Have you had a landlord say no emotional support animal, or have you simply not asked a landlord if you could have one yet because you’re afraid of being rejected or evicted? No person should be denied housing or forced out of his or her home because he or she has an emotional support dog (or any type of ESA, for that matter) and in fact, no person ever needs to.
Can a Landlord Say No ESA?
Emotional support dogs have certain housing rights not afforded to dogs kept as pets. In order to qualify as an emotional support dog rather than a pet, a dog must provide aid to a person with a diagnosed mental or emotional disability as affirmed in writing by a doctor or other qualified medical professional treating and monitoring that person’s condition. Rather than being considered a pet, an emotional support dog is considered a medical tool.
As such, under the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 (FHA) and the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA), landlords are required to allow emotional support dogs access to residential apartments and other housing units even when those units ordinarily operate under a policy of “No Pets”. This is because people with disabilities are one of the groups protected from housing discrimination under the FHA and FHAA. As such, a landlord cannot deny you residence solely due to your disability. Since an emotional support dog is a lawful medical tool that can be authorized for people with disabilities, it is protected under this clause as well. What’s more, emotional support dogs are exempted from any pet-related deposits or fees normally charged by an emotional support animal landlord.
Note as well that, while what distinguishes an emotional support dog from a service dog is that the former provides aid to a person with a mental or emotional disability and the latter provides aid to a person with a physical disability, a service dog can also be considered an emotional support dog (although an emotional support dog is not also considered a service dog).
Therefore, if you already have a service dog, that dog qualifies for the same rights afforded to emotional support dogs. A valid ESA letter may still be required, however, to provide proper documentation.
Be aware, however, that while a landlord cannot deny you (or your emotional support dog) residence exclusively due to your disability, he or she can deny you residence if there are other, lawful reasons to do so. Likewise, while a landlord is required to make all reasonable accommodations to make the residence accessible for an emotional support dog, the landlord is not required to make accommodations if they could be deemed unreasonable. An unreasonable accommodation would be one that puts the landlord at a hardship and jeopardizes the continued availability of the residence to other residents.
How to Tell Your Landlord You Have an Emotional Support Dog
The first step to dealing with a difficult landlord who is attempting to block your authorization to move an emotional support dog in with you is to find out whether the landlord is aware of the laws regarding emotional support dogs or not.
If the Landlord Simply Isn’t Aware of the Law
Perhaps the landlord is merely ill-informed or misinformed regarding emotional support dogs and simply needs to be properly educated on the subject. You can refer the landlord to the Federal Housing Administration to find more information on emotional support dogs. You can also inform the landlord of his or her right to call the doctor or mental health care professional who signed your ESA letter to verify its validity. This will demonstrate your good intentions and show that you aren’t trying to take advantage of the landlord, merely to exercise your own rights to manage your health care in the best ways for you.
If the Landlord Knows the Law But Refuses to Comply
In some cases, a landlord may already be aware of the law regarding emotional support animals and simply refuse emotional support animal owners residence there because they believe the given unit is exempted for some reason or other. If this is the case, inquire of the reason. There are, indeed, certain valid exemptions from a landlord’s requirement to allow residents to have an emotional support dog live with them.
The following are the only legal exemptions from the requirement that landlords allow emotional support dogs in housing:
- If the unit is in a building with only four or fewer units and one of those units is occupied by landlord him or herself.
- If the unit is in a single-family home rented without the use of a realtor and the property owner has fewer than three single-family homes in his or her name.
- If moving the emotional support dog into the unit would cause the owner an undue monetary hardship.
If the landlord gives you any of these reasons for refusing to allow your emotional support dog to live with you and you recognize that the landlord’s point is indeed valid, you can always ask the landlord if he or she has any other rental units available that do not meet any such exemptions.
If the landlord indeed has other qualifying rental units available, he or she must, by law, let you know about them when asked and cannot hide or withhold the presence of valid available housing units simply because the landlord would rather not rent to a tenant with an emotional support dog.
No other reasons but those listed above are valid exemptions from a landlord’s requirement to allow you to live with an emotional support dog in housing he or she operates.
