In most cases, landlords must abide by the Fair Housing Act and provide reasonable accommodation to ESAs. However, there are some exceptions to this law.
Emotional Support Animals

Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal?

Susana Bradford
7 minute read
November 23, 2021

For many individuals, living with an Emotional Support Animal is vital for their general wellbeing. If you live in your own home, owning an emotional support animal likely poses no issues whatsoever. However, if you are a renter, having an ESA immediately becomes more complicated. For one, if you are living in a building with a no-pet policy, then you need to be able to provide your landlord with legal documentation proving that your ESA is no ordinary pet, in the form of an ESA Letter for Housing. Secondly, you also have to take on the emotional stress of wondering whether or not your landlord will deny an emotional support animal housing. 

Thankfully, under the laws of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords cannot legally deny ESA owners reasonable accommodation, as they cannot deny housing to a person with any sort of mental or physical disability. That being said, there are some exceptions to this rule, and a few reasons that landlords may not allow emotional support animals on certain properties. Keep reading to find out more. 

Bottom Line:

What is an ESA — An emotional support animal helps to alleviate symptoms of mental or emotional disabilities by providing emotional support and companionship.

Can your landlord deny your ESA? — Under the Fair Housing Act, in most cases, your landlord is legally obligated to provide you and your animal companion housing, although there are some exceptions to this law. 

What are the reasons your landlord could deny your ESA? — Some of the common examples include an illegitimate ESA Letter, financial hardship caused by your ESA, danger or health risks, and the size of your ESA.

If your ESA Letter does not work for you, we will refund 100% of your payment.

What is an Emotional Support Animal? 

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is an animal companion that offers some type of benefit to an individual with a mental, emotional, or physical disability. An emotional support animal is intended to provide its owner with the emotional support that will alleviate at least one aspect, symptom, or effect, of their disability. Emotional support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and can also help alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and certain phobias. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. While the most common form of ESAs is emotional support dogs, an emotional support animal does not have to be a dog. Other common types of emotional support animals include cats, hamsters, reptiles, and in some cases, horses. 

Fair Housing Act 

In 1968, the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) was passed to protect housing rights for all people, including people with disabilities. According to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, under this act, an apartment complex cannot turn down any person due to their ethnicity, age, race, sexuality, religious view, or disability, within reason. The FHA defines a disability as an individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the person’s major life activities. The FHA also considers an individual as having a disability or handicap if there is a record of this person having an impairment, or if this person is regarded as having an impairment. 

The FHA also requires landlords and apartment complex managers to make reasonable accommodations to house those with any type of certified mental disability or physical impairment. For example, allowing a disabled tenant to have an emotional support animal is a reasonable accommodation. Rules such as pet bans and restrictions, including the size, weight, or breed of your animal, are waived for people who have legal documentation (an ESA Letter for Housing) for their emotional support animal. Additionally, ESA owners are also exempt from any pet fee or pet deposit under the FHA.

While the FHA applies to most housing accommodations, it doesn’t apply to every single housing option. In general, the FHA does not apply to owner-occupied buildings with any more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, or housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members. 

What’s Considered “Reasonable Accommodations” Under the Fair Housing Act?

The FHA specifically requires that the accommodations landlords make for tenants with disabilities (which includes ESA owners) are within reason. For reference, according to Animal Law, a reasonable accommodation is defined as a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces. The main takeaway from this definition? Any request you make regarding your emotional support animal must pertain to something necessary for the health and wellbeing of you, the ESA owner, or your assistance animal. 

One common example of reasonable accommodation is a landlord allowing assistance animals to walk around the building, at least to some capacity. Take note: this does not mean your emotional support animal should be allowed inside all rooms, for example, the gym or other tenants' apartments, however, your ESA should be permitted to walk through the building for the sake of its health and wellbeing. Other reasonable accommodations include granting ESA owners access to a standard apartment complex, requiring them to pay the normal monthly rate for the apartment, while also allowing them to keep their ESA at no extra cost. Keep in mind, if your apartment complex’s usual practice is to charge fees for apartment damage, a landlord may charge a tenant for damage an ESA causes to your apartment. 

There are many “unreasonable” requests ESA owners could make regarding the needs of themselves of their ESA. However, one standard example would be if an ESA owner were to request a specific rental unit or roommate simply because you have an ESA. Asking for the fanciest unit in the complex, with a balcony and extra space, at no extra cost, merely because your ESA needs more room to run around, is not a reasonable request. Not only does this place a financial burden on your landlord, but it also is not critical to the wellbeing of you or your ESA. 

Can Your Landlord Deny Your Emotional Support Animal?

Under the FHA, your landlord cannot deny ESA owners, or emotional support animals, housing, as your ESA is considered a medical tool and not a pet. This law applies even in buildings with no-pet policies and also exempts your ESA from any pet deposit or pet fee. That being said, you will still need to provide your landlord with a document proving that your animal is an ESA and not a pet. That document is referred to as an emotional support animal letter or an ESA Letter for Housing. ESA Letters are official documents that have been written and signed by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). These letters can be provided by a medical professional that you are currently seeing, or through a legitimate online ESA service, such as Pettable. Your ESA Letter will establish that you have a mental or emotional disability for purposes of the FHA and that an ESA would alleviate symptoms of that disability. The letter will also contain the licensing and contact information of your licensed mental health professional, so your landlord can verify their credentials. 

