Emotional support animals (ESA) can be hugely beneficial to people suffering from mental illnesses (such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.). However, some people might not consider them an option if they’re worried about housing regulations interfering. Luckily, under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), you can’t face discrimination from your landlord or building owner if you have an authentic ESA letter from a mental health professional. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know to get an ESA letter that your landlord will accept.
First off, you should become familiar with what rights you have under the FHA. Your emotional support animal is protected by this law – you can bring them with you onto any property without worrying about facing discrimination. This means that your landlord can’t treat you any differently from other tenants just because you have an ESA. Plus, they can’t straight out deny housing because of your ESA. Since your ESA is serving as an assistive device, you are considered as having a disability if you’ve obtained the letter from a mental health professional. Most landlords are aware of this law being in place and will act accordingly (although there are always some bad apples in the bunch). If they’re not complying with the FHA, they could be prosecuted.
The FHA also means that you are permitted to have your emotional support animal with you even if the building regulations say no pets are allowed. As long as it fits within reason, your ESA can be any species, breed, or size. If your landlord tries to argue that you don’t seem to have a disability, or if they ask for proof of your disability, you’re protected by the FHA. Any landlord is prohibited from asking for details related to your disability. A valid ESA letter is proof enough, according to the FHA.
After fully understanding your rights, you should then obtain an authentic ESA letter so that you have proof of your need for an ESA. This letter comes from a mental health professional (such as a therapist or psychiatrist) from whom you’re receiving care, or from an online source like Moosh that can connect you to a licensed mental health professional. The ESA letter states that your pet is an emotional support animal and that they alleviate symptoms related to your mental health condition. The letter also details that you’re a current patient under the health professional’s care and that your condition or disability keeps you from participating in at least one activity daily. To be considered a valid ESA letter, it must be on official letterhead and contain an expiration date (legitimate letters are only valid for one year).
Unfortunately, there are many scam websites out there that try to dupe people into purchasing letters that are not legitimate. To spot a fake, make sure any letter you receive includes the following info:
- Statement that the professional is licensed in the same state as the patient
- The name of the therapist
- What they specialize in (such as psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, etc.)
- The type of medical license
- The medical license registration number
- Issue date of the medical license
- Expiration date of the license
- Verifiable contact information (including address and phone number)
- The type of animal being registered
- The name of the animal being registered
- The ESA certificate ID number
- The issue date of the letter
- The expiration date of the letter (no later than one year from the issue date)
Once you’ve received an authentic ESA letter from your mental health professional or from Moosh, you can use it to show to airlines so that you can fly with your emotional support animal, or to show to your landlord in relation to your housing situation. It’s a good idea to always have a hard copy of your letter on hand. It should be easily accessible in case you need to show it to your landlord at any time. Plus, with a hard copy, you can always give a copy to your landlord to keep for their files. While some landlords might be okay getting an electronic ESA letter, your best bet is to have a hard copy ready just in case.
To ensure you don’t have any issues with your housing situation, make sure your ESA is well-trained and doesn’t make a lot of noise so that your neighbors won’t have any excuses to make complaints (which can cause serious problems with your landlord). Plus, whenever you approach your landlord (especially if you’re moving into a new place), make sure to set up some time to talk with them about your situation. You can present them with the physical and/or electronic ESA letter so that you can have an open discussion (versus them just finding out that you have a pet living with you). Open communication will likely help you avoid any conflicts. There will always be some landlords who will not like you owning a pet, but you can feel safe in the knowledge that you won’t be discriminated against under the FHA. Remember your rights and enjoy living with your emotional support animal in peace.