As every animal owner knows, living with a pet can be a delicate balance. There are going to be mishaps and accidents, items getting knocked over and destroyed, paw prints where paw prints most definitely aren’t meant to be, and so on. We tolerate all this because we love them, of course, and the joy they bring to our lives. However, for some people, living with their animals full-time is not a matter of choice but a matter of medicine. These people, or more accurately patients, rely on their pets for comfort and calmness in the face of some of the most common and debilitating mental health disorders on the planet. For these people, a pet isn’t merely a pet; it’s an emotional support animal, or ESA for short.
An ESA is a progressive new kind of mental health therapy that’s currently taking the US by storm. It involves prescribing an animal to sufferers of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and autism, based on proven studies showing that certain animals help to reduce symptoms of these potentially crippling afflictions. An emotional support animal can be a new pet, or it can be a pre-existing pet already owned by the patient; either works in terms of the law. A patient is qualified for an ESA by the issuing of an emotional support animal letter, or ESA letter, which entitles the patients and their pet to certain privileges, unobtainable to regular pet owners. An ESA letter can be obtained over the internet via telemedicine sites, and is valid for one year.
There are two main areas in which the emotional support letter affords ESA owners particular rights, one of which is rented accommodation, which this article will be focusing on. The other is air travel, which involves a separate set of laws and rights. Because an ESA is seen as a treatment in the eyes of the law, ESA patients are covered under an act known as the Fair Housing Act, or FHA for short – a 1968 law that prohibits discrimination against any person looking to buy or rent accommodation, regardless of race, religion, nationality, or the presence of a disability, either mental or physical. This means that emotional support animals are allowed in rented accommodation everywhere in America, because they are a form of treatment relating to mental illness. Refusing them entry to a rental home would be in turn refusing their owner, which is a form of discrimination.
So landlords must adhere to an emotional support animal letter, though it does have to be in date, and prescribed by a verified health care professional. In accordance with the law, the landlord must not factor your ESA into a renting decision, whatever the species of the animal. This is the precedent the law sets, and as emotional support animals become more prominent over the country, more and more landlords are getting used to the idea of them. However, there are certain provisions that an ESA owner must follow if they want to be allowed to keep their ESA with them in the rented accommodation. Many of these are ultimately common sense, but it’s good to be aware of them if you’re planning to look for a house with your ESA in the near future.
1. The ESA is too large for the accommodation size.
Because emotional support animals can be any species of animal, there is no limit to what type of pet you can bring to live with you in rented accommodation. There are obviously certain physical caveats; a great white shark, for instance, would have a hard time living in a waterless apartment! On a serious note, if you’re trying to bring in an animal that’s obviously too big for the accommodation, then your landlord is legally allowed to not rent to you on those terms. A more realistic example would be bringing a St. Bernard dog into a studio apartment with no garden. The space would obviously not be big enough for a dog of that size, and chances are the law would see it that way too.
2. The ESA is threatening other tenants or destroying property.
An ESA should be well trained by its owner to be comfortable in the presence of other people without needing to be muzzled or constantly leashed. If an ESA is prone to acting up and acts in a threatening manner toward other tenants, or if it ruins or destroys the accommodation or communal areas, then your landlord would have grounds to evict you. Another relevant case would be if your ESA is too loud, especially at night, and causes disturbances to other tenants.
3. The building is four units or less and the landlord occupies one of those units.
This is simply a legal issue where the landlord has permission to refuse an ESA because of a singular set up. Another example would be a single family house that was rented without a realtor; in this case, the landlord would also have legal grounds to forbid an emotional support animal from living there.