About Real Estate: Service animals allowed in no-pets complex

Tenants and condo buyers with emotional problems often can keep a four-legged friend in their home, even if the complex has a strict no-pets policy.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I was interested in your recent column that said that seeing-eye dogs for the blind are allowed in a rental unit, even if the landlord has a strict “no pets” policy. My sister, though, has some psychological issues and her doctor has suggested that she get either a cat or a rabbit to provide her with emotional support. Are these types of animals exempt from a landlord’s no-pets policy, too?

ANSWER: Generally, yes. Emotional support animals are typically allowed in a no-pets building, especially if the tenant can provide 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 or dogs, courts have even OK’d the use of a miniature horse as an ESA in an Ohio 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 little tougher, though, if a prospective 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. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers a free, easy-to-customize sample letter that medical pros can use: Find it by visiting www.portal.hud on the Internet and typing “Companion Animal” in the results box.

Your regional HUD office can provide additional information. So can the agency’s toll-free hotline, 800-669-9777.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: The Census Bureau reports that about 57 million Americans — roughly one out of every five people — live with a moderate or severe disability.

DEAR MR. MYERS: Where does the word “acre” come from?

ANSWER: Most lexicologists, the fancy word for folks who study where modern words come from, say that “acre” is likely a derivative of the ancient Latin term “ager,” which roughly translates into “district” or “field.”

A major seaport in northwest Israel is named Acre, as is a small state in Brazil.

DEAR MR. MYERS: My wife and I cancelled a loan application with one lender because we can get a lower interest rate from a second lender. The first bank, though, won’t refund the $400 we paid for an appraisal and about $200 more that we paid for a credit report and other services. Is this legal?

ANSWER: Unfortunately, yes. Lenders are allowed to keep (and usually do) any appraisal or other fees that they have already disbursed for an appraisal or to other third-party vendors when a borrower cancels a mortgage application.

If it’s any consolation, the first lender must give you a copy of the appraisal that it ordered. But the second lender probably will make you pay for a new one, anyway. That’s because all banks are legally responsible for the appraisals that they use, and the new lender likely will be loath to accept a report that was ordered by the original bank and prepared by an appraiser that it probably doesn’t know.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.