Can A Landlord Deny Your Emotional Support Animal?

He might. He can. He will. But when he does, a complaint can be filed against him. The law can hold him accountable.

But, first things first.

What is an emotional support animal?

 Is this a pet? A gadget? A person who looks and acts like a friendly dog?

An emotional support animal is any type of animal identified and sanctioned under the Federal Fair Housing Act as an ‘assistance animal’ to someone who has a physical infirmity or an intellectual disability or for someone with a known emotional impairment.

As far as the U.S. Department of Housing is concerned, an assistance animal is NOT a pet. It is an animal that toils, delivers assistance, or accomplishes tasks to aid an individual with a disability. It is an animal that provides emotional support to lessen the known symptoms of a person’s ailment or diminish the negative outcomes of a person’s physical incapacity.

Not all landlords have a liking to animals. Many of them believe that the presence of these animals can pose a risk to young children who are within the premises. Aside from posing a threat, animals, most especially dogs can cause noise (when they start barking) and may disturb other house occupants or renters in the neighborhood.

What is the ESA Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that avoids (if not done yet) or stops (if there is an attempt) discrimination against house owners or renters.

Under this law, a disability is characterized as a physical or mental incapacity that meaningfully restricts a person’s key life activities. Even if a tenancy agreement stipulates a “no pets” clause or expressively restricts pets, it is obligatory for property-owners to impose what is known as “reasonable accommodation” which permits pets who serve as assistance animals, which in turn covers animals who provide emotional support.

So, let’s say you have a disability and you want to have your favorite obedient dog with you inside your apartment, do you need to tell your landlord you have an emotional support animal? NO.

Remember that the Fair Housing Act was drafted and enacted to prevent the discrimination of landlords and building owners towards people who need special assistance. However, if you happen to enter into an agreement with a landlord who may not want pets within the premises, you can always assert your rights as a person with a disability who is accorded by law a specific privilege of owning an emotional support animal. 

You can further tell your landlord that the Act clearly prohibits any landlord or building owner to deny the accommodation of a physically or mentally restricted individual to live with their emotional support animal. 

In short, if the law is to be complied with, a landlord or building owner CANNOT deny a physically challenged individual to have his/her emotional support animal to stay with him inside his residence. However, to stay friends with your prospective or existing landlord/landlady, you may want to draft a letter to him/her informing her/him of your ESA.

So, how does an ESA sound or look like? An emotional support animal letter to a landlord should have some sort of endorsement from your medical health professional clearly saying that the animal does not just serve as a companion to you. It must explain that the animal’s presence is to alleviate your health issues. It is recommended that this letter must bear your doctor’s letterhead and must be signed by him/her. The date indicated in the letter must not be later than one year from the time you are getting the housing lease agreement. Another question would be — can a landlord deny an emotional support animal based on breed?

This is a challenging question because this would involve insurance agencies. If within a housing provider’s insurance coverage, it is stipulated that the insurance agency will cancel or considerably raise the costs of the insurance policy, or unfavorably alter the terms of the policy due to the presence of a specific variety of animal, HUD indicates that this enforces an unwarranted monetary and clerical problem on the housing provider. However, if proven that the insurance policy does have these terms, an investigation will be tossed against the insurance company for potential disability discrimination. 

Is there a time when a landlord can legally refuse an ESA?

There are some conditions and particular circumstances when a landlord can refuse the presence of an ESA.

  • When the animal is just too big for the size of the space being occupied.
  • If the building has 4 units or less and the landlord lives in one of the units.
  • A single-family house that was rented without the employment of an agent.
  • If the animal can cause harm to others in the premises.

There are countless property-owners and apartment managers who do not comply with housing national guidelines and most especially about the presence of emotional support animals. These insensitive landlords will employ bullying, terrorize tenants, deny housing, or refuse your ESA outright. When tact and diplomacy fail, the next step is for you to contact a lawyer and file a discrimination suit. Some examples of lawsuits that came out supportive of the ESA handler are:

But what should you do if your landlord continues to discriminate against your ESA? You should request your landlord to draft a document stating their arguments of why they are refusing you or denying you your ESA. This is required by law. It can be in the form of an email or letter, but never through a text message.

After that, it is suggested that you inform your landlord — again in writing — that you are keen on filing a HUD grievance about open discrimination. You will find that your landlord will comply, even if against his/her will, and will approve your ESA than encroach upon federal housing laws and disability rights specified by HUD. 

It is imperative then to assert your right to live with your emotional support animal. Remember always that the law is there to defend you.

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