Finding housing can be a stressful situation for anyone, especially in high-pressure rental areas. If you can afford to buy a house, you will often be at the mercy of landlords and rapidly rising rents. However, if you’re someone who suffers from a psychological or emotional condition and who relies on an emotional support animal for treatment, the stress can be compounded by the worry that landlords will reject you on the basis of your ESA. Luckily, there are laws in place to protect individuals who rely on emotional support animals to ensure they are not prejudiced against when searching for housing.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects all disabled individuals in America from prejudice and unfair treatment as a result of their disability. It also means that service providers must make certain allowances to ensure that disabled individuals can access their services fairly. In terms of housing, the ADA protects disabled renters who wish to bring their emotional support animal or service animal into a rental unit that does not permit pets.
The All-Important ESA Letter
While some people consider their pets to be emotional support animals, ESAs actually have legal protection. If you suffer from an emotional or psychological condition and your pet alleviates your symptoms, it is easy to gain this protection for them and for you. You need to get an official emotional support animal letter from a medical professional. This can be done in person, if you wish, but it is also possible to attend an online consultation with a medical professional who can assess your needs.
The consultation takes very little time. You will need to explain your condition and how your pet helps you cope, and if the medical professional agrees you will benefit from an official emotional support animal, they will provide you with an official letter that is signed, dated and stamped. This letter is valid for a year from its date and will give you peace of mind when searching for a new place to live.
Laws for Landlords
Under the ADA, landlords cannot legally deny your emotional support animal residence in a unit, even if they wish to specify that pets are not allowed. They are not allowed to ask for an additional security deposit if your emotional support animal moves in, but you are liable for any damage your ESA may cause while you are living there. While your emotional support animal can move in, they still need to behave themselves!
You may be nervous when applying for new housing, but the law is on your side. It’s probably better to seek out properties that already allow animals, but if this isn’t possible, be open with prospective landlords about your emotional support animal. Be confident in your protection under the law. It’s best to bring your letter with you to any viewings or discussions around leases so your potential landlord knows that your ESA fulfils an official purpose. They should also know that they will not be able to discriminate against you.
If you run into any issues when attempting to rent, remain calm and confident. Explain to your landlord you have legal protection and they do not have any standing under the law. Another problem you may run into is bringing an ESA into a home that you already live in that does not allow pets.
It is always best to conduct all correspondence in writing, so if you are in this situation, send your landlord a scanned copy of your ESA letter and explain to them that your emotional support animal has moved in. State that you are covered legally but assure them that you will pay for any damages your emotional support animal may cause, even though you are confident in their good behavior. A conciliatory approach is always good as people will want to assist others who they consider open and adaptable.
If your landlord is not treating you and your emotional support animal appropriately, do not be afraid to escalate your concerns appropriately. It is important to remember that if they do not accommodate you, they are breaking the law. Depending on the state that you live in, there are several government agencies that can assist you in lodging a complaint, and there are also advocacy groups for disabled individuals that can advise and advocate on your behalf.
Remember: the law is on your side. It is not indulgent or selfish to own an emotional support animal. They fulfil a very important function and allow individuals who are crippled with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and other similar conditions to live the best lives possible alongside their often-crippling conditions.
Luckily, many landlords are understanding and happy to work to the letter of the law, so you and your ESA will likely live happily together in your home as long as you need to.