If a landlord tries to stand behind an invalid exemption or withholds the presence of other available units not exempt from federal housing law regarding emotional support dogs, you can contact your local Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or housing authority to report that landlord’s actions and request assistance. Likewise if a landlord simply refuses to give any reason for denying you residence with your emotional support dog, even after being shown or reminded of the applicable law.
When confronted with a landlord committed to just say no emotional support animal no matter what you say or do, ask that landlord to put his or her refusal in writing in a formal letter. Once you receive this letter, you should then write the landlord back (by email or postal mail sent with some sort of proof of delivery) documenting that the landlord has chosen to refuse emotional support animal requests that are legitimate and legal and backed by all the required documentation. Include in your letter that you have already complied with the law in every manner in this regard, including by providing the landlord with a valid ESA letter. You can even note in your letter that, upon sending it, you are next going to file a complaint with your local HUD office or housing authority about the landlord’s open discrimination against a person with a disability.
If you need to file a housing discrimination complaint against a landlord, you can do so online through the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found at 451 7th Street, S.W., Room 5242 in Washington, D.C., 20410.
Remember above all when you hear a landlord say no ESA to be patient, calm, respectful and ready to either humbly accept the landlord’s ultimate conciliation to your request or fight through appropriate channels for your lawful rights.
What an Emotional Support Animal Landlord Can and Cannot Do
Whether a landlord chooses to abide by them or not, federal housing laws dictate certain actions a landlord can and cannot take regarding emotional support animals.
A landlord can verify your ESA letter by calling the doctor or other signatory. When verifying your ESA letter, however, a landlord can only confirm that:
- You have a valid medical reason for an emotional support dog.
- The emotional support dog provides you aid.
If the answer to both of these questions is “Yes” then the landlord has only one other question to ask and that is of him or herself, the question being this: Is the request reasonable? Or to put it another way, does making the accommodations required to allow an emotional support dog to live in the residence place an undue financial burden on the landlord?
The landlord cannot, however, ask you or your doctor what your exact diagnosis is, how it affects your daily living or ability to earn an income or anything else about your disability. Your landlord cannot ask you or your doctor to furnish a medical history or your medical records backing up your claims of disability. If a landlord persists in seeking information or proof regarding the nature of your disability, you can recommend the landlord seek legal counsel instead of continuing to press you.
A landlord cannot reject your choice of emotional support dog either, even if allowing you to move in with an emotional support dog in general. A landlord cannot reject a dog for being too young or too old, or a particular species. And while a landlord can indeed reject an emotional support animal for being too large for the type of unit to comfortably and safely accommodate it, no size dog meets these criteria. Rather, the exemption for an animal’s size is more appropriate for trying to have a horse, for example, as an emotional support animal living in a person’s studio apartment.
A landlord can also ask you to remove a dog from the premises permanently if that dog causes damage to housing property or harm to other housing residents, including other animals. This could include creating a noise nuisance or exhibiting aggressive behavior, even if not actually harming another person or animal.
If your emotional support dog is a puppy, it won’t hurt to reassure your landlord that you will be a responsible handler of that puppy and make sure it is raised to be well-behaved.
A landlord cannot say no emotional support animal unless you agree to first register your emotional support as an ESA. First of all, there’s no such thing as official ESA registration. Many different companies offer registration programs with their own benefits, but those benefits are limited to what the given company offers and are not linked to any universal, authoritative national or international ESA registration body or source. Secondly, the only registration your emotional support dog needs to live with you anywhere legally is the same registration you would be required to do with a dog that’s a pet, namely licensed and registered with the city, town or county where you live. Both your landlord and your local municipality will also likely, and legitimately, require that your emotional support dog stays current with all his or her vaccinations.
Having said all that, registering your emotional support dog through one of the big companies that offers such a service can help bolster your claim of authorization to a landlord who doesn’t know any better. The extra documentation, tag, vest, database listing and other benefits you may get from ESA registration make your ESA claim and your emotional support dog itself appear more legitimate and “official”, even while they are just as legitimate without all that stuff.
Note that none of the above constitutes legal advice, and under no circumstances should any of it be considered as such. We are not lawyers, and if you have a landlord say no emotional support animal and you think it’s unlawful, any questions about your legal rights and assistance pursuing legal matters should be addressed to a lawyer licensed to practice in the area where you live.