This collection of articles discusses housing rights for pet owners. To find out more about your rights as a pet, ESA, or service animal owner read these expert-written articles.
Housing rentals with pets can be tricky, and navigating between rental policies and your rights as a tenant and pet owner can be even more difficult. Here we’ll help explain your rights and responsibilities as well as those of your landlord when renting with a pet or assistance animal.
Knowing your rights around rental housing with a pet is the best way to protect yourself and your furry friend, and to be your own advocate for fair and equal housing.
No Pet Apartments
No pet apartments typically mean there is a policy in the lease that prohibits pets from living in the unit or building. This may be due to safety issues, liability, or concerns about potential damage caused by pets. There are some exceptions made for assistance animals, like service dogs and emotional support animals (ESAs).
Pet Breed Restrictions
Pet breed restrictions are policies that don’t provide housing rentals to pet owners of certain breeds. Common dog breeds that can be disqualified from apartments and housing rentals are rottweilers, German shepherds, pit bulls, Great Danes, and Dobermans to name a few. Service animals and emotional support animals are exempt from pet breed restrictions in most cases.
A pet fee is generally a fixed amount on top of your monthly rent paid directly to the landlord in order to live in a rental property with your pet. It’s nonrefundable and is intended to cover the cost of extra cleaning and damage repair to the rental property as a result of pets living there. Pet fees are different from a pet deposit, which is typically made when you begin renting and refundable at the end of your tenancy provided there are no damage costs related to your pet.
Are Pet Restrictions, Fees, and Deposits Legal?
Yes, pet restrictions, fees, and deposits are legal in most cases. Certain states have restrictions on which fees and deposits landlords can charge. For example, in Massachusetts, landlords may not charge an additional security deposit for pets but may charge an additional monthly fee to cover the cost of repairing the unit or cleaning after a pet has lived there. Service animals and emotional support animals, however, are exempt from pet restrictions, fees, and additional deposits.
Pet Housing Laws
Pet housing laws exist to protect the rights of individuals who rent apartments or homes and who also have a pet. For individuals with disabilities who use either a service animal or emotional support animal, there are even more laws in place to protect them from discrimination related to housing with their assistance animals.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was first put into place in 1968 and serves to protect individuals from housing discrimination. It states that no person shall be denied a reasonable request for housing or housing assistance based on race, sex, age, religion, orientation, race, or disability.
Assistance Animals in Rental Housing
Assistance animals in rental housing are exempt from no-pet policies, breed restrictions, and pet fees. There are also a few circumstances where a landlord can deny housing to a person with a disability who requires an assistance animal once a request for reasonable accommodation has been made.
Apartment Pet Policy Breed Restrictions Explained
Apartments often put breed restrictions in place for safety reasons or to protect the apartment complex from being damaged. The restrictions are often legal, but emotional support animals and service dogs are exempt from these restrictions.
There are a few key differences between service animals and emotional support animals, and in some cases, ESAs don’t have the same protections under the law as service animals. When it comes to housing, your right to live with either service animals or emotional support animals is fully protected by the Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) recognizes emotional support animals as essential assistance animals for people with disabilities, and therefore ESAs are protected under landlord discrimination.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
Emotional support animals (ESAs) are a certain type of assistance animal that provides therapeutic comfort to individuals with disabilities. They’re different from service animals but are still protected more than traditional pets under some laws like the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
What is an ESA Letter?
An emotional support animal letter (ESA letter) is a legal document that states you have a known disability and that an emotional support animal is part of your treatment plan. It functions almost like a prescription stating that an emotional support animal is necessary to help manage your condition. ESA letters must be written by a healthcare professional and include their license number in order to be considered legitimate.
Benefits of an ESA Letter
Emotional support animal letters come in handy in several situations. They serve as legal proof that you require an assistance animal and help to protect your right to have them with you, particularly when it comes to things like housing and transportation.
Allows Your ESA To Live With You
Getting an emotional support animal letter certifies your furry friend as a legal and legitimate assistance animal. Since assistance animals like service dogs and emotional support animals aren’t legally considered pets, housing policies that prevent or restrict pets don’t apply to ESAs.
