We will explore commonly used excuses that housing providers give to deny tenants their right to live with an emotional support animal. The intent of this article is to answer questions and provide helpful information to tenants requesting ESA accommodation from their landlords and also to educate landlords on what they should avoid when faced with an ESA accommodation request. Rejecting a tenant’s request for ESA accommodation for faulty reasons can lead to fines and legal action.
Below are 7 common ways we have seen landlords wrongly deny an ESA housing accommodation
- My landlord, HOA or Co-Op is ignoring my ESA request and giving me the silent treatment, what do I do?
- My housing provider is demanding to see a certification, registration or ID for my ESA, are they right?
- My landlord, HOA or Co-Op is demanding additional documentation and forms, as well as notarized documents from my therapist, can they do that?
- My landlord, HOA or Co-Op is demanding to know what my medical diagnosis is, can they ask for these details?
- My landlord, HOA or Co-Op is denying my ESA because it is too large or a certain breed, is that allowed under Fair Housing Rules?
- My landlord, HOA or Co-Op says that my ESA letter must come from a physician, are they right?
- My landlord, HOA or Co-Op says my ESA letter must come from a local therapist or doctor, is that correct?
Under Federal Fair Housing rules, almost all housing providers must reasonably accommodate tenants with valid emotional support animals. That means if a tenant submits a recommendation letter from a licensed health care professional (known as an ESA letter), the landlord, HOA or co-op must allow the tenant to live with their ESA, even if the building has a no-pets policy. Emotional support animals are not considered pets. That means that housing providers also cannot charge fees or deposits in connection with ESAs, or impose breed or weight restrictions.
Most landlords are accommodating of tenants with valid ESAs and comply with federal rules. Unfortunately, there are some landlords who try to reject ESA requests from tenants with invalid excuses. These landlords may simply be unaware of what Fair Housing rules require. Housing providers should always exercise caution when denying an ESA request so they do not act in a way that violates the tenant’s rights under housing law.
If you do not have your ESA Housing Letter, we can connect you to a licensed health professional to assist you in the link below.
1. My landlord, HOA or Co-Op is ignoring my ESA request and giving me the silent treatment, what do I do?
Under Fair Housing rules, landlords must consider and respond to a tenant’s request for ESA accommodation in a timely fashion. Although most landlords respond to ESA requests promptly, some landlords in an effort to deny a tenant’s ESA request will simply ignore the request. In these cases, the landlord may hope that if they just ignore the situation, the tenant may give up on their request.
Landlords cannot unreasonably prolong the accommodation process. In previous guidance given by the U.S. Department of Housing, landlords could not “unreasonably delay” responding to an ESA request. That led to confusion about how much time exactly a landlord had to respond. In more recent guidance, HUD has clarified that housing providers must respond “promptly” and within 10 days of receiving documentation from the tenant. That means if your landlord has not responded to your request within 10 days, they may be running afoul of HUD’s guidelines.
It behooves both the tenant and landlord to respond to an ESA request in a timely manner and for the parties to engage in active conversation.
- For the tenant, an ESA can mean a critical difference in their lives and being put in a position of uncertainty waiting for a decision can be very difficult and exacerbate an existing condition.
- For landlords, if there is a concern about the tenant’s request, it’s beneficial for both parties to begin discussing any potential concerns about the tenant’s ESA situation. As we will discuss later, HUD encourages tenants and landlords to engage in good faith discussions about ESA matters.
2. My housing provider is demanding to see a certification, registration or ID for my ESA, are they right?
Sometimes after a tenant submits an ESA letter to their housing provider, the housing provider will then additionally ask to see a certification, registration or ID for the ESA. It’s also common for tenants to mistakenly believe they need these things.
Emotional support animals do not require registrations, certificates, IDs or vests.
In fact, having a certificate, registration, ID or vest on their own confer no rights on an animal companion. These items do not satisfy documentation requirements under Fair Housing rules to demonstrate that an animal companion is an emotional support animal. The critical form of proof for an emotional support animal is an ESA letter signed by a licensed health care professional. If your landlord asks to see a certificate, registration, ID or vest for your ESA in lieu of or in addition to an ESA letter, they are mistaken.
3. My landlord, HOA or Co-Op is demanding additional documentation and forms, as well as notarized documents from my therapist, can they do that?
Sometimes, after submitting an ESA request, the landlord will insist that the tenant or their health care provider fill out additional forms. Or, the landlord may request the health care professional provide notarized documents, make statements under penalty of perjury, or provide the tenant’s diagnosis or other detailed information about their mental impairment (we’ll discuss this last point more later).
If your landlord demands any of these things, they are violating Fair Housing rules. HUD has given guidance that housing providers cannot require a tenant’s health care professional to use a specific form, provide notarized statements, to make statements under penalty of perjury or provide the tenant’s diagnosis or detailed information about their condition.
