Moving into a new apartment or house can be stressful, and this stress can increase tenfold for pet owners. Many people with pets consider their animal companions to be part of the family, which is why it can be heartbreaking when countless apartment buildings issue no-pet policies.
Thankfully, the rules are different for emotional support animals (ESAs). Once you have an ESA Letter for Housing, a legal document or “doctors note” that prescribes your ESA as a necessary treatment plan for an emotional or mental disability, then in most cases, you should be able to move into your apartment complex without a hitch. However, for an emotional support animal owner, part of the process of moving into a new apartment involves when to tell the landlord about the emotional support animal. When do you need to tell your landlord you have an emotional support animal? Do you need to tell your landlord at all? All of the best practices surrounding emotional support animal etiquette are explained below.
What is the Fair Housing Act? – The FHA was created to protect the housing rights of all people, including individuals with disabilities. This includes anyone suffering from a mental or emotional disability, and someone who benefits from the presence of an supprt animal.
Do you have to tell your landlord about your ESA? – It is highly recommended that you tell your landlord about your emotional support animal for several key reasons.
Can your landlord charge extra for your ESA? – Your landlord cannot charge you additional pet rent, a pet deposit, or surcharges for your ESA, but they can charge you for damages caused by your emotional support animal.
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 emotional support pet.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was passed in 1968 to prevent discrimination and protect the housing rights of all people, including people with mental and emotional disabilities. This act also makes denying housing to any individual due to sex, race, national origin, religion, and other classes, illegal. 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. Additionally, under the FHA, emotional support animals are not considered pets, but medical tools that serve a necessary purpose.
What are your ESA owner rights under the Fair Housing Act?
Even in apartment complexes with there are "no pets allowed", housing providers are required to make what is called a "reasonable accommodation" to allow pets who serve as assistance animals to live in the building. Breed and weight restrictions do not apply to assistance or service animals, and emotional support animal owners are not required to pay a pet deposit or any pet fees.
However, the wording of the Fair Housing Act specifically states that the reasonable accommodations landlords are legally required to make for tenants with disabilities are to be within reason. As an ESA owner, you can expect that a reasonable accommodation made by your landlord to be allowing your support pet to live in the building, even if there is a no-pet policy. An unreasonable accommodation would be demanding a more expensive unit for you and your ESA, with a balcony and extra space, without paying the extra costs.
As an emotional support pet owner, you must provide your landlord with a legitimate ESA Letter for Housing or an emotional support animal letter. This is the only legal document that you must provide your landlord without. You do not need to disclose medical records or further certification for your ESA. Unlike a service animal or service dog, your emotional support animal does not need any special training to perform tasks – it merely must provide emotional support through its presence. Your landlord does have the right to verify the legitimacy of your emotional support animal letter.
Do you have to tell your landlord about your ESA?
It is highly recommended that you tell your landlord about your emotional support animal. It is always best for tenants to be transparent and honest when moving into a new apartment, which includes conversations regarding your ESA. Having a friendly and well-mannered conversation with your landlord about your emotional support animal will increase your chances of having a positive relationship with your landlord down the line.
Even if you prolong telling your landlord about your ESA until after you sign the lease, you risk the chance that your landlord will feel misled by you, which may harm your long-term professional relationship with your housing provider. Some people fear that by telling their landlord about their emotional support animal, the landlord may reject their housing application. Keep in mind, your landlord is obligated to abide by rules under the Fair Housing Act. Additionally, most landlords are happy to follow these federal laws and also understand the importance of emotional support animals.
When you are ready to inform your landlord about your emotional support pet, you can let them know verbally or in writing (which includes via email). You should also provide your landlord with your ESA Letter for Housing — this is a legal document that your landlord has the right to request and must be written by a licensed mental health professional.
Lastly, while landlords are required to allow you to live with your emotional support pet under the Fair Housing Act, there are still certain exceptions that give them the right to reject your emotional support animal. Some of the most common reasons that a landlord will reject your support animal are listed below:
- An illegitimate ESA Letter for Housing (if this letter is intentionally or unintentionally invalid, your landlord has the right to reject your support animal).
- If your emotional support animal is dangerous or disruptive (eg. If your emotional support dog is a constant barker or a biter)
- If your registered support pet has any potential health risks to the other tenants in the building (eg. If any of your neighbors are deathly allergic to your emotional support dog)
- If your landlord causes any financial strain on your landlord (eg. Your support animal consistently causes damage to your apartment unit)
- If your support pet is too large for the accommodation (eg. If your assistance animal is a llama and you want to live in a studio apartment).
Can your landlord charge extra for your ESA?
Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers cannot charge their tenants pet fees, deposits, or surcharges for owning an emotional support animal. For FHA rules, a support pet is not considered an unauthorized pet, which means that a building’s general policies regarding pets do not apply to emotional support animals. This means emotional support animals are exempt from no-pet policies, pet deposits, and any pet-related bans regarding certain breeds, weight, and within reason, size.
That being said, landlords may charge tenants fees for damage an assistance animal causes if it is the landlord’s general practice to charge for damage caused by tenants. Being exempt from pet fees and deposits does not absolve emotional support animal owners from the responsibility for the actions of their support animal. This is one of the reasons why it is also highly encouraged for support pet owners to train their pets to at least be well-mannered, calm, and collected. A landlord is also allowed to deduct damage fees caused by a support pet from the tenant’s standard security deposit.
How to qualify for an ESA
If your emotional support animal can alleviate one or more of the symptoms or effects caused by your mental disability, then you will most likely qualify for a support animal. Some of these expected symptom alleviations may lead to:
- Fewer panic attacks or anxious feelings
- Better quality of sleep
- Increased ability to spend time around other people
- Lower stress levels and blood pressure
Individuals suffering from those symptoms may have one or more of the following mental health disorders:
- Severe grief
- Bipolar Disorder
- Certain Phobias
Even if you don’t have one of the listed mental disabilities or any of the symptoms listed above, that does not mean that you don’t qualify for an emotional support animal. Licensed mental health professionals will always recommend emotional support animals on a case-by-case basis.
Differences Between ESAs and Service Animals
There are a few differences between emotional support animals and service animals. First, emotional support pets can generally be any animal that offers support, comfort, and doesn't stress their owner. Service animals, in most cases, are dogs. The big difference between service animals and support animals is that support animals do not require individual training to perform their duties for their owners. Service dogs and service animals must be trained to help their owners in specific ways. There are a few types of service animals that you may know of.
A guide dog is a service dog that helps someone who struggles visually, or someone who is considered visually impaired. A guide dog helps its owner live a more independent life by guiding its owner in public places or around obstacles or unsafe situations. Guide dogs usually wear harnesses to better assist their owners. Hearing dogs, or signal dogs, are another type of service dog.
Hearing dogs help people who struggle with hearing, or people who are hearing impaired. A hearing dog, or signal dog, is specially trained to alert its owner when it hears important noises like a fire alarm, a doorbell, a cell phone, or someone crying. Mobility dogs are another type of service animal.
Mobility Dogs help people travel from one spot to another spot. People that may need a mobility dog could have difficulties with balance, use a wheelchair, or use a walker. Mobility dogs are individually trained to help their owners move from one spot to another in the safest way. Psychiatric service dogs are also specially trained to help their owners.
Psychiatric Service Dog
A psychiatric service dog, or PSD, helps people who struggle with emotional or mental disabilities. PSDs are different from emotional support pets in that PSDs require special training to perform tasks for their owners who struggle with mental or emotional disabilities. Support animals help their owners by offering comfort and companionship. PSDs perform a variety of tasks. Sometimes they retrieve medication, they perform room checks for people who struggle with PTSD, or they apply pressure with their paws to relieve anxiety.
A service dog and support dog may have their differences, but essentially a landlord must allow these working dogs on their property with the proper documentation.
How to Get an ESA Letter for Housing with Pettable
During the ESA Housing process, there are only certain factors within your control. One of the ways that you can ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible, is by obtaining a valid ESA Letter for Housing. Many online services can help you with this process, but one of the best options available is Pettable.
Founded by mental health and animal experts, Pettable has built a solid reputation for itself in a short amount of time due to its unparalleled customer support and full money-back guarantee. The customer support team at Pettable is not only readily available and easy to contact, but they are also committed to helping you with your ESA Letter each step of the way. This means that this devoted team will also speak directly with your landlord if you encounter any issues with your ESA Letter. Additionally, if you don’t qualify for an emotional support animal after your licensed mental health professional consultation, Pettable will provide you with a full refund. To top that off, the process of obtaining an ESA Letter through Pettable is very straightforward.
To start, you will complete a short, 3-minute assessment on Pettable’s website. The questionnaire will ask you basic questions about your identity and your support pet if you already have one. This assessment will help Pettable 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
After you have been matched with a medical professional, you will complete a consultation with a licensed therapist by phone. The mental health professional will ask you all of the questions they need to confirm whether or not a support animal is a necessary course of treatment for an individual's disability. All of the LMHP’s in Pettable’s network are experts in emotional support animals and ESA Letters for Housing. Therefore, you can rest easy knowing that the letter that you are provided will be fully compliant with federal law.
Receive Your Letter
If your therapist decides to prescribe you an emotional support animal, then you will receive your letter from a licensed professional within 24 hours of your consultation. The letter will then be ready to either print or email to your landlord. If your LMHP does not consider you fit for a support pet, then you will receive a full refund.