Many pet owners consider their animal companions to be a part of the family. That’s why it can be utterly devastating when apartment complexes have rules in place that don’t allow pets. Thankfully, more and more pet owners are enjoying companionship with their assistance animals as registered emotional support animals (ESAs). Federal laws have been developed to support emotional support animals and this animal and human relationship, however, it is important that you follow the proper protocols and know your rights as an ESA owner before beginning the renting process. While finding housing with an emotional support animal can feel overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. Here is an all-inclusive, comprehensive guide of the ins and outs of renting with an ESA. Let’s get started!
The 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.
ESA Housing Laws – Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords are legally obligated to make reasonable accommodation for ESA owners.
Can an apartment deny an ESA? – Under the FHA, in most cases, your landlord is legally obligated to provide you and your animal companion housing, although there are some exceptions to this law.
How to qualify for an ESA – If your ESA alleviates one or more identified symptoms of your mental or emotional disability then you most likely qualify for an ESA.
What is an emotional support animal?
While many people have heard of service animals or service dogs, such as a guide dog, not everyone is as informed about emotional support animals (ESAs). So, first things first, what is an ESA? Emotional support animals are not the same as service animals, but they do carry some of the same privileges when it comes to their housing rights.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an emotional support animal is any animal that provides emotional support, which helps relieve one or more symptoms or effects of a person’s mental or physical disability. Emotional support animals provide companionship, alleviate loneliness, and aid individuals with emotional and mental disabilities. Unlike a service animal, an ESA does not need to be specifically trained. ESAs are also not restricted to any certain breed, while service animals can only be dogs or miniature horses. While emotional support dogs are the most common type of ESA, emotional support animals can be any breed. Take note: for an ESA to be legally recognized as such, you need to receive an ESA Letter for Housing, which must be written and signed by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP).
ESA Housing Laws
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law focused on preventing discrimination and protecting the housing rights of all individuals during the sale, rental, or financing of a home. Race, nationality, sexuality, and religion are all protected under federal fair housing laws, and so are individuals with disabilities. According to the United States Department of Justice, under the FHA, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits a person’s major life activities. Similar to service animal laws, under these rules, ESA owners are protected and have special rights. This means, that even if an apartment complex has a “no pets” rule or restricts pets, landlords are required to make what is called reasonable accommodations to allow pets who serve as assistance animals to live in their building. Additionally, because ESAs are not considered “pets” under the Fair Housing Act, all related pet rules for a specific building do not apply to ESAs. ESA owners are not required to pay pet fees or pet deposits, and also do not need to abide by breed restrictions or weight restrictions.
As an emotional support animal owner, it is your responsibility to present your housing provider with a legitimate emotional support animal letter, or an ESA Letter for Housing. Your landlord has the right to confirm the legitimacy of the letter, but cannot ask you to provide proof through any other documents, such as medical records, or a certification for your ESA stating that it has undergone any training to perform tasks.
Can you have an emotional support animal in a “No Pet” apartment?
Under the Fair Housing Act, your emotional support animal is considered to be a medical tool and an essential function to your wellbeing. Thus, ESAs are not technically pets. Therefore, all pet-related policies in any apartment building do not apply to your ESA, including a no pets policy. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities living with emotional support animals.
According to Animal Law, a reasonable accommodation is 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. In this case, if you are an ESA owner, an example of reasonable accommodation from your landlord would be allowing your ESA to live in a building with a no pet policy. An unreasonable accommodation would be expecting your landlord to build a stable for your ESA if you have an emotional support horse. Reasonable accommodations must not only be necessary for your companion animal but also must not place undue financial hardship on your landlord.
Can apartments charge for emotional support animals?
Another right that ESA owners have under the Fair Housing Act is that housing providers such as landlords cannot charge their tenants pet rent, a pet deposit, regular pet fees, or surcharges regarding their ESA animal. Because ESAs are not considered pets under the Fair Housing Act, all pet-related rules in place do not apply for your ESA, including monetary rules.
That being said, an ESA owner is on the line for damages caused by their comfort animals. If your apartment complex has a rule in place that requires tenants to pay any damages to their apartment unit, then you are responsible for paying for any damages caused by your ESA. Your landlord can also take money out of your security deposit for damages caused by your ESA.
Can apartments deny an ESA?
If you present your landlord with a legitimate ESA Letter, in most cases, your landlord is required by law to allow and provide you and your emotional support animal with housing. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule, in which your landlord can deny emotional support animals.
One of the most common reasons why a landlord will reject your ESA is if you present them with a fake, counterfeit, or illegitimate emotional support animal letter. Even if you did not forge the letter yourself, and you unknowingly or unintentionally gave your housing provider a fake letter, your landlord can still deny our ESA. This is why it’s incredibly important to ensure that you are taking appropriate measures to obtain a legitimate ESA letter to not jeopardize your chances of living your emotional support animal.
Other common circumstances in which your housing provider may deny a tenant’s request for reasonable accommodation include the following:
- If accommodating the request would impose an undue financial or administrative burden on your landlord (eg. If your emotional support animal causes exorbitant damage to property)
- If your assistance animal poses a direct threat to the health of other tenants
- If your ESA is too large for the apartment
- If your ESA is too dangerous or disruptive (eg. If you have an emotional support dog that bites or excessively barks).
- If the building has four units or less and your landlord lives in one of the units
- If you are renting a single-family house that was rented without a realtor and the owner owns less than 3 single-family homes
Do apartments have to allow emotional support animals?
