Since 2015, ESA Doctors has helped clients interested in qualifying for emotional support animals connect with real licensed mental health professionals. As Emotional Support Animal (ESA) advocates, we find it important to educate our clients and anyone in need about ESA housing rights and how to effectively communicate with your landlord.
We know first-hand that dealing with landlords can be intimidating and sometimes frustrating, especially if the landlord is unaware of ESA rules or is opposed to emotional support animals in general. That is why we believe it is important for all ESA owners to be well-versed about the rules that pertain to their ESAs under the Fair Housing Act.
If you are ready to see if you qualify for an ESA letter and request reasonable accommodation for your Emotional Support Animal, we would be happy to assist you.
If you are knowledgeable regarding ESA housing rights, you are more likely to be successful in requesting accommodations for your ESA from your landlord. We also believe that ESA owners should act responsibly and be good ambassadors for other ESA owners, and that means knowing what rights their ESAs have and do not have.
Five Questions You Must Know the Answer to for Emotional Support Animal Housing
1. Can my landlord place a weight and/or breed restriction on my ESA?
Landlords will often attempt to place a weight and/or breed restriction on Emotional Support Animals. This is not permitted. Below are two questions our readers frequently asked us on this topic:
“My building’s policy on pets doesn’t allow for dogs over 65 pounds. My Great Dane who is my ESA exceeds that limit, can my landlord deny my ESA?”
A landlord cannot deny an ESA solely because it is a certain weight or breed. A building’s normal policies regarding pets will not apply to an emotional support animal, which is categorized as a type of assistance animal and not a pet under Fair Housing rules. It is still important however that your home can safely and comfortably accommodate your ESA.
“My ESA is a Pitbull and my landlord has stated that Pitbulls are not allowed in the building. Can my landlord deny my Pitbull?”
The Department of Housing has clearly stated that categorical breed restrictions are prohibited. A landlord can’t deny an ESA solely on the basis that it is a Pitbull. Instead, landlords may only determine if the specific ESA in question poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. That determination has to be based on an individualized assessment of the ESA’s actual conduct, and cannot be based on stereotypes about the specific breed. That means a landlord can deny your Pitbull if there is actual evidence that is a threat to others, but not if the landlord is just basing their decision on anecdotal evidence about Pitbulls.
2. Do I have to pay Pet Fees or a Pet Deposit for my Emotional Support Animal?
“My landlord says I have to pay a $400 fee in connection with my ESA and that I’m responsible for any damage my ESA causes, is that allowed?“
Landlords are not allowed to charge pet fees and pet deposits in connection with ESAs. As previously noted, conditions and restrictions that landlords apply to normal pets may not be applied to ESAs. That means that while landlords can require applicants or residents to pay a deposit or fee in connection with a normal pet, they are not allowed to require applicants and residents to pay a deposit or fee for an ESA. Your landlord is correct however that if your ESA causes damage to the property, you as the owner are responsible.
3. Who can write an ESA Letter for me?
“My landlord says that my ESA letter is invalid because it did not come from a medical doctor. Is he right?“
He is not right. One common misconception people have is that an ESA letter must be “prescribed” from a medical doctor. That is incorrect – an ESA letter is a recommendation letter that can come from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). The Fair Housing Act allows an ESA letter to come from a LMHP, which includes nurses, psychologists, therapists, counselors, social workers and psychiatrists. Doctors can also write ESA letters but they are sometimes uninformed about ESAs and not in the best position to recommend an ESA. The best place to go to see if you qualify for an ESA letter is your existing therapist. If you do not have a therapist, ESA Doctors can help connect you to a mental health professional that is licensed for your state.
4. Can my Emotional Support Animal and I go to Common Areas?
“My landlord says my ESA has to stay in my apartment at all times and can’t go in the common areas where other tenants are allowed, such as the courtyard garden or pool area, can he do that?“
No, he cannot do that. The rules regarding ESAs were designed to allow tenants with disabilities to enjoy the premises of their homes to the same degree as non-disabled tenants. The Department of Housing has stated that an ESA is allowed “in all areas of the premises where persons are normally allowed to go, unless doing so would impose an undue financial and administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s services.” That would include a tenant’s residence and tenant common areas, such as your courtyard garden or community pool area.
5. Which landlords do not need to comply with Fair Housing rules?
“I live in a building with 3 units, and the owner lives in one of those units. Does the landlord have to comply with rules regarding ESAs under the Fair Housing Act?“
Although most housing is covered by the Fair Housing Act, there are some exceptions. The Fair Housing Act exempts (1) owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, (2) single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent, (3) housing operated by religious organizations and (4) private clubs that limit occupancy to members. If your housing falls into one of those categories your landlord does not have to accommodate ESAs. However, many landlords who are not obligated to accommodate ESAs because they fall under one of these exemptions will often allow ESAs anyway as a courtesy. It is always best to speak openly to your landlord about your need for an ESA.
How can I qualify for an ESA letter?
If you believe you benefit or would benefit from an Emotional Support Animal’s presence and support. We can help connect you with a licensed mental health professional directly to see if you may qualify.