Exempt From Pet Fees & Restrictions
Emotional support animals and other service animals are legally exempt from pet fees and restrictions. Some housing rentals have no pet policies or restrictions on the size or breed of pets that are allowed to live with you. Even if pets are allowed, the landlord may charge additional monthly fees on top of rent to live with your pet. With a legitimate ESA letter, you’ll have nothing to worry about when it comes to policies and fees.
Protect Your Housing Rights
Having an emotional support animal letter leaves no room for doubt when it comes to the legitimacy of your need for an ESA, and your right to have them live with you. While the Fair Housing Act (FHA) exists to prevent discrimination when it comes to housing, it can still be challenging to navigate alone and even more so to prove your needs and assert your rights to live with your ESA. A legitimate ESA letter prevents issues before they occur.
Can My Landlord Reject My Emotional Support Animal Letter?
In most cases, no, a landlord cannot reject an emotional support animal letter. The only circumstances in which they can do so is if the letter isn’t legal or legitimate, or if the animal poses a threat to the health and safety of the other tenants or the property.
Guide to Renting an Apartment with an Emotional Support Animal
Looking for an apartment when you have an ESA is far easier than if they were a standard pet. Emotional support animals are exempt from any restrictions or fees that might hinder your apartment search.
If you have a valid emotional support animal Letter, a landlord can’t legally deny you housing because you have an ESA. Emotional support animals are exempt from pet policies that prevent them from living in certain buildings or from rules about breed or size since they’re considered medical tools — not pets.
Landlords can only reject emotional support animals if the ESA letter isn’t legitimate, or if the animal poses a risk to the health and safety of other tenants or the property.
A Landlord Must Provide “Reasonable Accommodation”
For people with disabilities seeking housing with a service animal or emotional support animal in places that don’t typically allow pets or have restrictions on things like breed, it’s within your rights to make a request to the landlord for a reasonable accommodation. This means granting permission for a tenant with an assistance animal to inhabit the dwelling just as a person without an assistance animal would.
What is Reasonable Accommodation?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines “reasonable accommodation” as a request that doesn’t impose or require any undue hardship. In the case of housing rentals, this typically means telling your landlord about your emotional support animal and requesting your landlord to accommodate your assistance animal by allowing them to live with you, as well as be exempt from breed restrictions or pet fees.
Circumstances Where a Landlord May Reject an ESA Letter
There are a few circumstances where a landlord may reject an emotional support animal letter, but there are still some. A landlord may choose not to accept an ESA letter if the letter isn’t legal and legitimate, and includes the necessary documentation to be considered so.
Landlords in certain circumstances have the right to deny an emotional support animal letter even if it is legal and legitimate. They’re able to do so if the rental property is an owner-occupied dwelling with less than four units.
What Can a Landlord Legally Ask About an ESA?
Landlords may ask you for supporting documentation from a health professional, generally in the form of an emotional support animal letter. The letter will verify that you have a disability and that your assistance animal is necessary to manage it, and that’s all. Landlords aren’t legally allowed to inquire about the specifics of your disability or exactly how your ESA supports you.
State-Specific ESA Letter Requirements
Some states have stricter policies when it comes to legitimate emotional support animal letters. These exist to help protect the rights of individuals with disabilities who need assistance animals, as well as to prevent individuals who may not need assistance animals from taking advantage of protection laws.
California Law AB 468
California Law AB 468 is an example of a state-specific law that has its own set of rules. This law aims to prevent the misuse of the designation of service animals for those who are actually emotional support animals. It also works to regulate businesses and organizations that don’t clearly define the difference between ESAs and service animals to their clients.
Montana Law HB 703
Montana Law HB 703 is a little different in that it focuses more on the legitimacy of emotional support letters provided. It allows landlords to request additional information related to a prospective tenant’s need for an ESA. It also requires health professionals to provide such information within reason and to identify more specifically the needs of the individual seeking housing.
Do I Have to Tell My Landlord I Have an Emotional Support Animal?
If you have an emotional support animal (ESA) letter, you should let your landlord know as soon as possible. Presenting your ESA letter to your landlord is the only way to ensure your rights as an ESA owner are protected.