…and How to Protect Yourself as a Landlord

Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers such as landlords, Co-Ops, and HOAs cannot charge their tenants fees, deposits, and surcharges with their emotional support animals (ESA). ESAs are not considered pets for purposes of Fair Housing rules and must be allowed even in buildings that prohibit pets. That also means that a building’s general policies regarding pets do not apply to emotional support animals. So even though the building may impose fees and deposits for regular pets, they may not do so for ESAs.

In this article, we will also address concerns raised by housing providers who are worried about potential fraud and being on the hook for damage that an ESA may cause to the residence or common areas. We will discuss how landlords can validate an ESA request and recover for expenses if an ESA causes damage.

If you do not have the proper documentation for your ESA, we can help you connect with a licensed healthcare professional licensed in your state to assist you. You can start by completing the questionnaire at the link below.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How fees, deposits, and fines apply to tenants with ESA’s, and whether the tenant is eligible for a refund if they have already paid these charges.

My animal companion only recently qualified as an emotional support animal. If I paid a deposit or fee when my ESA was just a pet, do I qualify for a refund?

This is a frequently asked question from tenants, and the answer is yes, but with some caveats. It is very common for a tenant to move in with their pet, pay a pet fee or deposit and then later qualify for an emotional support animal through their licensed mental health professional. In these instances, if the tenant paid a deposit, they would be entitled to a refund of the deposit since their animal companion is no longer considered a pet for purposes of Fair Housing rules. Landlords, Co-Ops, HOAs, and other housing providers are never permitted to charge a fee or deposit because a tenant has an ESA.

However, with respect to refunds for fees, there is no clear guidance on what portion of the fee should be refunded. However, it could make sense that the landlord would need to refund at least a prorated portion of the fee. For example, if the tenant paid a fee to cover their pet for a year and then qualified for an ESA mid-way through that year, they should at least get a prorated refund for the remaining half of the year. It would be appropriate to apply a fee in the first six months while the tenant owned a pet, but not in the latter six months when the tenant’s animal companion qualified as a valid ESA.

My landlord says they will consider my ESA request, but I will need to pay an application fee, can they do that?

No, under Fair Housing rules, housing providers cannot charge a fee for processing an ESA accommodation request. To qualify for an ESA, the tenant must obtain a recommendation letter from a licensed healthcare professional; registration is not sufficient. The tenant would then submit this letter to their housing provider and request accommodation for their ESA. The housing provider must reply promptly to the request and no later than 10 days from receiving the ESA letter. The housing provider can only deny the tenant’s ESA in limited circumstances (such as if the ESA is dangerous or poses a health risk) and must engage in an interactive process with the tenant to address any concerns. The housing provider is not permitted to charge an application fee or processing fee to consider the tenant’s request to live with their ESA.

I brought a pet home and was fined by my landlord for breaking the building’s rules banning pets, but later that pet qualified as an emotional support animal, can I get a refund of that fine?

Probably not. If the fine was validly issued at the time the pet violated the building’s rules, the landlord was probably within their rights to issue the fine. The landlord would not have to refund a fine that was properly assessed when it was given. However, in these instances, it never hurts to have a discussion with the landlord about your need for an ESA and whether any exemptions or waivers of the fine could be granted. We always recommend that tenants have open and honest discussions with their housing provider about their ESAs, and never hide the fact that they have brought an animal companion home.

It may be obvious, but it is important to note that a landlord can never charge a fine because the tenant owns an ESA. For example, if the building assesses a fine for pets brought into the building, that fine cannot be assessed for ESAs. Or, if the building charges a fine for having a large animal, that fine cannot be charged for an ESA.

My landlord says that because my ESA exceeds the building’s weight limit on pets, I have to pay an additional fee, can they do that?

No, fees are never allowed for ESAs, and a building’s normal policies regarding pets are not applicable to an ESA. Furthermore, under Fair Housing rules, breed and weight restrictions cannot be imposed on an ESA. For example, if the building normally has a policy that limits dogs to a certain weight or charges a fee for larger dogs, neither of those policies would apply to an emotional support animal.

As a landlord, Co-Op board, or HOA, how do I protect myself if the tenant’s emotional support animal causes damage to the residence or building?

