ESA – Emotional Support Animal Housing Letter

An emotional support animal can change the life of anyone suffering from a mental, emotional, or psychological condition, providing vital support that relives the everyday struggle of difficult symptoms. For many people, their emotional support animal, or ESA, is incredibly important to their health and wellbeing. By providing affection, compassion, and companionship, an emotional support animal can enable you to regain your quality of life and successfully function at home, at work, and in public. Considering the importance of emotional support animals, no ESA owner should ever have to choose between their ESA and safe, comfortable housing. Luckily, there are federal laws intended to safeguard against potential discrimination, helping you find and secure a happy home for you and your emotional support animal. We’ve put together a useful resource to help you learn how to find housing with an ESA, what you need to protect your housing rights, and why an ESA letter for housing is one of the most important documents to have as an ESA owner.

ESA Laws and Your Housing Rights

Many people are unaware that emotional support animals are protected by federal law. If you’re considering getting an ESA or already have an ESA, you have certain rights in regards to housing. Understanding ESA laws can help you better prepare to successfully navigate the process of finding acceptable housing for you and your emotional support animal. According to the Fair Housing Act (FHA), it is illegal to discriminate against individual seeking housing, and unfair treatment related to disability, religion, race, color, sex, national origin, or familial status is strictly prohibited. Anyone that is seeking to buy or rent a home, get a mortgage, or qualify for housing assistance is protected under the rules of the FHA. A landlord or property owner is not allowed to set different conditions, terms, or privileges for the sale or rental of a property based on any of the above-listed reasons. Furthermore, different sale or rental prices cannot be applied to these cases, and limiting privileges or services, failing to provide proper maintenance, and harassing a resident is also illegal. The Fair Housing Act applies to most types of housing, with a few exceptions. Owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units, single-family homes sold or rented by the owner, members-only clubs, and religious housing may be exempt. As someone with a diagnosed disability described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, you are included in the protections of the Fair Housing Act. This means that you possess certain rights when it comes to obtaining housing and guaranteeing accepting of your emotional support animal. According to the United States HUD, a landlord or housing provider is required to consider the following questions when considering your ESA request:
  • Does this person seeking accommodations have a disability?
  • Does this person have a disability-related need for their emotional service animal?

If both questions can be answered affirmatively, the housing must attempt to make reasonable accommodations for the ESA and its owner. Even if the property has a “no pets” policy, the law states that such policies do not apply to ESAs. However, it’s important to understand that there are certain limitations to the accommodations that a housing provider can be legally required to make. Here are examples of situations in which a housing provider can legitimately deny your ESA housing request:

  • If allowing the ESA would place undue financial or administrative stress on the property owner.
  • If your ESA is too large for the property. For example, a horse would understandably be too large to accommodate in an apartment.
  • If your ESA damages the property or poses a threat to other residents, your landlord or property owner can ask you to leave.
  • If the building is owner-occupied with four or less units.
  • If the property is for rent or sale by owner.
  • If the property is part of a members-only club or religiously-managed housing.

How to Find Housing with an ESA

For ESA owners, finding housing shouldn’t be stressful. Following these simple steps can help you successfully find a home for you and your ESA:

Learn about your ESA rights.

Understanding your rights as an ESA owner can help you be better prepared to successfully defend yourself against discrimination and unfair treatment.

Get an ESA letter.

An ESA letter is an important document that you will need to communicate your ESA request with a property owner, as well as validate your right to an ESA if necessary. Keep reading below to learn more about how to get an ESA letter.

Inform the landlord that you have an ESA.

You can decide either to tell the landlord about your ESA before or after you sign your lease. While you are not required to inform them during the application process, it can be helpful to determine whether the landlord is able to make the legally-required reasonable accommodation. 

If you already have housing and are interested in adding an ESA to your home, you may be exempt from a “no pets” policy.  Complete the process above, then communicate your ESA rights to your landlord clearly and respectfully.

Get an ESA Letter to Protect Your Housing Rights

When it comes to finding a home with your ESA, you have the right to fair treatment and reasonable accommodation. However, without an ESA letter, it can be difficult to assert your rights in the face of unfair discrimination. Getting a valid ESA letter is an important step in securing housing for you and your emotional support animal.

What is an ESA Letter?

As ESA letter serves as your “prescription” for an ESA, documentation the professional recommendation for an emotional support animal. An ESA letter is issued and signed by a licensed medical professional, essentially proving that have a diagnosed need for your ESA. ESA letters are extremely important to protect your housing rights as an ESA owner and are also extremely useful for air travel purposes.

What Should an ESA Letter Contain?

An ESA letter must contain specific elements in order to be considered valid:

  • Your name
  • The name, licensed, and office location of the doctor providing the ESA letter
  • The doctor’s official letterhead
  • A statement from the doctor explaining that you have a diagnosed disability as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders (note that your ESA letter does not need to include any details about your specific condition)
  • The doctor’s statement that your emotional support animal allows you to better perform the necessary tasks of everyday life
  • In some cases, an ESA letter may need to include information about your specific animal, such as breed

An ESA letter is valid for one year from the date of issue.

Where Do I Get an ESA Letter?

An ESA letter must be issued by a licensed mental health professional in order to be considered valid. Even if you are not currently seeing a mental health professional, a service like Support Pets can connect you with a licensed doctor who can provide an ESA letter if you qualify.

Do I Qualify for an ESA Letter?

Patients with a wide range of mental, emotional, and psychological conditions may qualify for an emotional support animal. If you currently rely on your pet for emotional support, or if your pet provides significant relief from your mental or emotional challenges, you may be able to obtain an ESA letter.

