Tips for Renting With an Emotional Support Animal

Not all landlords allow pets or animals in their apartments.

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Not all landlords allow pets or animals in their apartments. However, the case differs for persons with disabilities who require an emotional support animal (ESA) for comfort, companionship, and relief. Unlike pets, the laws and regulations allow you to live with an ESA, even in apartments with no-pet policies.

If you have been diagnosed with a disability that requires you to have an emotional support animal and wondering how to go about the renting process, this article is for you. Read on to find out all you need about renting with an emotional support animal to ensure you uphold your rights and protect your well-being.

What is the Difference between ESAs and Service Animals?

The first step when renting a home with an emotional support animal is knowing the difference between an ESA and a service animal. Lack of the correct information may cause confusion and problems not only when renting a home but also when in public spaces.

An emotional support animal refers to any animal that provides love, companionship, and support to individuals with psychological or emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression. Although any animal qualifies as an ESA, dogs, and cats are the most common. ESAs do not require training to carry out specific tasks, as their only role is to provide relief and comfort to the owner.

Service animals, on the other hand, are animals with training to perform specific tasks and help individuals with disabilities. Unlike ESAs, the ADA allows owners of service animals to take them to public spaces without documentation. Also, the law defines service animals as dogs designed to help owners with intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, physical, and any other mental disability. As such, not every animal can qualify as a service animal.

Can Landlords Prevent You from Having an Emotional Support Animal?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) requires landlords to provide tenants with disabilities reasonable accommodations for their emotional support animals. It may be as simple as allowing the animals to walk around the apartment. However, you may not ask your landlord for unreasonable accommodations, such as allocating the best room at no extra cost, just because you have an emotional support animal. 

Despite the provision by the law, landlords can still legally reject an ESA in your apartment, depending on the situation. Below are the circumstances under which a landlord can deny an ESA.

  • When your emotional support animal requires unreasonable accommodation, such as needing a horse stable for your emotional support horse within the premises
  • After the expiry of your ESA letter
  • When your ESA trespasses or infringes on the rights of other tenants. For example, a landlord can prevent you from having an ESA if it is aggressive around kids, causes property damage, or endangers tenants' health with fur allergies.
  • If the ESA causes undue hardship on the landlord and makes it difficult to run the property efficiently.
  • Failure to provide an authentic ESA letter

While landlords need to minimize risk when accepting tenants, they cannot reject your ESA under the following circumstances.

  • If you take proper care of your emotional support animal
  • If you meet other housing requirements
  • If your ESA  facilitates your day-to-day living
  • When you have a legitimate ESA letter

FHA stipulates that landlords can't prevent you from having an ESA as they are not pets but a part of your treatment. This means even buildings with no-pet policies cannot reject an ESA unless in the above-stated conditions.

Where Can You Get Documentation?

To prove that you need to live with your emotional support animal, you must provide a legitimate ESA letter to show that you need it for your well-being. With a growing increase in fake ESA letters, knowing where to find legitimate documentation is crucial. You can only obtain an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) like a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor. Depending on your preference, you can go through the process online or visit a mental health professional near you.

To get the document you need for housing, speak to your physician and discuss your needs. You will then undergo an evaluation to ensure you qualify for the prescription before getting an ESA letter. If you decide to obtain the letter online, ensure you do due diligence and only get it from legitimate websites. The healthcare professional should sign the letter and include their licensing information and contacts. Once you have your document, you can present it to your landlord to allow you to live with your emotional support animal.

In the case of service animals, you may also have to provide a letter from your doctor prescribing the service animal. However, your landlord is not obligated to ask about your specific disability as it is part of private medical information. Also, you cannot substitute ESA documentation with your ID card, registrations, or certifications.

The above information can guide you through renting with an emotional support animal and help you understand your rights. You also enjoy an ESA's health benefits without problems with your landlord.

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April 2, 2022
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