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Complete guide to renting with an emotional support animal (ESA)
Essentials of renting with your ESA
Renting with an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is possible. Laws have been developed to support this animal/human relationship. If you follow the proper protocols, you can have your animal registered as an ESA. This designation will help you rent your place of choice legally.
This guide will help you understand the legalities of renting with an emotional support animal.
What is an ESA?
You have most likely seen seeing-eye dogs or other service dogs wearing vests and providing assistance to their handler. Emotional support animals are a bit different, but carry some of the same privileges when renting a house or apartment.
Essentially, when you register your animal as an ESA, you are stating that their presence helps you with an emotional disability. This means that the pet is a comfort animal and is not required to have special training.
However, you’ll need to have your pet “prescribed” by a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or licensed counselor. Your pet should bring you comfort and minimize negative feelings of your emotional disability.
ESA vs. service animal
Although there are similarities between renting with a service animal and renting with an emotional support animal, there are differences.
- Animal must be trained to complete specific jobs or tasks
- Includes tasks for those with physical, emotional, or intellectual handicap
- Examples of tasks include: Leading a deaf person, leading blind person, responding to seizures, alerting to chemical changes in blood sugar in diabetic patients
- Cannot be legally denied access into all spaces with their handler
- Requires certification
- May only be a dog (separate provisions support miniature horses)
Emotional Support Animal
- Solely as a companion
- May not be trained to complete tasks similar to that of a service animal
- Does not share the same legal protections
- Limited to housing and air travel, not required to be allowed into businesses
- Multiple species of animals allowed
Understanding the lingo — differences between ESA, Comfort Pet, Assistance Animal, Therapy Animal, PSD
The terms “comfort pet” and ESA are interchangeable. The phrase “comfort pet” is a less formal way to say ESA. The same goes for assistance animals and service animals. They are also interchangeable terms.
On the other hand, a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) is similar to other service animals, but in relation to a psychiatric disorder. The main difference is that they are trained to perform tasks and must pass certification. PSDs perform tasks to help their handler experience an improved quality of life.
Although they are often confused with emotional support animals, “therapy animals” are dogs or cats trained to provide comfort. These animals often work in hospitals, retirement homes, post-disaster facilities, or in hospice. They have no legally protected rights or do not require training. Typically all that is needed is a nice temperament and friendly behavior.
How to get an ESA
Whether you have a pet that brings you comfort or are interested in finding one that does, then there are a few steps you need to take to qualify your animal as an ESA.
• How to qualify for an ESA
For you to qualify to rent with your ESA, you must be considered emotionally disabled. This means you will be required to have a licensed mental health professional determine that you have a debilitating condition.
Debilitating conditions might include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Emotional challenges
Your licensed mental health professional can be a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or anyone who is licensed to provide services that improve their patients’ mental health or clients.
• What is required?
To register your pet as an ESA, you will need to obtain a properly formatted prescription letter. If you are not under the care of a mental health professional, some landlords or property managers will allow you to submit a form filled out by your general care doctor.
Registration with the National Service Animal Registry (NSAR) is not required legally but may help you. Registering with the NSAR may help you avoid trouble when renting with your ESA. The registration process may take you a few hours, spread over one or two days.
How to tell your landlord about your ESA
Step 1: Notify
Begin by notifying your landlord that you have an ESA. You can do this through phone, mail, email, text message, or face-to-face. You should explain that you have an emotional disability that requires an Emotional Support Animal. You can choose to let them know your diagnosis, but you legally do not have to. Let them know upfront about your ESA.
Step 2: Present your letter
Even if you are looking for a new dwelling, you can inform your property manager or landlord after officially signing the lease. Legally you are not required to disclose you have an ESA. This protects you from discrimination.
• What if there is a “no-pet policy”
Although your landlord may have a no-pet policy, they cannot legally evict you or turn you away because of your ESA. They can evict you for other legal reasons, though, so it’s best to keep a good relationship with your landlord.
• When can a landlord refuse an ESA?
The only time a landlord can deny your ESA is in the event your animal damages the property or endangers other tenants.
