More and more renters are enjoying the companionship of an emotional support animal (ESA) to cope with their mental and emotional health issues. There is a growing trend recognizing the important benefits these animals provide for their owners. Under federal and state housing rules, landlords cannot discriminate against tenants who need emotional support animals and ESA owners are allowed to live with their animals even in buildings that have “no pets allowed” policies.
In this article, we will examine the process of renting an apartment with an emotional support animal and explore ways to deal with potentially difficult landlords. Renters with emotional support animals have specific rights and protections under federal and state rules. We will explore how these rules safeguard a tenant’s right to have an ESA and how renters can qualify for these benefits.
Having an ESA and living in a Housing with a No Pets Policy
Under federal Fair Housing rules, an emotional support animal is a type of assistance animal that is not considered an ordinary everyday pet. That means that a landlord’s usual policies regarding pets do not apply to an ESA. So even if a building completely prohibits pets, the landlord must still make accommodations for emotional support animals.
It is important for ESA owners to understand ESA rules so that they are able to properly take advantage of the benefits of owning an ESA. It is also wise to carefully plan and consider how to approach your landlord with an ESA request. Even though a landlord may be legally obligated to accommodate an ESA, you still want to be on good terms with them and be cooperative in working through any issues that come up.
Below are some steps and tips to consider when approaching your landlord, building owner, HOA or co-op that will help you successfully bring your emotional support animal into your rental home.
- Get an ESA Letter from a Therapist
Getting your paperwork together to show your potential or existing landlord is crucial in helping the ESA accommodation process go smoothly. Under Fair Housing rules, landlords are permitted to request documentation from a renter in order to prove that their animal companion is an actual emotional support animal. There is only one form of documentation that will do the job under Fair Housing Rules: a recommendation letter from a licensed health care professional.
An ESA letter from a licensed professional will establish that you have a disability such as depression, anxiety or PTSD and state your need for an emotional support animal to address your health issues. This document should be signed and dated by the licensed professional, and also contain their license and contact information. A landlord has the right to demand an ESA letter from a tenant requesting accommodation for their ESA to ensure the request is genuine. If you would like to qualify for an ESA letter remotely, that is an option available to you as well.
- Let Your Landlord Know About your ESA
Once you have qualified your animal companion as an emotional support animal with an ESA letter, it’s now time to approach your landlord. The best approach is to proceed in a friendly and open manner. You can make your ESA request verbally or in writing (via email for example). The vast majority of landlords are happy to comply with their obligations under Fair Housing rules, and many landlords are sympathetic when it comes to the mental health needs of their tenants.
Your landlord is entitled to verify that your animal friend is indeed an ESA by requesting an ESA letter. You are not under any obligation to disclose your specific disability or other sensitive details about your condition. Under Fair Housing guidance, landlords are encouraged to engage in a good-faith interactive dialogue with the tenant to resolve any issues regarding their ESA request. It is important that both sides listen to each other and work together to resolve any barriers to accommodating the emotional support animal.
Once you submit a request for ESA accommodation, your housing provider has to respond promptly, and within 10 days. They also cannot charge you an application fee or any other type of fee in order to consider your ESA request. If the landlord has any doubts or questions about your request, they should let you know what they feel is missing and offer you an opportunity to provide additional information. Under Fair Housing rules, landlords are only permitted to deny an ESA request in limited circumstances, such as if they determine the ESA is safety risk to others.
One common question that renters applying for a new apartment have is whether they should hold off on disclosing that they have an ESA. These tenants often fear that they will be discriminated against and be rejected for an apartment before they can even sign the lease. There is no Fair Housing mandate to disclose an ESA at the time you apply for an apartment. Landlords are also obligated to consider an ESA request from a tenant whenever they receive it.
However, you should weigh these factors against whether it will truly matter if you disclose your ESA to your landlord when applying for an apartment and how your landlord might react if later they feel they were misled. There is a human component to think about when dealing with a landlord who you may have to live with for a potentially long time. Remember, federal laws protect your right to live with an emotional support animal. That being said, some renters choose to submit their ESA request after they sign their lease because it gives them comfort that they will not be subjected to unwarranted discrimination.
- Make Sure your Animal Behaves
It is important for renters to understand that under Fair Housing rules, there are certain situations where a landlord is allowed to deny an ESA request. For example, the landlord can validly reject an ESA if the landlord makes a determination that having the ESA in the home would constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals. Landlords can also deny ESAs that would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others.
Although emotional support animals do not need any specialized training to address their owner’s mental health issue, they should always be well-behaved and obedient. A landlord may be justified in evicting an ESA that causes substantial property damage or is threatening to other tenants. Being a good neighbor with an ESA that does not cause a nuisance is also just the right thing to do.
ESA owners should also be aware that if their ESA causes any damage to the rented property or common areas of the building, they will be responsible for paying for the costs. Although landlords can’t request a pet deposit or fees for an ESA, they are allowed to deduct any expenses for damages from the tenant’s general security deposit.
A well-behaved ESA also serves as a good ambassador for other ESAs and their owners. The ESA community at large benefits from showing landlords and other residents that emotional support animals won’t interfere with their daily lives and do not pose any type of threat to their safety or property.
- Understand what Rights you Have as an ESA Owner
The Fair Housing Act was enacted to stop landlords and building owners from discriminating against tenants that need special assistance in the form of emotional support. Under these rules, renters with ESAs are protected and have special rights.
As previously discussed, ESAs must be accommodated even in buildings that normally forbid pets. In addition, housing providers are not allowed to charge a fee or deposit relating to the emotional support animal, even though they may tenants that have normal pets. It is also important to note that housing providers cannot disallow an ESA solely because it is a certain breed or weight. For example, even if a building’s policies prohibit dogs that are over 20 pounds, the housing provider must still accommodate a large emotional support dog.
Fair Housing rules with respect to ESAs apply to most types of rented housing, including apartments, condominiums, and single-family homes. There are however some smaller rental buildings that are exempt from Fair Housing rules regarding ESAs. Renters that are in owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units and single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent are not protected by Fair Housing rules. However, many landlords in these types of housing will still accommodate ESAs as a courtesy, even though legally they are not obligated to do so.
Emotional Support Animal Discrimination Cases
Most landlords and apartment managers are happy to fulfill their obligations under Fair Housing rules when it comes to emotional support animals. There are some landlords that are unaware these rules even exist, but come around once they are informed of what federal and state laws demand of them.
Unfortunately, there is a small subset of housing providers that are unreasonably difficult about ESA accommodations and use various tactics to try to refuse a tenant’s rightful ESA request. Many landlords have been sued for not properly adhering to rules regarding a tenant’s right to live with their ESA. Below are just a few examples of cases that have been brought relating to violations of ESA rules:
- Breed and Weight Discrimination Case
- ESA Dog in College Dorm Housing Case
- Additional Fees/Pet Deposit for ESA Case
It is never a pleasant situation for anyone to become embroiled in a legal dispute regarding an ESA. Most landlords are reasonable and will come to an agreement regarding a tenant’s ESA after constructive dialogue with the tenant.
However, if you are a renter and you believe your housing provider is violating your legal rights even after numerous attempts to resolve the situation amicably, you have the option of filing a complaint directly with HUD. However, this should really be used as a last resort option and in situations where a housing provider is egregiously violating your federally protected rights as an ESA owner.
Qualifying for an ESA letter
Living with an Emotional Support Animal is your right if you have mental and emotional health struggles. If you don’t have access to a therapist, you can connect with one online through ESADoctors.com. Click on the link below to get started with your online ESA evaluation.