Once you have provided your landlord with your ESA Letter, which can occur before or after you have signed your lease, your landlord can not legally ask you for any more documents. You do not need to discuss your mental illness, disclose the diagnosis or severity of your mental or emotional disabilities, or provide any medical records. However, your landlord can legally ask you two questions. Firstly, a landlord can ask if your animal is required because of a disability. Secondly, they can ask about the work or task that your animal has been trained to perform. 

If you, the tenant, have a disability, and your animal can alleviate or assist with this disability, then your landlord must grant you, and your ESA, housing. However, there are a few exceptions to this law, in which your landlord can legally reject your ESA. Keep reading to find out what these exceptions are. 

What are the Reasons Your Landlord Could Potentially Deny Your Emotional Support Animal?

While the law demands that landlords are obligated to accommodate emotional support animals, there are special circumstances that allow your landlord to legally deny your ESA. 

Housing Restrictions

Certain accommodations do not need to abide by guidelines under the FHA. Thus, these accommodations are not legally obligated to provide housing for your ESA. These accommodations include:

  • Housing is operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members
  • Buildings with four units or less where one of the units is owner-occupied
  • Single-family homes that were rented out without using a realtor. The owner of the home cannot own more than three single-family homes

Additionally, while college dorms do not need to abide by rules under the FHA and accommodate emotional support animals, college and university campuses do not. This means, most universities won’t be thrilled by support animals walking around campus. While some colleges will be more animal-friendly than others, if you intend on bringing your ESA to school with you, it might be best to first run this by your college administration.

An Illegitimate ESA Letter

If you provide your landlord with an illegitimate or invalid ESA letter, your landlord can deny your ESA Housing. An illegitimate ESA Letter can be anything from a document provided by a fake or counterfeit online business, a letter written by a healthcare provider who is not licensed to practice in the country, or a letter you forged yourself. This means, even if you unintentionally provide your landlord with a fake letter, this mishap can still cost you the chance of living with your ESA. That’s why it’s incredibly important to ensure that your ESA provider is accredited, which can be confirmed through Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Additionally, despite the lack of guidance on this issue, it is recommended that ESA Letters for housing are renewed at least once every year. This is because many landlords will refuse to accept an ESA Letter that is dated over one year ago, and some therapists will not validate an ESA Letter if it is outdated.


Your ESA Causes Undue Financial Hardship on Landlord

In most cases, landlords are responsible for maintaining the property you live in. As pet owners know, pets can be messy, and they can cause damage to accommodations, including scratches on the door or bite marks on surfaces. If your ESA is prone to causing property damage, your landlord could be on the line to pay those fees. This may lead to your landlord rejecting your ESA. The best way to prevent this from happening is to train your ESA to be well-behaved, calm and collected. 

ESA Poses a Threat or Health Risks

Your landlord has a responsibility to consider the best interests of everyone in your housing accommodation. Therefore, if any of the other tenants are deathly allergic to your ESA, your landlord can deny your ESA accommodation. Some people suffer from severe allergies to fur, which in certain situations can lead to dire respiratory issues.

Additionally, your landlord is also legally allowed to reject emotional support animals if they have a dangerous or disruptive nature. Again, it is in your best interest to have your ESA well-mannered and behaved to prevent this from happening. If you have an emotional support dog that constantly barks, or is prone to scratching or biting, your landlord may reject your ESA on behalf of your neighbor's safety and living experience. 

Size of ESA

Remember how we mentioned that an ESA can be any type of animal? Well, that includes peacocks, llamas, and in some cases, horses. If you have a larger ESA and are trying to move into a small accommodation, your landlord may reject your ESA. If your ESA is too large for your accommodation, this can result in higher maintenance costs for both the service animal and the landlord. For example, if your ESA is a horse and you are trying to move into a studio apartment, your landlord will most likely reject your ESA. 

How to Get an ESA Letter for Housing with Pettable

If you are looking to move into a new accommodation with an ESA, one of the best ways to ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible is to obtain a legitimate ESA Letter that you can trust. If you aren’t already seeing an LMHP, Pettable is one of the top-rated online services that can provide you with a valid ESA Letter that is fully compliant with federal law and state laws. Founded by mental health and animal experts, this premier service has already changed the lives of 10,000 individuals this year with its wide-ranging network of mental health professionals. Here’s what the process of obtaining an ESA Letter for Housing through Pettable looks like.

Free Pre-Screening

First things first: clients will complete a 3-minute pre-screening test to confirm that they are eligible to move forward to the next step in the process. The quiz will ask you to provide basic and logistical information such as if you already have a pet, how many pets do you have, etc. The best part? The screening is completely free, which is not something that all online ESA services offer. 

After completing this initial assessment, Pettable will put together a unique profile for you that will help the site match you with a mental health professional.


Consult with an LMHP

When you are ready to book your consultation, you will be asked to pay an affordable fee online. Then, Pettable will use the information you provided in your assessment to match you with a suitable LMHP from your state. One of the best parts about Pettable is every mental health professional in its network is not only properly licensed, but is also an expert in emotional support animals. This cannot be said of all therapists in the mental health professional community. 

Your consultation will give the LMHP that you matched with all of the information that they need to write you a valid ESA Letter. 

Receive Your Letter

Once you complete your consultation, and your LMHP has determined that an ESA is a necessary part of your care, they will write a personalized and legally compliant ESA Letter. 

Pettable understands the urgency surrounding ESA Letters, therefore, if you choose to opt for its services, you will receive your ESA Letter within 24 hours of your LMHP consultation. If your LMHP ultimately decides that an ESA is not necessary for your mental or emotional disability, then Pettable will provide you with a full refund.

Meet the author:

Susana Bradford