Can a landlord deny an emotional support animal?

It’s important to know your Fair Housing Act (FHA) rights

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For people with mental or emotional disabilities, an emotional support animal (ESA) can be a lifeline, providing essential comfort and support. While studies show the human-animal bond can boost our health and mood, securing housing can be tricky – especially if your landlord has existing pet policies.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968, which guaranteed legal protections for all Americans and prevented discrimination based on nationality, religion, gender, race or disability.

The FHA asserts your right to reasonable accommodation and ensures you can live with your assistance animal if you meet specific guidelines. Knowing your housing rights is vital to creating a living environment that best promotes your well-being.


Key insights

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) guarantees your right to an ESA if you meet specific guidelines.

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A landlord cannot deny your ESA based on breed, size or species.

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A landlord can deny an ESA if it poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, would cause substantial property damage or creates undue financial burden.

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Understanding ESAs and housing laws

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a cornerstone of protection for people with disabilities and their ESAs. This federal law mandates that landlords make “reasonable accommodations” to their policies or practices to allow people with disabilities equal opportunity to housing. This includes waiving no-pet policies and restrictions on ESAs, as denying someone housing based on their need for an ESA equals discrimination.

Denying someone housing based on their need for an ESA is discrimination, according to the Fair Housing Act.

The FHA provides a broad definition of disability. It covers not only physical disabilities but also mental and emotional impairments that significantly limit a person’s major life activities.

If your licensed mental health professional determines that an ESA is beneficial for managing your diagnosed disability, you are likely protected under the FHA.

While landlords cannot outright deny housing due to your ESA, they do have the right to request reliable documentation. This typically includes a letter from your healthcare provider outlining your disability and the specific ways your ESA assists in mitigating your symptoms.

Emotional support animals vs. service dog: Housing laws

It’s crucial to understand the difference between ESAs and service animals, as their legal protections differ significantly in the context of housing. Service animals undergo rigorous training to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities and are granted broader public access rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

ESAs, on the other hand, primarily offer emotional support and comfort. Their primary protection lies within housing contexts, where the FHA provides specific safeguards for tenants with ESAs.

Both ESAs and service dogs are protected by the FHA in housing, but not in public.

Reasons for denial for ESA housing

“There are actually some circumstances in which a landlord can deny an ESA,” said Seamus Nally, chief executive officer of TurboTenant and a residential property landlord in upstate New York and Colorado.

“But they can’t simply deny an ESA without reason,” Nally said. Specific conditions wherein a landlord can deny or reject the ESA may vary slightly from state to state, he explained, but typically include the ESA “posing a safety risk to others or a risk of significant property damage, imposing an undue financial burden or fundamentally altering the services provided by the landlord.”

These reasons are the only legal exceptions to ESAs in housing; however, there is an additional exception that allows for a landlord to deny an ESA if the dwelling consists of four or fewer units and the landlord lives in one of them.

However, “Things like the size of the pet, the breed or simply not wanting an ESA on the property are not valid reasons for denying an ESA,” Nally said, “as they and their owners are protected under the FHA.”

How to handle a landlord ESA denial

If your landlord denies your ESA request despite a valid emotional support letter from a licensed mental healthcare provider, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects your right to reasonable accommodation.

The first step is communication. Explain your situation and the benefits your ESA provides to your health and well-being. Provide a copy of your letter as documentation.

If this doesn’t resolve the issue, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers resources to guide you through the FHA complaint process. Their website includes a handbook that explains your rights and responsibilities, how to file a complaint and what to expect during the process.

For complex situations or additional legal support, consider consulting an attorney specializing in fair housing law.

How to get ESA housing accommodations

To secure ESA accommodations, start by obtaining a formal diagnosis of a mental or emotional disability from a licensed healthcare provider. Your therapist, psychiatrist or doctor will then issue a letter outlining your disability and the need for an ESA as part of your treatment plan.

Submit your ESA letter and a formal accommodation request to a potential landlord. While not legally required, offering additional documentation, like training or behavior certifications, can demonstrate your commitment to responsible pet ownership and build trust.

» COMPARE: ESA letter websites

Additional tips for tenants using ESAs

Be proactive in communicating with your landlord about your ESA early on in the process. Open communication can help establish a positive relationship and prevent misunderstandings. Provide your ESA letter and any other requested information from your landlord promptly, demonstrating cooperation and a willingness to follow procedures.

As a responsible pet owner, ensure your ESA is well-trained, well-behaved and doesn’t cause disturbances or damage. This reflects positively on your tenancy.

While not a legal requirement, consider enrolling your ESA in basic obedience or behavioral training. This can improve interactions for everyone and make your ESA an even better companion as you both navigate life within a housing community.

Quick and easy. Get matched with a Pet Insurance partner.

    FAQ

    Can a landlord charge a pet deposit for an ESA?

    No, landlords are not legally allowed to charge pet deposits or fees for ESAs.

    Are there any breeds of animals that can be denied as ESAs by landlords?

    No, landlords cannot deny ESAs based on breed, size or species.

    Can a landlord ask for my medical records or diagnosis?

    No, landlords can only request documentation that confirms your disability and need for an ESA.

    What can I do if my landlord still refuses my ESA after I've provided proper documentation?

    You can file a complaint with HUD. You can also consider seeking legal counsel if your rights are being violated.

    Bottom line

    Living with an ESA can offer significant support for your mental health journey. To secure this comfort in your housing situation, get to know your rights under the Fair Housing Act.

    You must secure a formal diagnosis and a supporting letter from a licensed healthcare provider. With this documentation, you can confidently request ESA accommodation from your landlord. Remember, clear communication is your best tool.

    The FHA protects you from breed, size or species restrictions, so work with your landlord to find a solution that fosters a supportive living environment for you and your furry friend.


    Article sources

    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:

    1. Human Animal Bond Research Institute, “Mental Health Conditions.” Accessed April 20, 2024.
    2. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Housing Discrimination Under the Fair Housing Act.” Accessed April 20, 2024.
    3. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Assistance Animals.” Accessed April 20, 2024.
    4. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications.” Accessed April 20, 2024.
    5. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Subject: Assessing a Person’s Request to Have an Animal as a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Fair Housing Act.” Accessed April 20, 2024.
    6. ADA.gov, “ADA Requirements: Service Animals.” Accessed April 20, 2024.
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