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Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal? What You Should Know2020-09-18
Emotional support animals play a crucial role in their owners’ lives. The comfort they provide helps alleviate symptoms of a disability or mental illness. Their calming presence can make someone’s life much more manageable.
Seeing how important your ESA is to you, you want to make sure it can live with you. This can be tricky if you are a renter. Some landlords are hesitant about or even completely against letting pets live on their properties.
The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to find a pet-friendly apartment complex. Property managers are required to permit your emotional support animal as long as it helps you navigate your disability.
That being said, renting while owning an ESA is a bit convoluted. Being aware of your legal rights will help you ensure you have the same access to housing as other tenants.
In this article, we clear things up for you. We break down everything you need to know about renting while owning an emotional support animal. You’ll learn about the Fair Housing Act, in what cases landlords can/cannot deny your reasonable accommodation, exceptions to a no-pet policy, and much more.
What Is the Fair Housing Act?
In 1968, President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This law makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants on the basis of:
- Familial origin
- National origin
The FHA also makes it illegal to deny housing to someone because of their disability, including any mental illness. An example of a violation of the FHA would be someone turning away a tenant simply because they use a wheelchair.
Emotional Support Animals and the Fair Housing Act
So, how do ESAs relate to the FHA? Let’s start with a definition:
What Are ESAs?
ESA stands for emotional support animal. They are not pets. Rather, these animals provide emotional support to their owners. Their companionship and comfort are therapeutic and help alleviate symptoms of one’s disability. They make it easier for their owner to navigate their day-to-day life.
The legal definition is relatively loose. They can be any type of domestic animal and can be of any size/breed. Owners will typically have an emotional support dog, cat, etc. However, you’ll also find people with rabbits, birds, ferrets, and other common household pets.
ESAs vs Service Animals
Legally, emotional support animals are not pets. However, they are also not service animals.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines these animals as dogs (or miniature horses) that help their owner manage their disability. They are not pets and need to be trained to perform tasks directly related to the owner’s disability. For instance, a seeing-eye dog would be a service animal to a blind person. This is because the dog is trained to help their owner steer clear of obstacles. Other examples of service animal tasks include alerting owners who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, etc.
The ADA requires businesses and other public spaces to permit owners and their seeing-eye dogs, etc. (even if they have a no-pet policy). They must be allowed where any other member of the public is allowed. The ADA also requires landlords to permit tenants with guide dogs, etc.
As we mentioned above, emotional support animals are not service animals. The ADA does not award the same rights to ESAs as it does to these animals. However, the FHA offers protections to emotional support animals.
ESAs and the Fair Housing Act
The FHA prevents discrimination against tenants. This includes on the basis of the disability.
So, if you have a support animal to help you manage your disability, a landlord cannot deny it from living with you. There are a few exceptions, but we will cover these later.
Landlords cannot deny emotional support animals because of the “reasonable accommodations” that the FHA mentions. See below to learn more about reasonable accommodations.
What Are Considered "Reasonable Accommodations?"
According to the FHA, landlords must make “reasonable accommodations” for tenants with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or exceptions to policies or rules that are already in place. This ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for housing. An example of a reasonable accommodation is an apartment complex providing a tenant who uses a wheelchair with a reserved parking spot.
Now, let’s look at how emotional support animals can be reasonable housing accommodations.
Consider the fact that many complexes have a no-pet policy. They are well within their rights to do this. After all, it makes sense to have a no-pet policy for a rental property. Pets are messy and can cause disturbances. Some pets may even pose a danger to other tenants.
But what if you have an ESA and want to rent a unit that has a no-pet policy? The law doesn’t consider an ESA to be a pet; it is an animal there to help you manage your disability.
The FHA requires landlords to make a reasonable accommodation. They will have to make an exception to their no-pet policy and permit your emotional support animal to live with you.
Landlord's Rights When it Comes To ESAs
As a prospective tenant, you should be aware of when your landlord can/can’t deny your reasonable accommodation. Here’s a general overview:
When They Can Deny an ESA
It’s important to know that when it comes to ESAs, tenants aren’t the only ones with rights. There are some instances in which landlords can deny an emotional support animal.
When the Rental Property Falls Out of the Guidelines of the FHA
The FHA applies to most types of rental properties.
However, some types of housing fall out of the FHA’s guidelines. If you live in a property that falls out of these guidelines, the landlord is allowed to deny your emotional support animal.
Types of housing that don’t have to abide by the FHA include:
- The building has four units or fewer, and the landlord occupies one of the units. If a landlord lives in one of the units of a building that has four units or fewer, they don’t have to make the accommodation.