Unless your emotional support animal violates any of the above exceptions to the FHA, then your landlord must abide by the FHA and make reasonable accommodation for your ESA.
If your landlord refuses your ESA without providing a valid reason, then it’s time to resort to other measures, which can include legal proceedings.
First, if possible, request that your landlord provide you with their stance on your situation in writing – this would be a statement regarding their refusal or denial of your ESA either through a letter or an email. Then, inform your landlord that you are willing to file a complaint to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development regarding open discrimination. If your landlord is still not willing to comply with the FHA, you can file a complaint with HUD.
How to qualify for an ESA letter for housing
A wide range of individuals qualify for emotional support animals, and all recommendations will be made by a medical professional on an individual basis. If you are suffering from a disability and your ESA can relieve or alleviate at least one of your symptoms, then you will most likely qualify for an emotional support animal. While there is no set list of mental or emotional disabilities that you must live with to qualify for an ESA, here are some of the most common:
- Severe grief
- Certain phobias
- Emotional challenges
How to get your ESA letter for housing with Pettable
While the process of renting with an ESA might seem overwhelming, the most important step in the process is obtaining an ESA Letter. There are numerous services online that provide individuals with these documents, but Pettable is one of the top-rated services available that you can trust. Founded by mental health and animal experts, Pettable has changed the lives of 10,000 clients through its wide network of therapists and unparalleled customer support. Pettable’s devoted customer service team is well-versed in ESA laws, and each member of the team is committed to helping the Pettable community with the ESA process each step of the way. This means, if you do end up having any issues with your landlord, Pettable is willing to speak with them directly to help resolve any problems. The best part? The process of getting an ESA letter through Pettable is very straightforward.
To begin the process, you will complete a short, 3-minute pre-assessment on Pettable’s website. This quiz will provide Pettable with basic and logistical information about you. After you complete the assessment, Pettable will be able to match you with a licensed mental health professional in your state that suits your needs. The best part? The quiz is 100% free.
Consult with an LMHP
Next, you will be matched with a licensed professional in your state. Before your consultation, you will be asked to pay an affordable fee online. One of the best parts about working with Pettable is your experience is 100% risk-free. If you don’t end up qualifying for an ESA, Pettable will provide you with a full refund. Additionally, your therapist will be an expert in ESA laws and best practices.
Once you complete your consultation, your LMHP will have all of the information that they need to certify your ESA and write a recommendation letter prescribing an ESA as a necessary treatment plan for your condition.
Receive Your Letter
Lastly, you will receive your ESA Letter for Housing from Pettable through email. Pettable understands the significance – and often urgency – surrounding ESA Letters. Therefore, the Pettable team prioritizes providing its customers with a letter within 24 hours. Once you have received your letter, you will be able to either print or email this document to your landlord for review. Remember, if you face any challenges with your ESA Letter even after you have received it, Pettable is committed to helping you with any issues, including legal advice.
Tips on Renting an Apartment with an ESA
When it comes to renting with an ESA, you have certain responsibilities as an ESA owner. Additionally, by following best practices, your experience of finding a home for you and your comfort animal will be far more stress-free. Here are some of our top tips for renting an apartment with an ESA.
Obtaining a Legitimate ESA Letter
To ensure that renting with an ESA goes as smoothly as possible, obtaining a legitimate ESA letter is crucial. Remember, a counterfeit letter does not necessarily mean that the letter was forged by you. A fake ESA letter can be provided either intentionally or unintentionally. The amount of fake online ESA businesses online is increasing, and attempting to use a fake emotional support animal letter is a federal offense that can result in a fine of up to $125,000 and even a potential jail sentence, as noted by ESA Registration. Luckily, there are ways to confirm whether or not the service you are using is reputable through the Better Bureau Business (BBB). By simply searching up a business name on the BBB website, individuals can easily confirm whether a service is accredited or not.
Ensuring Your ESA is Well Trained
Unlike service animals, for example, a service dog, emotional support animals are not required to undergo special training to perform tasks. That being said, it is in your best interest to have your ESA well-mannered, behaved, calm, and collected. There are certain circumstances where a landlord is more likely to reject an ESA if it is dangerous or disruptive. If you have an emotional support dog that is extremely messy or prone to damaging property, this will give your housing provider cause to reject your ESA. If your ESA tends to bite, then this could put other tenants on your property at risk, which is another common reason that landlords will reject ESAs. Lastly, even if your emotional support animal is disruptive, then your landlord could potentially reject your ESA. This could include behavior that is typical for pets, such as constant barking.
When Possible, Maintain a Positive Relationship with Your Landlord
One of the most intimidating parts of the ESA process is confronting your landlord about your assistance animal. However, this process doesn’t have to be unpleasant. Many landlords are very happy to abide by the FHA and are also understanding of the situation that ESA owners are in. Therefore, do your best to approach the ESA conversation with your landlord as openly and honestly as possible. If your landlord feels misled by your situation, the conversation is more likely to turn in a negative direction, when it doesn’t need to.
To be best prepared for the conversation with your landlord, be aware of your rights. Online services, such as Pettable, will be more than happy to provide legal advice. That way, if your landlord has never previously dealt with an ESA owner as a tenant, you can guide the conversation. Additionally, you can tell your landlord when a question or request that they are making is not allowed or inappropriate. For example, a landlord is not allowed to ask directly about a tenant's disability.