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Can a Landlord Refuse an Emotional Support Animal?

 Emotional support animals and their owners have unique housing rights, including legal protection against unfair discrimination. For many people, an emotional support animal, or ESA, is key to their quality of life and emotional and mental wellbeing. Choosing between your wellness and a place to call home is an impossible decision, and ESA laws make sure it’s a choice you never have to make.

If you have an emotional support animal or are considering adding one to your life, this useful guide can answer all your questions about ESAs and your rights when it comes to housing.

Basic Information about Emotional Support Animals

Before discussing ESAs and housing, it’s important to understand what an ESA is, how to get one, and why you need an ESA letter.

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA), often referred to as an assistance animal or support animal, is a designated companion that fulfills a specific emotional need for a personal with a diagnosed mental or emotional disability. A licensed mental health professional provides an ESA letter, or “prescription”, that states an official recommendation for an emotional support animal.

Common conditions that may be alleviated through the presence of an emotional support animal include:

  • Anxiety and panic disorders
  • Depression
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Mood disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The most popular types of ESAs include dogs and cats, but there is no specific limitation on what animals can become ESAs. An emotional support animal is different from a service animal in that it is not trained to carry out specific tasks for its owner; rather, it provides comfort through companionship and affection.

How Do I Get an Emotional Support Animal?

If you have (or believe you may have) a mental or emotional disability that may qualify you for an emotional support animal, a licensed mental health professional can provide more information. Once you are diagnosed, the doctor can provide you with an emotional support animal letter, which serves as the official documentation for the ESA of your choice. This letter protects your ESA rights, including in housing-related situations. You don’t have to adopt a specific emotional support animal, because there is no official certification or training required. Instead, your ESA serves as the “prescription,” and allows you to choose the animal that’s right for you. You do not need any special vest, ID, or documentation for your ESA other than the ESA letter.

Requirements for an ESA Letter

In order for an ESA letter to be considered valid, it must meet the following requirements:
  • It must be printed on official letterhead from a licensed mental health provider.
  • The letter must state:
    • You are diagnosed with a mental or emotional condition
    • The emotional support animal is related to your specific condition
    • The emotional support animal is required for your health and wellbeing
  • The letter must be signed and dated by your healthcare provider, and include their medical license number and the location it was issued.

An ESA letter is valid for one year from the data it was issued, at which point it will then need to be renewed. Depending on the specific situation, your letter may need to include information such as the type, weight, and breed of your ESA animal.

Emotional Support Animals: Legal Rights

In the United States, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects your rights as an ESA owner. This law bans discrimination in housing, including any discriminatory practices related to disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or familial status. Under the act, anyone trying to purchase or rent a home, get a mortgage, find federal-assisted housing, or secure other types of housing assistance is protected.

The FHA also makes it illegal for a landlord or homeowner to set different conditions or terms on the sale or rental of a home due to any of the above reasons. Different rental or sale prices are not allowed, and the property owner must provide the same level of privileges and maintenance given to any other tenant or a potential buyer. Some types of housing are exempt from the law, including religiously-managed housing, owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units, private clubs, and single-family homes sold or rented by owner.

In the event that a person seeking housing has a disability and a documented, disability-related need for the ESA, the housing provider is required to make a reasonable accommodation. Under the FHA, an emotional support animal is considered a “tool” for aiding in disability, not just a pet, exempting it from “no pets” policies.

However, if the housing provider can prove that allowing the ESA would create extreme financial or administrative stress, or that the ESA is a hazard to other tenants, the request legally can be denied.

Emotional Support Animals and Housing: Frequently-Asked Questions

If you have an emotional support animal or are considering getting one, the last thing you want to deal with is a difficult landlord or housing situation. Thankfully, ESA laws protect your rights and prevent unlawful discrimination. While there are a few exceptions, in many cases, understanding your rights under ESA laws can help you find and secure comfortable housing for you and your emotional support animal.

Here are a few commonly-asked questions surrounding emotional support animals and housing:

Are landlords required to allow emotional support dogs?

According to the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords must make reasonable accommodations for ESAs and their owners. Even if there is a “no pets” policy in place, emotional support animal apartment laws state that they do not apply to ESAs (because ESAs are not categorized as “pets”).

These laws apply to almost all property types, with just a few exceptions: housing managed by religious organizations, owner-occupied properties with four or fewer units, and properties for sale or rent by owner (with no agent).

In most situations, emotional support dogs qualify for approval in apartments, houses, and other property types. Also, emotional support dogs are not subject to breed restrictions, unlike standard pets. Larger animals, such as horses, may be denied due to their size.

In certain cases, a landlord may deny an emotional support dog if they prove that it would place an undue financial or administrative burden on their shoulders. Additionally, emotional support dogs that have demonstrated dangerous aggression or destructive behavior may also be refused.

Can landlords charge for emotional support animals?

No. According to the FHA and HUD regulations, a landlord cannot charge a pet deposit or extra feed for an emotional support animal, solely because an ESA is not considered a “pet.” Additionally, for an emotional support animal, pet rent cannot be charged. However, if your ESA damages the property, you will be financially liable.

