Emotional support animals are granted certain rights under the law. Unfortunately, sometimes the people who rely on these animals are discriminated against and have their rights as an ESA handler violated. Emotional support animals, or ESAs, are more than just pets. They are recommended or prescribed by licensed mental health providers to individuals who suffer from conditions like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and depression. Because they play a vital role in helping people who are mentally or emotionally disabled, the law requires that certain accommodations must be made for them.
If you are an ESA handler, you may have experienced discrimination due to your need for a support animal. While having your rights violated can make you feel helpless, there are things you can do. Keep reading to learn how to stand up for your rights as an ESA handler.
Housing Rights of Emotional Support Animals and their Handlers
Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), policies that ban pets must be modified to accommodate emotional support animals. According to the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, property managers and landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for any tenant that has an ESA. They may not charge a pet fee or deposit, nor may they require that the ESA perform a specific task like a service animal would. Landlords and property managers also may not ask about the extent of your disability or request a detailed medical record.
As long as the request is reasonable, landlords and HOA’s cannot deny an ESA on the following basis:
- Weight of the animal
- Breed of the animal
- Size of the animal
Landlords and HOA’s cannot ask for the following:
- Provide access to medical records
- Provide access to medical providers or mental health professionals
- Provide detailed information or documentation of your mental disability
Landlords and HOA’s cannot make you pay these additional fees:
- Pet deposit
- Additional pet rent
- ESA application fees
Can a Landlord Charge me for an Emotional Support Animal?
NO! Landlords and Condo HOA’s cannot charge extra pet rent or pet deposits for people with emotional support animals. Emotional support animals are not considered pets and do not require these additional fees. If your landlord or HOA charges any extra pet fees for your ESA, you can provide them with the correct information. The Fair Housing Act and HUD are very clear on this subject and these laws will overrule local laws that are in conflict. Know your rights so that you can stand up for yourself.
Can a Condo HOA or Apartment Deny Emotional Support Animals?
According to HUD (top of page 4), landlords and Condo HOA’s cannot request private medical information, ask for access to your medical provider or LMHP, or demand detailed or extensive information or documentation of a tenant’s mental or physical disability/impairment.
Landlords and Condo HOA’s are not in the business of determining if their tenant has a disability. They cannot mandate or request who an ESA letter comes from or determine if they feel the mental health professional is appropriate to write the ESA letter. If they have concerns, they may verify your licensed mental health professional’s credentials, but cannot reject your ESA letter from your LMHP based on any other associations.
Common intimidation tactics that landlords use:
- Request sensitive medical records
- Have lawyers contact medical providers and LMHPs to collect unneeded information
- Require medical providers and LMHP to testify in court or sign affidavits
- Delay acceptance of ESA
- Provide eviction notices for ESA handlers
According to HUD, if you have an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional that is all that is required for you to live with your ESA in your home. “Such documentation is sufficient if it establishes that an individual has a disability and that the animal in question will provide some type of disability-related assistance or emotional support.” – HUD (Section 1, Paragraph 6)
Provide the Correct Documentation for your ESA
Showing that the animal has been recommended to you by a licensed therapist or other mental health professional often turns the situation around. Unfortunately, there are plenty of unscrupulous landlords that will try to deny your request by any means necessary. There are landlords that will try to deny emotional support animals because they lose income on pet rental fees. Landlords may also be unhappy that tenants that need support animals can now have easy access to LMHP’s online.
The fact that we now have easier access to mental health professionals should be celebrated and not denigrated. Because this is a common problem, tenants are now resisting the powerful real estate lobby and apartment complexes and are winning lawsuits in many cases. It’s always a good idea to read up on your rights and understand that you can stand up for yourself.
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Can My Landlord Require ESA Registration?
Registration for emotional support animals is not required by the law. Some uninformed landlords or airline employees may demand to see your “ESA registration” but the law does not require this at all. You can tell them that your ESA letter is all that is required by the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.
Vests and other displays of being an ESA are also not required. If you have your ESA letter, you are welcome to get an ESA vest and get your ESA registered through a third party, but these are not needed to qualify your animal as an emotional support animal.
What to Do if Your Rights Are Violated
Unfortunately, people don’t always play by the rules. Whether you have been turned down for an apartment due to a “no pets” policy or you have been denied a seat on a flight because of your ESA, you have the right to stand up for yourself. While facing such a situation is stressful and sometimes humiliating, do your best to remain calm and factual. Calmly and rationally explain that your ESA has been approved by a medical professional and, as such, is protected by the law. Make it known that you are well aware of your rights and will take legal action if necessary. Reference the laws set forth in the HUD document in the link above.
File a Complaint
Airlines are usually willing to accommodate emotional support animals, but there are times when employees are not aware of the rules. If the airline customer service representative denies your request even if you have proper documentation, you can ask for their supervisor and escalate your request. If the airline employees are still denying you access, you can file a complaint with the US Department of Travel. Link can be found below.
Landlords and property managers, however, can often be more challenging. Many of them are unaware of your rights as an ESA handler and may refuse to allow you to move in. If you face this situation, ask them to write a formal letter stating that they are rejecting you from becoming a tenant due to your ESA. Once you have received this correspondence, write back stating that you have provided the appropriate documentation (send it again with this letter/email) and that you will be filing a formal complaint if they continue to violate your rights.
If they still insist on rejecting you due to your ESA, file a complaint against the landlord or property manager with the HUD for discrimination due to your disability. Link can be found below. You may also want to contact an attorney who acts as an ESA advocate.
Emotional support animal handlers face numerous challenges. While ESAs are not entitled to all the rights to which service animals are entitled, the law does provide a degree of protection to ensure that the people who depend on these animals are not discriminated against. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself if you fall victim to discrimination due to your ESA or disability.
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