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Increased renter restrictions target emotional-support animals in Montana

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Mark Moran

(Big Sky Connection) Fair-housing advocates are concerned about changes the Legislature made to tighten restrictions on emotional-support animals for Montana renters.

While Montana House Bill 703 prohibits a landlord from asking detailed questions about a potential renter's medical condition or diagnosis, landlords are now allowed to ask the renter's health care provider if their emotional support animal is medically necessary before deciding whether to rent to a tenant.

Amy Hall, a board member of the nonprofit Montana Fair Housing, said the law creates potential roadblocks for would-be tenants because it requires them to have a relationship with a Montana health care provider for at least a month before being able to provide verification to the landlord.

"Sometimes that can pose a hardship for tenants," Hall contended. "Because they may not have lived in Montana for 30 days and they may not have established a relationship with a provider here."

The law also holds tenants liable for damages the emotional support animal may do to the landlord's property. The statute only applies to emotional support animals. It does not apply to service animals such as seeing-eye dogs with special training to help people with disabilities perform everyday tasks.

Hall pointed out federal law still applies in Montana, which states the verification of the need for an emotional support animal does not always have to come from a certified medical professional in order for the applicant to get a lease. She added, however, it will take something more official than an online document -- which have become popular in recent years -- to verify the animal is medically and emotionally necessary for the renter.

"That's just a warning to all tenants out there," Hall stressed. "If your only verification that you need an emotional support animal is that you have some kind of online certificate, your landlord may question that, and may ask for sufficient verification of your need for the emotional support animal and of your disability."

The new law went into effect October 1.