Can you live anywhere and have an emotional support animal?

While you have certain housing rights under ESA laws, that doesn’t mean you can live anywhere with an ESA. Properties that are owner-occupied and have less than 4 units, housing managed by religious organizations, members-only private clubs, or properties for rent or for sale by owner are exempt from the FHA.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean a guaranteed denial of your ESA, it does mean that the landlord or owner is allowed to refuse your request.

Additionally, very large animals such as horses can be refused if there isn’t space or appropriate accommodations available. Finally, if the property owner demonstrates that the ESA would put undue stress on them (either financially or administratively), they have legal grounds for a refusal.

That being said, many property owners do their best to accommodate ESAs, especially once they are made aware of the specific purpose of an ESA.

Can a landlord reject my ESA because it is too young or too old?

No. There are no specific age requirements for an ESA, so the landlord cannot lawfully reject your ESA based on age alone.

When can a landlord legally reject an ESA?
While the FHA does protect your ESA rights, there are some conditions that allow a landlord to refuse an ESA. While ESA laws are intended to protect the rights of someone diagnosed with an emotional or mental disability, they are not designed to force a landlord to accept the ESA in all circumstances.

Here are the situations in which a landlord can legally deny your ESA request:

  • If your ESA is too large for the size of the property, the request can be refused. For example, a horse may be refused accommodations in a small apartment or home without a yard.
  • If the building is owner-occupied and has four units or less, meaning the landlord or property owner lives on site.
  • If the property is a single-family house rented without a professional realty agent, and the owner has less than 3 single-family homes in their possession.
  • If the ESA would bring undue financial hardship to the landlord or property owner.
  • If the ESA damages the property.
  • If the ESA causes harm or threatens other tenants in the building.

What do I do if my landlord rejects my ESA even though I have an ESA letter?

If your landlord rejects your ESA even though you’ve provided your ESA letter, your first step is to request a formal letter explaining the rejection. Then, you can reply (via letter or email) stating that you have provided all required documentation (your ESA letter) and that they are rejecting your reasonable accommodation request. At that point, you may inform them that you will contact the HUD to file an official complaint about discrimination. Keep the tone calm and professional. Your landlord may then conduct their own research and reconsider your request, or they may stand by their refusal. From there, you have the option to file a HUD complaint, either using the online system or by printing and mailing a discrimination form to the address below. 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.

Can a landlord evict me for getting an ESA?

No. You are required to follow proper procedures before bringing your ESA into the home, including providing an ESA letter. However, if you have completed the required steps, your landlord cannot evict you simply because they don’t want you to own an ESA. The landlord is also not allowed to evict you for failure to pay pet deposits or pet rent for an ESA, because those are banned under the FHA.

Can my landlord require me to register my ESA?

There is no official registration process or database for ESAs. If your landlord is requesting that you register your ESA, they may be confused. Let them know that advertised ESA “registries” are scams, and that your ESA letter is the only required documentation according to FHA law.

Can a landlord question me about my emotional or mental disability?

No. While it’s not unusual for landlords to ask probing questions about your condition, it is actually illegal. You are not required to answer any questions about your disability, even if they attempt to pressure you.

Can my landlord request medical records or medical history?

No. Your landlord cannot legally ask for specific information about your medical condition, history, or records in order to approve your ESA.

How do I tell my landlord about my emotional support animal?

Before you begin the conversation about your ESA, it’s important that you are informed about the law and your rights. Have your ESA letter on hand, and be ready to provide a copy to your landlord if needed. It’s often a good idea to approach the conversation respectfully but firmly and be willing to provide your landlord with specific information about the FHA to help them understand your rights. Many landlords are unaware of ESA laws, so be prepared to answer questions and defend your ESA rights.

Emotional Support Animals and Housing: Tips for Success

Whether you’re searching for housing with your ESA or hoping to bring one to your current residence, there are a few things you can do to maximize your opportunity for an excellent outcome:

Make sure your ESA has basic training and can behave properly

There are no specific training requirements for an ESA, but it’s important that the animal can behave well in a variety of situations. If your ESA is aggressive, makes excessive noise, or frequently damages property, you are far more likely to encounter housing issues. A landlord can evict you for possession of an ESA if it becomes a danger to other tenant’s safety or quality of life, so proper training is key.

Be open and honest when communicating with the property owner

You aren’t legally bound to tell the property owner about your ESA during the application process, but it can often be helpful to keep the lines of communication open. Many landlords and property owners are open to accommodating your need if they are aware of your request, and it may set a positive tone if you communicate clearly from the beginning.

Understand your legal rights

Knowing your rights – and knowing what to do if they’ve been violated – is an important part of owning an ESA. Having a clear understanding of ESA laws will enable you to stand up for yourself and navigate even the most challenging situations. You may discover that a landlord that seems difficult is simply unaware of ESA laws and rights, giving you the valuable opportunity to educate them.

More Information about ESAs and Housing

If you have further questions about ESA, securing housing with your ESA, or other ESA-related topics, Support Pets is happy to help. Contact our friendly team for more information and let us guide you through the ESA process.

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