key in door of rental house

If you’re the owner of an emotional support animal (ESA), it’s important to know that you have certain rights under the law when you rent a living space from a landlord. Because the general public’s acceptance of emotional support animals in 2021 is different than it was a few decades ago, you’ll want to make sure that you’re up to date on everything having to do with ESAs. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about renting and emotional support animals in 2021.

What are a landlord’s responsibilities to me as a renter?

There are certain rules a landlord is required to abide by when dealing with a renter who owns an ESA. One of these rules is that they cannot refuse to rent to you simply because you own an ESA. Can you be denied housing because of an emotional support animal? The answer is no, absolutely not. Under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords cannot discriminate against you as an owner of an ESA.

So, do landlords have to accept emotional support animals? They do, in fact, and they can’t deny you housing solely because of your animal. They are also prohibited from:

  • Making you pay any extra rent or any kind of deposit just for owning an ESA
  • Asking you specific questions about your disability or medical condition
  • Requiring you to register your ESA
  • Mandating that your animal have any specific kind of training

Landlords must also provide housing even if their insurance does not cover ESAs. As the tenant, you will need to provide a letter from a mental health provider that verifies that you have a need for an ESA, but your landlord cannot go much further beyond that to require anything specific in order for you to secure housing and avoid any extra fees.

emotional support dog on couch in rental accommodation
Image by Hayes Potter on Unsplash: Your rights are protected as an ESA owner with a dog or cat.

What are my responsibilities as a tenant?

If you want to be a responsible renter and would like to maintain a good relationship with your landlord, there are steps that need to be taken on your end. Your first major responsibility is choosing an ESA that can live comfortably in the space you’d like to rent. This means it’s unlikely that you can have a large animal (such as a horse or pig). Landlords cannot ban any specific breeds of dogs, but they do have the right to refuse if your animal is way too big for the space you’re renting. So make sure you have an ESA (such as a dog, cat, bird, rodent, etc.) that won’t raise any concerns from your landlord.

Your second major responsibility is to obtain a letter from a mental health official who is treating you (or you have the option of being evaluated by MooshMe). This letter will need to state that you have a mental health condition (it does not need to be specified) and that your ESA is helpful in treating or alleviating symptoms. The letter does not need to go into great detail about your condition and your landlord cannot ask further questions about it. It should only specify that an ESA is crucial to your wellbeing. In order for the letter to be legitimate, it should be on a proper letterhead and provide the contact information and license number of the health professional.

Do I need to tell my landlord about my ESA?

In order to go about renting with an ESA in the right way, you’ll need to be upfront about owning one. Things will never go well if you’re secretive or deceptive in any way. By talking with your landlord before you move in, you’ll be better able to establish an open and honest conversation about your needs as a tenant.

Here are a few things you should try to do if you want to own an ESA and still have a good relationship with your landlord:

Get educated

If you face any resistance from your landlord to you owning an ESA, the best thing you can do is be educated about what rights you have. Read up on the FHA and know specifically what you’re entitled to as an ESA owner. This can also be helpful if you need to present a landlord with specific information about your rights.

Be upfront and open with your landlord

Before you move in, approach your landlord to have a conversation about the fact that you own an ESA. This step can also be done in a written format if you’re more comfortable with that. Be clear about what your needs and rights are so you can have a straightforward conversation with them.

Provide them with a letter

Offer your landlord the ESA letter from your mental health professional or from MooshMe so they can see that you’re doing everything aboveboard.

landlord and tenant having conversation
Image by LinkedInSalesSolutions on Unsplash: Have an open and honest conversation with your landlord about your rights as an ESA owner.

Be reasonable with the size and type of your ESA

If you want to live comfortably with your ESA in a rented space, it’s important to remember that you need to be reasonable with the type of animal you own. Extremely large or loud animals won’t do well in a rented accommodation, and your landlord will only want to deny housing or evict you if the animal obviously can’t fit into an apartment or small home.

Own an animal that doesn’t disrupt other tenants

Along the same lines, you’ll want an ESA that won’t be extremely disruptive to other tenants you’ll be living alongside. (Owning an ESA rooster that wakes everyone up at dawn won’t make you very popular with your landlord or with other tenants!) Be thoughtful about selecting an ESA that will help with your symptoms, but that will also be easy to train and control.

You have rights as a renter with an ESA. Research these rights so you know what parameters you have for owning an ESA. If you’re getting resistance from your landlord even though you’re protected under the law, you always have the option of seeking assistance from government agencies or nonprofit organizations that help fight for the rights of ESA owners. Stay up to date on the regulations surrounding ESA ownership, and you’ll be able to live comfortably with your ESA in a rented space.

Featured image by Jaye Haych on Unsplash