The law protects owners of emotional support animals (ESAs). Housing providers must accommodate ESA owners, even if they have a policy or lease that prohibits all pets. ESA owners are also exempt from pet-related fees and restrictions on pet size or breed. Landlords can only deny an ESA if they have a valid legal exemption. 

Landlords sometimes make excuses for not accepting an ESA: some are acceptable, while many are not. In this post, we’ll explore the specific scenarios where your landlord can reject an emotional support animal. 

If you want to see if you qualify for an emotional support animal, complete the questionnaire below to connect with a licensed mental health professional today.

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Be confident in telling your landlord about your ESA. It is your right.
Be confident in telling your landlord about your ESA. It is your right.

FAQ #1 – When can a landlord legally reject an ESA?

There are some circumstances when a landlord can reject your ESA. The right to own an emotional support animal is not absolute;  there are exceptions. 

The biggest exemption under Fair Housing guidelines is the right to reject an emotional support animal if it would “constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals.” 

That means the housing provider has actual proof that the ESA is a danger to the health and safety of others. However, they cannot simply speculate that an ESA might be dangerous just because the animal is a certain size or breed. If your landlord tries to claim your ESA is dangerous or a health hazard, remember that they need to base their claim on evidence and not mere perception.

Landlords can also deny an emotional support animal if the animal has caused or likely will cause substantial damage to the property. When requesting an ESA accommodation, it’s important to demonstrate that your emotional support animal is well-trained and will be a model citizen in your building. 

Landlords can also reject an ESA if a tenant’s ESA letter is deficient. An ESA letter should be signed by an appropriately licensed healthcare professional and include specific details required under the guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

If you need an ESA letter, the healthcare professionals who work with ESA Doctors are licensed for your state and specialize in writing ESA letters that work.

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FAQ #2 – What types of landlords do NOT have to accept emotional support animals?

Not all landlords are subject to Fair Housing rules regarding emotional support animals. There are allowances made for certain smaller landlords.

Landlords that fall under these categories are exempt from ESA rules:

  • owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units
  • single-family homes sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent 
  • housing operated by religious organizations
  • private clubs that limit occupancy to members

Many landlords that fall under these categories may still accept your ESA as a courtesy. They are not mandated to accept ESAs, but many do so as a kindness to their tenants. If your landlord falls under one of these groups, discussing your ESA needs with them can still be worthwhile. 

FAQ #3 – How do I tell my landlord I have an ESA, especially if the building has a no-pet policy, monthly fees, or special pet deposit?

Informing your landlord you have an ESA can sometimes be challenging because many landlords are unaware of ESA regulations. Here are some steps to consider:

Step 1: Qualify for an ESA letter. Under federal and state laws, housing providers are entitled to see an ESA letter from a licensed healthcare professional as proof that you have a real emotional support animal.

Step 2: Know your rights and cite your sources. Sometimes landlords are simply unaware of ESA laws. Other, less well-intentioned landlords may attempt to bully you by fabricating or misrepresenting rules. These practices can violate Fair Housing standards.

Step 3: Inform your landlord you intend to live with an ESA and then submit your ESA letter via email or in person. This shows that you have the necessary documents to live with your emotional support animal. 

Get started on qualifying for an ESA letter by completing the questionnaire in the link below.

Three easy steps to get an ESA Letter with ESA Doctors
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FAQ #4 – What do I do if my landlord rejects my ESA even after I show them my ESA letter?

If your landlord rejects your emotional support animal, you are entitled to know why. You should attempt to get their rejection in writing with as much specificity as possible. 

As previously discussed, valid reasons when denying an ESA include having proof the ESA is dangerous or has caused significant property damage. Landlords cannot refuse an ESA simply because they have a no-pets policy or are worried about the potential nuisance an ESA may cause. 

Once your landlord has given their reasoning, Fair Housing guidelines require landlords to work in good faith with tenants to resolve any issues. 

Under HUD guidelines, a landlord can only deny an ESA that poses a direct threat that cannot be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level through actions the tenant takes to maintain or control the animal. For example, if the landlord’s concern about safety can be addressed by keeping the ESA within a specific space, that option should be explored. Or, if the landlord has concerns about the ESA letter, you can work with your healthcare professional to fix any mistakes. 

