certified emotional support animals

If you’re a person who has done their research or gone through the process of an ESA application, you know that registering pets as certified emotional support animals is no easy feat, and can be met with considerable skepticism from landlords. Some areas, especially private renters, are less familiar with emotional support animal (ESA) laws, which means that you may be subjected to questioning, or may face resistance. Today, we’re going to talk about a few things you need to know, and can present to your landlord, when renting an apartment with an ESA. Before we begin, it’s important to know: if you are a person who requires an ESA, you have rights under the law, and you may be put in a position to have to advocate for those rights.

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act was created in order to curb discrimination by landlords against individuals in need of assistance. In short, the act states that no landlord can refuse the housing of a physically or mentally disabled person and their service or emotional support animal, and must provide reasonable accommodation for individuals housed on the premises. Under the FHA, a disability is defined as:

  1. A physical or mental impairment which substantially limits at least one of the person’s major life activities
  2. Having proof/record of the impairment
  3. Being regarded as having the impairment

What Your Landlord Can Do

Request Proof of Emotional Support Animal Need – While a landlord cannot discriminate against a tenant for their service animal requirement, they are within their rights to request proof of need. This proof will come in the form of a letter or a prescription from a licensed mental health professional saying that the person would benefit from having an emotional support animal in their daily life. This requirement is in order to keep people from abusing the system and registering pets as certified emotional support animals.

Refuse to Accommodate (In Certain Cases) – A small percentage of rental properties don’t fall under the protection of the Fair Housing Act, and as a result, those landlords are able to refuse accommodations for individuals with emotional support animal needs. These include buildings with four or fewer units and single family homes that are being rented without the use of a real estate broker. In this case, it’s best to search elsewhere.

Charge for Damage – While your landlord may not charge you for pet rent or a deposit, you’re still responsible for ensuring that your ESA is well-behaved. If your animal causes significant damage to your property, you’re still responsible for paying for those damages, so be sure you do what you can to minimize wear and tear and curb excessive barking.

What Your Landlord Can’t Do

Charge You Pet Rent/Deposit – This is a sticking point for many landlords who are unfamiliar with ESA laws, but if you give proof of need, your prospective landlord is not legally allowed to charge you a pet deposit for your animal, nor are they allowed to charge you pet rent.

Bar Your ESA Due to Breed/Size Restrictions – Similarly, if your apartment complex has breed or size restrictions, landlords are not legally allowed to refuse accommodation to a renter due to the size or breed of certified emotional support animals.

Ask About Your Medical Information – If your landlord is asking you to prove, or even name, the medical condition you have that led to your need for an emotional support animal, you are not required to tell them. The ESA letter that you provide them as proof of need is enough, and a landlord asking for anything beyond that is a violation of your right to patient confidentiality.

ESAs have been invaluable tools for people who experience social anxiety disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, PTSD sufferers saw up to an 82% reduction in symptoms after just one week with certified emotional support animals. Unfortunately, attitudes surrounding these animals as valuable tools for people in need have been slow to catch up in places. If you need information about how to acquire a letter for your emotional support animal, or where you can find more resources on the Fair Housing Act, contact us today.