A tenant is always responsible for damage caused by their emotional support animal. Being exempt from pet fees and deposits does not absolve them of their responsibility for the actions of their assistance animal. If the ESA causes damage to the residence or any common area of the building, the landlord is within their rights to charge the tenant for that damage.

In addition, Fair Housing rules allow for housing providers to deduct expenses for damages caused by an ESA from the tenant’s standard security deposit. That means that while housing providers don’t have the benefit of a separate and special deposit to cover the ESA as they would potentially get for a pet, they can still deduct costs from the tenant’s general security deposit if the ESA causes any damage.

As a landlord, I’m concerned that my tenant is faking their need for an ESA to avoid paying the pet fee or deposit, how can I make sure their request is legitimate?

For landlords concerned about tenants faking their need for an ESA to get out of paying pet fees and deposits, they do not just have to rely on the tenant’s word. The landlord can request appropriate documentation to validate that their animal companion is an ESA in the form of an ESA letter. Note, however, those landlords should exercise caution not to violate the privacy rights of the tenant. For example, landlords cannot ask for a specific diagnosis or for detailed information about the tenant’s mental or emotional condition.

The only legitimate way to qualify for an ESA is by having a recommendation letter signed by a licensed healthcare professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, nurse, physician assistant, counselor, or social worker. If the tenant is only presenting a certificate, registration number, ID card, or vest, the landlord can request that the tenant provide further documentation in the form of an ESA letter. A legitimate ESA letter should be signed and dated on the licensed healthcare professional’s letterhead, and also contain their contact and licensing information.

Why should my tenant not have to pay a fee or deposit for their emotional support animal when my other tenants are obligated to pay for their pets? That doesn’t seem fair!

A basic guiding principle of Fair Housing rules is that the disabled should be allowed to enjoy their residence and building to the same extent that a non-disabled person can. It would not be fair to charge someone disabled for accommodation they need in order to use their dwelling the same way a non-disabled person can. Exempting ESA owners from fees and deposits allows those suffering from a mental or emotional disability to have equal opportunity to enjoy and use an apartment or home.

In addition, the exemption for fees and deposits does not let the tenant off the hook for the actions of their ESA. The tenant is responsible for the actions of their emotional support animal, including damages it causes to the residence or property. The landlord can deduct expenses for any damages from the tenant’s general security deposit, just as it can with the other tenants in their building.

Understanding your rights as an ESA owner can save you from unfair charges

ESA cats on bed with owner
As an ESA owner, you have specific rights that protect you. Make sure that you understand your rights.

If you are currently living with an emotional support animal and had previously paid a deposit or fee in connection with your animal companion, you may be entitled to a refund. It is also important for landlords to understand these rights so they know how to properly verify a tenant’s ESA request and ensure they do not violate any Fair Housing rules. Landlords should also be aware they can still hold the tenant accountable for any damages caused by an ESA and make deductions from a general security deposit.

What should you do if your landlord continues to violate your Fair Housing Rights? Here are a few options:

  1. Engage in a dialogue with your landlord to see if there is a mutually acceptable compromise to both parties.

    This is the best way to resolve an ESA housing dispute.

  2. Consult with an attorney or use a demand letter service to send a legal letter to your landlord.

  3. File a complaint with HUD

    This is a government agency that can investigate Fair Housing violation claims. This should only be a last resort option if all other measures have failed.

If you’re curious about Fair Housing Laws for emotional support animals or the process to get a valid emotional support animal, you can read more about the Fair Housing Act for emotional support animals here.

If you are having trouble finding a therapist, or it is difficult to see a therapist in person for financial reasons, scheduling issues due to work, family, or school, or because of anxieties or phobias about seeking help in person, ESA Doctors can help connect you to a licensed professional that is familiar with ESAs.

The professionals that work with ESA Doctors are licensed for your state and offer compassionate and understanding service to clients interested in whether an emotional support animal is right for them. Click on the button below to see if you may qualify for an ESA letter.

Need an ESA Letter? We can help. Click on the link below to get started!

Three easy steps to get an ESA Letter with ESA Doctors
Steps to getting an ESA letter. Click the link below to get started.
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