guide dog but figuring whether a tenant has a legitimate need for an ESA or is instead simply trying to skirt a no-pets policy is an entirely different proposition.

A letter from a medical professional stating a tenant’s need for a companion animal is usually enough to persuade a landlord to acquiesce to the tenant’s request. Your friend has had two different doctors suggest that an ESA would be helpful, so getting at least one of them to sign the easy paperwork shouldn’t be a big problem.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers a free, easy-to-customize sample letter that medical pros can use to recommend that a landlord or even a homeowners association allow a resident to have an ESA. You can find it at www.hud.gov/sites/documents.

Your friend’s local fair housing or rent board can provide more information. So can HUD’s toll-free hotline, (800) 669-9777.

DEAR DAVE: Who is responsible for paying for a home inspector’s fee, the buyer or the seller?

ANSWER: It’s all a matter of sale negotiations.

But in most deals, the fee is paid by the buyer because the buyer, not the seller, wants to know more about the home’s physical condition than the seller doesn’t know about or, perhaps, wants to disclose.

DEAR DAVE: There’s a company in our area that does a lot of advertising for its “bed in a box.” How do they work? Are they any good?

ANSWER: Nearly all beds in a box are sold online. They are folded or rolled up, placed in a vacuum-packed box, and then shipped to the buyer’s home. When the box is opened, the mattress automatically unfolds within an hour or two.

There are about 200 bed-in-a-box retailers today, and Consumer Reports magazine says that many of these products are as good as or even better than some of the models sold in traditional showrooms.

Though buying a boxed bed can save you money, there’s one key drawback: You don’t have a chance to lie on it to “test” its comfort until you’ve bought it and then placed it in your bedroom. So beyond fully understanding the mattress’s long-term warranty, you must get all the details about the company’s trial period and return policies.

Most bed-in-the box retailers provide a 100-day trial period, which should be plenty of time to decide if the mattress will provide a comfortable and sound sleep. If it doesn’t, it should offer a full refund and free return shipping.

Consumer Reports recently rated several foam beds in a box that sell for less than $600. Makers of the top-ranked models included Tuft & Needle (www.tuftandneedle.com), Zinus Inc. (www.zinus.com) and Sleep Innovations (www.sleepinnnovations.com).