Landlords can request an ESA letter
A legitimate ESA letter will contain the health care professional’s licensing and contact information which can easily be used to verify the authenticity of the letter if there is any doubt. HUD recognized that it’s unnecessary and a bit silly for landlords to request a notarized document or statements regarding perjury when an ESA letter already is a signed document on a licensed professional’s letterhead. Licensed health care professionals operate in accordance with rules of professional conduct, and HUD notes that it relies on health care professionals to provide accurate information consistent with their professional obligations.
4. My landlord, HOA or Co-Op is demanding to know what my medical diagnosis is, can they ask for these details?
Sometimes after being presented with an ESA letter, the housing provider will demand from the tenant or the health care professional additional details regarding the tenant’s condition. This can be a serious violation of Fair Housing rules. Fair Housing rules do not allow a landlord to request the tenant’s diagnosis or other detailed information about their physical or mental impairment.
Furthermore, the housing provider cannot demand disclosure of details about the diagnosis or severity of a disability, demand to see medical records, or insist on a medical examination. Under Fair Housing rules, the specific details regarding a tenant’s condition that necessitates the need for an ESA is considered confidential information. Tenants have a right to privacy when it comes to information regarding their physical or mental condition.
A well-crafted ESA letter from a licensed health care professional will establish that the tenant has an impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity and that the ESA provides emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of the tenant’s disability. The landlord cannot ask for a specific diagnosis or detailed medical information – that is protected by the tenant’s right of privacy.
5. My landlord, HOA or Co-Op is denying my ESA because it is too large or a certain breed, is that allowed under Fair Housing Rules?
Sometimes a housing provider will acknowledge that the tenant has an emotional support animal, but try to deny the ESA because it is too heavy or it is a certain breed. For example, they may say that the building’s policies regarding pets do not allow dogs over 25 lbs or pit bulls. ESAs are not considered normal pets and any policies or restrictions that apply to pets do not apply to emotional support animals.
HUD has given guidance stating that housing providers cannot impose breed or weight restrictions on emotional support animals. Housing providers are allowed to determine whether the specific ESA in question poses a health or safety threat, but they cannot make assumptions about the ESA solely because it is a certain size or breed. The ESA should also be able to be able to safely and comfortably live in the residence.
If your landlord tells you that they won’t allow you to bring your ESA home solely because there is a policy banning large dogs or a certain breed, they are not complying with Fair Housing rules.
6. My landlord, HOA or Co-Op says that my ESA letter must come from a physician, are they right?
No, an ESA letter does not have to come from a physician. An ESA letter can be written by a range of licensed professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, social workers and other licensed providers. If you have an existing licensed health care professional looking after your mental health, they can probably write your ESA letter. If you do not have a licensed professional, or are having trouble finding someone that is familiar with ESAs, we can help connect you to a professional licensed for your state.
7. My landlord, HOA or Co-Op says my ESA letter must come from a local therapist or doctor, is that correct?
Sometimes a housing provider will demand that the tenant submit an ESA letter from a local therapist or doctor. That is not a requirement under Fair Housing rules. In fact, HUD has recognized the importance of online providers and has specifically stated that licensed professionals can provide services remotely, including through online services. The important criteria is that the licensed professional you work with is licensed for the state you are in and is familiar with the benefits of emotional support animals.
Many people take advantage of the convenience of online services offered by licensed health care professionals, particularly those with limited means or scheduling issues due to work, school or family obligations. If you are interested in finding a remote provider that is familiar with ESAs, we can help connect you to someone licensed for your state.
ESA Accommodations Should be an Interactive Process
We have outlined a few common invalid excuses that housing providers give to deny ESA accommodations. Landlords will often give other reasons for denying an ESA as well, some valid, others not. Regardless of what the landlord’s reason is for denying an ESA, they must always engage with the tenant and should allow the tenant to respond to any concerns.
Fair Housing rules allow landlords to reject ESAs only in limited circumstances, such as if the ESA would pose a threat to the health and safety of others, or if accommodating the ESA would create an “undue financial burden.” Unless the housing provider has a legitimate reason for denying an ESA, they must accommodate tenants with valid ESA documentation.
HUD has stated that before denying an accommodation request due to lack of information, housing providers must engage in a good-faith dialogue with the tenant in an “interactive process.” That means that the tenant and landlord should try to work together in good faith to resolve any barriers to ESA accommodation. Landlords, HOAs and Co-Ops should ensure they are working within the framework of Fair Housing rules. If they violate a tenant’s right to ESA accommodation, they may be found to have engaged in discriminatory behavior. Many landlords have been fined and faced legal action as a result of violating Fair Housing rules when it comes to ESAs.
If you are wondering if an ESA may be right for you, we recommend discussing your situation with your current mental health care provider. If you do not have a provider and are having trouble finding one that is familiar with ESAs, ESA Doctors can help connect you to a professional licensed for your state at the link below.
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