Qualifying conditions include:

  • Mood disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic disorders
  • Phobias
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Substance abuse issues
  • Motor skills disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

ESAs and Housing: FAQs

Do I Have to Tell My Landlord I Have an Emotional Support Animal?

You should inform your landlord about your ESA by providing him or her with a copy of your ESA letter. It is your decision whether you prefer to communicate the situation before or after signing your lease, as you are not required to provide any details during the application process.

The best way to protect your ESA rights is to clearly communicate with the property owner. Don’t be surprised if your landlord is unaware of ESA laws; because ESAs are still fairly new, many people do not know that there are certain rules and regulations addressing ESA rights. Take a positive approach if possible, directing your landlord towards information about ESA laws if they challenge your request.

Do You Have to Pay a Pet Deposit for an Emotional Support Animal?

No. Because an emotional support animal is considered a “tool” to aid with a disability rather than simply a “pet,” owners cannot be required to pay a pet deposit.

Do You Have to Pay Pet Rent for an Emotional Support Animal?

No. Additional rental fees and costs cannot be charged for your emotional support animal. It’s important to note that if your ESA damages the property, you can be held financially liable.

Can My Landlord Ask Me to Provide ESA Registration Proof?

There is no required registration process for emotional support animals, and your landlord cannot require you to enter your ESA in any sort of registry. Many people get misled about companies falsely advertising the idea of a “national registry,” but no such thing exists. All you need to provide is your ESA letter.

Does My Emotional Support Dog Need a Special ID or Vest?

No. There is no special identification required for emotional support animals.

Can My Landlord Ask for My Medical Records?

Absolutely not. Your ESA letter is the only documentation you need for your ESA accommodation request. Your landlord is not legally able to request details about your specific condition, and cannot require you to submit medical records or additional information.

Can My Landlord Refuse My Emotional Support Animal?

While ESA laws require that landlords attempt to make reasonable accommodation for an ESA, there are a few cases in which a refusal may be permitted:

  • Owner-occupied properties with four units or less
  • Religious housing
  • Private, members-only clubs
  • A large ESA that cannot be accommodated on the specific size or type of property
  • An ESA that has damaged the property
  • An ESA that has demonstrated aggression or negative behaviors
  • An ESA that poses a legitimate threat to other tenants
  • If the landlord can prove that allowing the ESA would put them under undue financial or administrative stress

Can a Landlord Refuse an Emotional Support Dog Based on Breed or Age?

No, breed and age cannot be grounds for ESA refusal. There are no specific requirements for breed, or age of an ESA, so your landlord cannot consider these factors in their refusal. Property-specific breed restrictions also do not apply to ESAs.

What Can I Do if My Landlord Rejects My ESA?

If your landlord refuses your ESA request even after you’ve provided a valid ESA letter, the first step you can take is to request a formal letter than explains the rejection. After reviewing the letter, you can choose to reply (via email or letter) with a statement that you’ve provided all required documentation in the form of your ESA letter, and that they are nevertheless rejecting your reasonable accommodation request.

At that point, one option is to inform the property owner that you will be contacting the HUD to file an official complaint detailing the discrimination. Try to keep your tone professional, calm, and neutral, and avoid escalating the issue into an argument. After your landlord receives your notification of intent to file a complaint, they may conduct their own research and decide to reconsider your request as a result after learning more about ESA laws.

However, if the landlord stands by their refusal, you can move forward with a HUD complaint. You can submit your complaint using the online system, or print and mail a complaint form to the following address:

Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street, S.W., Room 5242
Washington, D.C. 20410

You may also file a complaint with your state’s housing agency.

Does My Emotional Support Animal Need Special Training to Live in My Apartment or Rental House?

No. There are no training requirements or specific certifications for an emotional support animal, unlike a service dog. However, it is important that your emotional support animal is able to properly behave in a positive manner in order to avoid potential issues. Your ESA should be able to function in public spaces when needed, and not pose a threat to the property or other residents.

What Happens if My Emotional Support Animal Damages My Apartment or Rental House?

If your emotional support animal causes damage to rental property, you can be held liable. Your landlord can legally charge you for damages incurred, and may even ask you to leave the property.

What Happens if My Emotional Support Animal Bites Another Resident?

If your ESA threatens or harms another resident at the property, your landlord can legally revoke your ESA approval or evict you. For this reason, basic training is very important.

Can My Landlord Evict Me for Getting an ESA?

No, simply getting an ESA is not suitable grounds for eviction. You should follow proper procedures when getting an ESA, providing your landlord with an ESA letter. If you have completed the correct steps, your landlord cannot evict you simply because of a “no pets” policy. You also cannot be evicted for refusing to pay pet deposits or pet rent, because those are not legally applicable to ESAs.

How to Get an ESA Letter for Housing

Support Pets provides a fast, convenient option for qualifying applicants to obtain an ESA housing letter, saving you time, stress, and money. We partner with licensed medical practitioners to connect our customers with professional ESA letters, protecting your rights and allowing you to fight back against housing discrimination. With an ESA housing letter from Support Pets, you can seek reasonable accommodation for your ESA – even if your landlord or management company has a “no pets” policy.

Starting the ESA letter process is as easy as taking our short online quiz and submitting your request. After completing a simple doctor’s questionnaire, one of Support Pets’ licensed medical professionals will review your case and issue a valid ESA if you qualify.

Learn more about ESA requirements, qualifying conditions, and more by visiting our FAQs page today.

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