Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords are required to make “reasonable accommodations” to a tenant’s support animal. Landlords cannot turn emotional support animals (ESAs) away due to a “no pets” policy, nor are they subject to breed or size restrictions that may be in place for pets.
Landlords must accommodate support animals when the following conditions have been met:
- A request for accommodation was made by or on behalf of a person with a disability
- The request was backed up with reliable information regarding the disability or disability-related need for the ESA
However, a landlord can deny an emotional support animal if the animal is dangerous or destructive, if the property doesn’t offer an acceptable environment for the ESA, or if you fail to provide proper documentation proving the animal’s legitimacy.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at the scenarios in which a landlord may turn your emotional support animal away and suggest how you might navigate them. We’ll also discuss what you can do if you feel the landlord’s decision was unfair.
A landlord may refuse your emotional support animal if you are unable to provide proof of its legitimacy. Documentation is especially critical if your building has a “no pets” policy, as your landlord will need the appropriate paperwork to justify overriding the policy. Before requesting accommodation for your service animal, make sure you have your documentation in order.
In this case, you will need a letter from a licensed healthcare provider outlining that the animal is an emotional support animal that offers assistance for your disability or mental illness. The only legitimate form of proof that your animal is indeed an ESA is a letter from a healthcare provider. Certificates or registrations purchased online are not sufficient.
Once you have your documentation in order, write a letter to your landlord requesting accommodation for your emotional support animal. Attach the letter from your healthcare provider as proof of your animal’s legitimacy.
The animal poses a safety threat to other tenants
Your landlord must provide safe housing to all tenants. If your emotional support animal potentially jeopardizes the safety and wellbeing of other tenants or their pets, your landlord could deny your ESA.
Your landlord may want to meet your emotional support animal before accepting your request. Make sure that your ESA is on its best behavior during this meeting. If your support animal has any aggressive tendencies, disclose them to your landlord.
For instance, if your ESA is a dog that doesn’t get along with other dogs, let your landlord know. Then, outline the steps you’ll take to ensure this tendency doesn’t become a problem for other tenants or pets. If you show that you have a realistic plan for managing any form of aggression, your landlord may still be able to approve your request.
The animal is destructive
According to the Fair Housing Act, landlords have a right to refuse emotional support animals that would “cause undue financial burden” to the landlord.
If your landlord deems your ESA destructive, he could choose to turn it away. Property damage can be expensive to repair,. Since emotional support animals are not subject to pet rent or pet deposits, the landlord may have no reasonable way of protecting against the expense of property damage.
Again, when you introduce your emotional support animal to your landlord, ensure he is on his best behavior. If your animal is prone to destructive tendencies (such as chewing), inform your landlord about how you intend to prevent property damage.
If your ESA is a rabbit and is prone to chew wires, door jambs, or anything else, outline how you plan to prevent this from happening. Will the rabbit be caged when you are not home? Once again, if you can ease your landlord’s concerns, you may be able to turn a “no” into a “yes.”
The property is not suitable for the animal in question
Another reason your landlord could decide to reject your emotional support animal is if the property isn’t suitable for the animal.
For instance, if your support animal is extremely large in comparison to your apartment, your landlord could deem it a poor fit. The landlord could also say no if the animal’s presence would compromise the comfort of other tenants.
Say your support animal is a miniature horse and you live in a second floor apartment. In this instance, your landlord could argue that the sound of the horse’s hooves could be detrimental to the comfort of the tenant in the unit below yours.
In scenarios like this one, there may be creative ways for your landlord to accommodate you. In some cases, he may be able to move you to a unit that is more suitable for you and your support animal. However, if this is not possible, he may be forced to turn your ESA away.
What to do if your landlord denies your support animal
Remember, the Fair Housing Act dictates that landlords must provide “reasonable accommodation” for emotional support animals. However, landlords have the right to refuse animals for the reasons discussed above.
If your landlord feels your emotional support animal is illegitimate or compromises the quality of living of the other tenants, he may reject your request for accommodation.
When you make the request, treat it as a conversation. In some instances, you may be able to turn a “no” into a “yes” by offering your landlord reassurance around his points of hesitation. Try to hear your landlord out and suggest reasonable solutions to any issues he has with your emotional support animal. Of course, in some instances, you may receive a hard “no.”
When renting with an emotional support animal, always ensure that you are familiar with the most current provisions of the Fair Housing Act. It’s essential that you know your rights to ensure you are being treated fairly.
While a landlord may have cause to reject an emotional support animal in some cases, some landlords may simply be discriminatory.
If you feel that your landlord is being discriminatory, you have do have recourse. You can lodge a formal complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Doing so won’t necessarily help overturn the landlord’s decision, but it will help create a record of discriminatory practices. It will also help lawmakers revise and update the Fair Housing Act to ensure that fair housing is accessible to everyone.