If your ESA request gets rejected, be sure to get a clear explanation of why so you can work with the landlord toward a solution. 

FAQ #5 – Can a landlord reject my ESA because my animal is very young or very old?

emotional support animal puppy
A landlord cannot deny an emotional support animal just because it is a puppy or kitten. Age is not a factor for an ESA.

In short, emotional support animals cannot be denied due to their age. Landlords who deny dogs because they are younger and are considered puppies are not following the rules set out by the Fair Housing Act (FHA). 

That said, you are responsible for the actions of your ESA. If your puppy or kitten causes damages to the dwelling, you are liable. The key is to clearly explain to your landlord that there are no age requirements for an ESA and that you will be a responsible owner and ensure your ESA, regardless of age, is well-behaved.

FAQ #6 – My landlord is requiring me to register my ESA. Can a landlord require ESA registration if I already submitted my ESA letter?

ESA Registration? There is no such thing! Let your landlord know that ESA registries are bogus. All you need is an ESA letter.
ESA Registration? You don’t need it! Let your landlord know that ESA registries are not required. All you need is an ESA letter.

ESA registration is not required by law. This is a common mistake landlords make. They ask the tenant for a registration, certificate, or ID card for the emotional support animal. The FHA only requires an ESA letter signed by a licensed mental health professional that is written on their official letterhead.

ESAs are also not required to wear special vests or tags. While some ESA owners use paraphernalia such as ID cards, vests, and certificates, they do so for convenience. These items cannot qualify your pet as an ESA, and landlords do not have to accept them as proof of ESA status.

FAQ #7 – Can a landlord evict me for getting an ESA?

A landlord cannot deny an ESA simply because they do not allow pets.
A landlord cannot deny an ESA simply because they do not allow pets.

No, your landlord cannot evict you solely because you need an ESA. This is in direct violation of Fair Housing regulations. FHA laws were designed to protect those with disabilities against housing discrimination.

Emotional support animals are considered special assistance animals that provide health benefits for people with mental and emotional illnesses. Landlords cannot evict a tenant simply because they need an emotional support animal, even if their building policy or leasing terms ban pets.

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FAQ #8 – Can a landlord question me about my mental or emotional disability?

Landlords cannot question you about your disability. They cannot require that you provide medical information in relation to your ESA.
Landlords cannot question you about your disability. They cannot require that you provide medical information in relation to your ESA.

No, they cannot require specific disclosure about your health condition. While landlords are entitled to see an ESA letter confirming the tenant’s disability-related need for an ESA, they cannot go further. 

HUD guidelines specifically prohibit landlords from requesting disclosure regarding the diagnosis, severity of a disability, or medical records. Housing providers also cannot insist on a medical examination as a condition for acceptance of an ESA. 

If a landlord makes intrusive inquiries about your medical history, we recommend that you stay calm and clearly explain your rights to them. Let them know that inquiring about your disability is not allowed and recommend they do their homework on Fair Housing Act rules before continuing to pressure you to disclose details regarding your disability.

What to do if your landlord continues to discriminate against your ESA

You and your landlord should attempt to do everything possible to reach an amicable solution to your ESA request. HUD encourages landlords to work together with tenants to work through any potential obstacles.

Most landlords are happy to comply with their Fair Housing rules, and some just require a little nudging to remind them of their obligations. However, a few landlords will persist in violating a tenant’s Fair Housing rights.

There are many examples of landlords being sued by the government for failing to live up to their Fair Housing obligations. If you have reached a dead end with your landlord and feel that your rights are being violated, you can consider filing a complaint directly with HUD. 

If you need to contact HUD regarding a complaint, you can find their information below. 

Housing Discrimination Complaint Online

Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street, SW, Room 5242
Washington, D.C. 20410

Remember, filing a complaint should be a last-resort option and used only when you feel you have exhausted every other option. You may also want to warn your landlord first that you are considering filing a HUD complaint regarding your disagreement. 

You, your landlord, and your ESA will have to co-exist peacefully. The best route is always to reach a mutually agreeable resolution regarding your ESA. 

Before approaching your landlord about your ESA, make sure your ESA letter is in order and that you fully understand your rights under Fair Housing rules. Landlords are much more likely to accept an ESA from a prepared and well-informed tenant. 

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