- A religious organization owns the building. As long as a religious organization isn’t using the building for commercial purposes, it can legally limit occupancy. It can choose to rent exclusively to members of their religion, but it still can’t discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, etc.
- A private club owns the building. Similarly, a private club can choose to rent exclusively to members.
- Single-family homes that were rented out without the use of a realtor. For this exception to be applicable, the landlord cannot own more than three single-family homes.
When the Accommodation Becomes Unreasonable
The FHA requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities. This includes making an exception to a no-pet policy by permitting an emotional support animal to live in their rental property at no extra cost.
The FHA, however, does not require complexes to make accommodations that are unreasonable. Accommodations become unreasonable when they cause undue hardship to the landlord. This could include requests that end up costing lots of money. It could also include requests that are excessively extensive or disruptive to normal operations.
Here are some situations in which a landlord could deny an emotional support animal because the accommodation would be unreasonable:
- The breed of the animal interferes with the landlord’s insurance. Typically, landlords have insurance to protect them from financial losses. Some of these insurance policies have restrictions when it comes to what the company considers “dangerous” dog breeds. If renters keep these dangerous dog breeds as pets, the insurance is void. So, if the breed of your ESA would interfere with your landlord’s insurance, they have the right to deny the animal.
- The animal causes property damage. Tenants have a responsibility to keep their rental property in good shape. If your ESA continuously damages your unit or surrounding property, the complex has a right to get it removed.
- The animal is a threat to other tenants. ESAs should be well-behaved. If they pose a danger to other tenants, landlords don’t have to accommodate them.
- The animal requires extensive housing. For instance, if you have a horse as an ESA, the FHA would not require your complex to provide a horse stable.
These next examples of unreasonable accommodations are a bit extreme. But, they go to show that some people will try to get special treatment or simply circumvent a no-pet policy.
- Demanding the nicest unit on the property. Tenants with ESAs are not entitled to nicer units just because they have an emotional support animal. Like any other tenant, they may ask to live in nicer units but will have to pay the higher rent that comes with it.
- Demanding to live with a specific roommate. There have been cases of owners requesting to live with a roommate because the animal “feels more comfortable with them.” The complex does not have to accommodate this request as it infringes on the right of the other person who might not want to live with an animal.
When They Can Not Deny an ESA
Landlords cannot deny your animal when:
- You have an official letter from your doctor. The letter should state that you have a disability and that an ESA will help make your disability more manageable.
- The animal is well-behaved. The animal should be well-behaved and not pose a threat to the property or other tenants.
- You meet all of the housing requirements. As long as you meet all of the housing requirements (like income requirements), you should be an eligible tenant.
So far, we’ve covered some of the basics of renting when you have an emotional support animal.
Considering how complex of a topic this is, you’re bound to have more questions. We attempt to clear some things up with these FAQs:
How to Inform Your Landlords You Have an ESA?
Having an ESA is nothing to be ashamed of. But, we understand that it can be difficult to inform your landlord about it. You may feel like you’re causing a problem or walking into a confrontational situation.
Just remember that you are well within your rights to live with your animal. The FHA requires your landlord to make this reasonable housing accommodation.
So, how do you go about informing your landlord?
We recommend waiting until after signing your lease. The law doesn’t require you to inform your landlord about your emotional support animal before signing. If you inform them before signing, they may reject your application because they see it as a pet. This is technically illegal, but it will be difficult to prove as they can claim they rejected your application because of other factors.
So, it’s best to wait until after you sign your lease. Start by asking your landlord, in writing, to accommodate your animal. They may ask for proof that you have a disability and that your animal is necessary. This is when you provide a letter from a mental health professional. Once they accept the request, ask for it in writing. This will prevent problems down the line.
If you are in the middle of the lease and need to get an emotional support animal, make the accommodation request as soon as possible. Wait until the landlord approves it before bringing your animal onto the property.
What to Do When Landlords Reject Your ESA Letter?
Most property managers should be familiar with the Fair Housing Act. They will usually be willing to work with you and grant your accommodation request.
That being said, they may end up rejecting your letter. This could be for a variety of reasons. They may be unaware of housing laws or just outright discriminating.
Regardless, you have the right to live with your animal. If your property manager infringes on this right, you can take action.
We recommend starting by having them write an official rejection letter. Then, you should email back acknowledging that they are rejecting your request even though you provided the necessary documentation. You should also inform them that you’ll be filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
HUD will launch an investigation and push your landlord to become more aware of housing laws. Filing a complaint can be a lengthy, frustrating process, but it’s important to remain calm. You are simply fighting for your right for equal access to housing.
You can also file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development if you are unfairly charged a pet fee, pet deposit, etc.