Steps to take if your landlord says “No” to an ESA
- Explain it is a violation of federal law. Your landlord may not be aware that they legally have to rent to you with an ESA. You can explain that under the Fair Housing Act, HUD protects your rights. Send a demand letter by mail, email, hard copy, text message, or any other physical form.
- Stand your ground and bring documentation from a physician or mental health professional that verifies your ESA need.
- If your landlord continues to refuse your ESA, you can report them to the U.S. Department of Justice.
- File a discrimination complaint. If you choose to, you may also get an attorney involved. However, note that this will likely not be necessary and may be expensive.
- You can decide if you want to sue your landlord for discrimination and if you win, they will be fined by the U.S Department of Justice.
Your legal rights to an ESA
How you and your ESA are protected
- Your landlord must accept your ESA regardless of what species it is. This means you may have an ESA that is a cat, dog, mouse, rabbit, bird, snake, hedgehog, rat, pig, ferret, or any other domesticated animal.
- Your landlord must accept your animal regardless of its weight. This means that even if they typically have a weight limit for pets, your ESA is exempt.
- Your landlord must accept your animal regardless of its breed. Some breeds such as Pitbulls, Huskies, Rottweilers, or other breeds are often banned. You cannot be denied housing due to the breed of your ESA.
What your landlord cannot do
Your landlord may not ask for additional fees related to your ESA. Even if they typically charge a pet deposit, they can not legally ask you to do so in this case.
They also may not require your ESA to have training. Your ESA is only required to provide you emotional support. Your landlord also cannot require you to have your ESA wear an identifying jacket or patch. This is required for service animals, not ESAs.
You are not required to give detailed medical records regarding your disability. You only need to provide the letter from your doctor explaining that you require an ESA for support.
Renting with an emotional support animal: Housing exceptions
There are exceptions in which your landlord does not legally have to allow you to rent with your ESA.
- Buildings with less than four units, where the landlord occupies one of the units
- Single-family housing that is sold or rented without a real estate broker
- Private clubs
Background on ESAs and how they came to be
In the United States, there is legal protection against housing discrimination. Two federal statutes protect people with mental disabilities: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) of 1988.
These statues create rules that people with mental disabilities cannot be discriminated against in housing. These rules also request that reasonable accommodation is made for any person living with a disability. Additionally, there are a few acts and amendments that specifically protect ESAs.
Federal Fair Housing Act of 1988
Under the FHAA, Emotional Support Animals are considered “reasonable accommodation.” This means that you can lease a home or apartment regardless of a “no pets” rule.
American with disabilities act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act is also known as the “ADA.” The ADA is a law according to civil rights that bans discrimination against individuals with disabilities. This protects those with disabilities at school, jobs, transportation, public, and private places.
Frequently asked questions
1. What happens if you fake an ESA letter?
If you attempt to use a fake ESA letter, you can be prosecuted for fraud. This might result in fines or jail time.
2. Do apartments and landlords verify ESA letters?
It is best to assume that your landlord plans to verify your letter and get the letter from a reputable source.
3. Do anxiety issues qualify for an emotional support animal?
Yes, anxiety qualifies as an emotional disability requiring an ESA. As long as you have a therapist or other mental health professional who recommends an ESA for your well-being, your pet will qualify.
4. Do Emotional Support Animals have a size limit?
Legally there are no minimum or maximum size restrictions for ESAs.
5. Is my landlord allowed to ask for a pet deposit for my ESA?
No, your landlord cannot legally ask for a pet deposit for your Emotional Service Animal. After all, they are not pets.
6. What Animals qualify to be an ESA?
Any domesticated animal can be considered an Emotional Service Animal, whether that is a cat, dog, bird, snake, hamster, ferret, or any other domesticated animal.
7. How do I find a doctor who’ll prescribe me an ESA letter?
Many doctors can prescribe you an ESA. You can consult any licensed medical professional, but preferably a therapist or mental health professional.
8. What animals are considered Service Animals?
Under the ADA, to be deemed a service animal, your animal must be a dog, or in some cases, miniature horses that’s “been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.”
Living, legally, with an emotional support animal
Provided that you are a responsible animal owner and follow the laws that support you legally living with an emotional support animal, you should not encounter many difficulties regarding landlords or property managers. You should find comfort in knowing that living with your comfort animal is possible and legal.