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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Has Never Been Easier!