Do You Need to Register Your ESA to Stay in Your Place?
According to housing laws, you do not have to register your animal to stay in your place. Registration does not give you any additional legal rights. All you will need to show your landlord is a letter from a medical professional.
However, we highly recommend registering your emotional support animal. You’ll receive:
- Updates pertaining to relevant laws
- Discounts on tags, vests, and other identifying products (these will help make it clear to others that your dog, cat, etc. is not a regular pet)
Additionally, our team can connect you with a medical professional that will provide you with your official letter should you qualify.
In recent years, there has been a rise in college students getting ESAs. The trend makes sense when considering the stress students often find themselves facing.
This begs the question: does the law require college housing to make this reasonable accommodation?
In short, yes. The FHA applies to college housing like any other type of housing. Students should be allowed to have their ESAs in their dorm or other kinds of housing (whether it be on-campus or off-campus. However, the college may deny the animal for the same reasons we’ve already mentioned (the animal poses a threat to others, destroys property, etc.).
Note that even though the FHA permits ESAs in college dorms, it does not permit them on campus. Some campuses are pet-friendly, meaning you can take even normal pets on campus. But, if your campus has a no-pet policy, you cannot bring your ESA to class, walk them around the lawns, etc.
If you’ve seen animals accompanying students on campus, they are most likely service animals. Remember that the ADA offers different protections to these animals. These animals are allowed on college campuses as they are places accessible to the general public.
Can Landlords Charge Fees for an ESA?
Some complexes have a no-pet policy. As we’ve discussed, they must overlook their no-pet policy to accommodate your animal. But can they charge you a pet fee?
In short, no. Complexes cannot charge you a pet fee to have your animal. This is because your ESA is not a pet. Additionally, it is not unreasonable for them to live on the property free of charge. Even if your landlord charges other tenants for having pets, they cannot charge you for your animal as it is not a pet.
However, if your animal causes any damage to the property, you are responsible. You must pay for any repairs/replacements.
Property managers may not charge you a “pet” security deposit, but they have the right to use your regular security deposit to cover any damages. It is important for you to ensure that your animal is well-behaved and won’t ruin the property.
Can Landlords Reject ESAs Because of Their Age?
There are few restrictions on what type of animal qualifies as an ESA. They can be of any type, breed, and, yes, age.
Some falsely believe that they can deny an ESA because it is a puppy. They think this accommodation is “unreasonable” because puppies are too energetic, not potty-trained, etc.
Along the same lines, some believe they can deny a dog just because it’s big or looks vicious. To deny the dog, they cannot go off appearance. There must be legitimate concern that it is going to pose a harm to others.
As long as it is not harming other tenants or extensively damaging property, your ESA is permitted. Keep in mind that you are still responsible for any damage it may cause.
Can My Landlord Ask Me About My Disability?
When it comes to your reasonable accommodation request, your landlord may only ask two questions:
- Do you have a disability? They can ask if you have a disability but may not ask about the specifics of it. They can ask for proof of your disability (usually in the form of a letter from a health professional). To protect your privacy, the letter does not have to state the nature of your disability.
- Does your animal help you with your disability? They can also ask if your animal helps you alleviate symptoms of your disability. This will also be in the letter from your health professional. You can also show your animal’s official registration.
If the answer to both of these questions is yes, they will decide whether or not the accommodation is reasonable. If they deny the request even though you feel it is reasonable, you can challenge the decision as we discussed earlier.
Should I Just Hide My ESA?
Some tenants don’t want to make the reasonable accommodation request. They fear that they will face discrimination or even eviction.
You might be wondering if you should just hide your ESA. However, this will only result in more trouble down the line. You’ll be in violation of your lease’s no-pet policy, giving your landlord a legitimate reason to evict you.
It’s best to submit the reasonable accommodation request before bringing your animal on the property. Simply give your landlord your official ESA letter so that they may approve your request.
Can My Landlord Evict Me for Having an ESA?
Once they approve your reasonable accommodation request, they cannot evict you for having an ESA.
Keep in mind that if the animal starts to cause problems, they can take action to get it removed or have you evicted. Instances in which this can happen is if the animal:
- Poses a danger to other tenants
- Excessively destroys property
- Infringes on the rights of others in any way
Register Your ESA Today
Owners of ESAs understand how essential these companion animals are. Their therapeutic value offers comfort and helps one manage their disability.
If you are renting, you have the legal right to live with your ESA. This means that, in most cases, complexes must permit the animal even if they have a no-pet policy.
To make the renting process easier, register your ESA today! Registration provides you with discounts on identifying products like tags and vests. You’ll also receive updates regarding the ever-changing laws. And, our team will help you get an official letter through a licensed professional.
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