Are Tenants Entitled to Have Emotional Support Animals?

The use of emotional support animals is becoming more prevalent, so its important for landlords with a “no pets” policy to know and understand the law in this field. This post covers landlord rights when renting to a tenant who has requested permission to have an emotional support animal at the dwelling.

The Source of Emotional Support Animal Rights

Renters with emotional support animals have certain rights when it comes to seeking housing, flowing primarily from the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968. Among other things, this Act protects against discrimination due to disability. Emotional support animals fall under the disability category, as they assist those with mental disabilities.

According to the Fair Housing Act, landlords “cannot refuse to make ‘reasonable accommodations’ in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” In essence, an accommodation is “reasonable” under this law as long as it does not cause unreasonable burden on the landlord. This determination is made on a case-by-case basis, and irrespective of whether the landlord has a no pet or restricted pet policy.

How Does a Tenant Qualify for an ESA?

To qualify, the potential tenant applicant will have to prove: (1) they have a physical or mental disability that impairs one or more major aspects of their life; (2) they have a record of possessing this disability, or (3) they are regarded as having this disability.

Under the FSA a tenant can meet these requirements with proof that the pet is medically necessary for the tenant’s well-being. This proof is typically satisfied with an official, signed emotional support animal letter from an authorized medical provider. This letter demonstrates that the tenant has seen a professional about their condition, and that the professional has determined that an emotional support animal is necessary to help them in their daily lives specifically due to a mental illness.

The emotional support animal or ESA must be responsible for alleviating at least one identified symptom or effect of an existing disability. The ESA must be there for a diagnosable condition such as depression or severe anxiety.

You’re not allowed to contact the mental health professional directly or ask the tenant direct questions about their disability. But there are other ways of verifying its authenticity. For example, you can verify the license number of the mental health professional who provided the letter through an online search or phone call.

If you’ve verified the legitimacy of the ESA letter and don’t have a case for any unreasonable accommodations, you cannot legally turn the tenant away.

What Are My Rights as a Landlord

As indicated, the landlord’s obligation is limited to providing a “reasonable accommodation”. The ESA accommodation request may be considered unreasonable if it causes a significant financial burden or adversely affects the landlord’s property in any material respect. For example, if you have a no pets policy, making an exception for a single dog or cat would generally be considered a reasonable accommodation that you should allow.

Conversely, the accommodation request may be denied for animals that pose a danger to other tenants or cause an undue financial burden to you. An example would be if your insurance policy specifies that the policy would be cancelled, or rates will be raised solely because of the ESA’s presence. Another important consideration is the rights of other tenants. If the animal has a history of being disruptive to other tenants or caused harm to anyone, you can refuse the accommodation as unreasonable.

You should also be aware that you cannot ask for or collect an additional deposit or extra rent because emotional support animals are not pets according to federal guidelines. You also cannot impose weight, breed or size restrictions on the animal. You can, however, charge residents a fee if the emotional support animal causes damage to your rental property.

Exemptions From The ESA

Certain types of housing is exempt from ESA laws. They include multi-unit buildings of four units or less with one owner-occupied unit. Another exemption is for single family homes rented to tenants without the use of an agent, as long as the owner does not own more than 3 other single-family homes.

Please contact Lynx Legal Service with any questions regarding the above, or if you need legal document production services. We can be reached at 888-441-2355 or at info@lynxlegal.com. Our experienced professionals are standing by to answer any inquiries you may have.

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