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When Can a Landlord Legally Reject an ESA?

Emotional support animals are essential for many individuals who require extra comfort, support, and companionship throughout their daily lives. While many laws protect emotional support animals and an individual’s rights to have their emotional support animal with them, it’s important to note that there are occasional exceptions.

Our article aims to help you understand more about what emotional support animals do, how they’re protected, and when your ESA might not be legally protected.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are those animals that provide comfort, companionship, and support to individuals with all types of disabilities. Unlike service dogs, ESAs have not been trained to complete specific tasks for their owners, such as searching rooms, retrieving medications, and guiding those with visual impairments. Instead, ESAs simply provide their love and support to those who may be suffering from mental or emotional disabilities.

Because emotional support animals don’t need to be trained to complete specific tasks or accompany their owner everywhere they go, they do have different public access rights than service animals. ESAs are typically not permitted in areas that don’t otherwise allow animals, such as restaurants and movie theatres. However, under fair housing laws, ESAs can live with their owners in pet-restricted rental homes or apartments.

Many individuals may be eligible for an emotional support animal, and they are commonly utilized to help with disabilities such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • OCD
  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Bipolar Disorder

Of course, there are many other situations in which an ESA might be useful. If you feel like you could benefit from the comfort and support of an emotional support animal, speak with your doctor or therapist for more information.

Laws That Protect ESAs

Emotional support animals are a type of service animal, so there are laws and regulations in place that protect them and your right to have your ESA with you. The main law about ESAs that you need to keep in mind pertains to housing, as emotional support animals aren’t typically granted the same public access rights as service dogs.

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968, prevents housing discrimination against individuals for reasons such as race, religion, and disability. Because of this, individuals with disabilities who require emotional support have the right to live with their ESA, even if the housing or rental unit doesn’t typically allow animals.

The individual with the ESA will not be required to pay pet rent or other fees associated with having their animal with them, as this is considered discriminatory when the individual needs to have their ESA living with them. Landlords are also not allowed to reject an individual and their ESA based on the breed or age of the animal.

The Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act was passed in 1986 and regulates emotional support animals and other service animals in regard to air travel. The act was designed to ensure that individuals with disabilities can travel safely and fairly with their service animals.

While this act used to also allow for people to travel with their ESA, updates to the act in 2021 redefined it to only allow for dogs who are trained to perform specific tasks that assist a disability. Many airlines now will only allow an ESA to fly as a regular pet, meaning they’re stowed in a carrier under the seat in front of you or fly as pet cargo.

However, if your ESA is trained to perform specific tasks, like alerting you of an oncoming panic attack, you may consider having them registered as a psychiatric service dog.

More information on how the Air Carrier Access Act regulates travel for those with disabilities is found in the National Archives.

When Can a Landlord Legally Reject Your ESA?

woman snuggling cat

Many individuals believe that once you have an ESA, you should be allowed to live with them anywhere, no matter what. While it’s true that the Fair Housing Act protects your right to bring an ESA into a housing complex or rental unit that doesn’t typically allow animals without incurring fees, there are a few circumstances in which a landlord may legally reject your ESA.

Make sure that you carefully review these reasons and stay informed about your rights when it comes to living with your emotional support animal.

Illegitimate ESA Letter

Today, many online services and websites offer emotional support animal ‘verification’ letters. However, a fair amount of these online companies are not legitimate, and letters received from them attesting to your animal as an ESA may be easily proved illegitimate with some research from your landlord.

Forging or creating an ESA letter yourself, even if you do need an ESA, will also result in an illegitimate letter. If your landlord receives your housing application and your ESA certification letter and finds it to be illegitimate, they have the full legal right to refuse your emotional support animal or to charge you the standard pet fee and pet rent of the property.

To avoid accidentally obtaining an illegitimate ESA, make sure that you carefully research online services offering ESA letters and that you consult with your doctor or therapist as a first step in this process. A qualified medical professional will be able to point you in the right direction to receive a legitimate ESA letter, or they may be able to write you a prescription for an ESA themselves.

Your ESA Is Causing Harm

One of the most important things to keep in mind when adding an emotional support animal to your life is how your ESA behaves. Your ESA should not be out of control or cause harm to themselves, you, or others around them.

If your landlord obtains proof that your ESA is harassing others, attacking or biting other individuals or animals, or generally endangering the safety of others living around you, they can legally reject your ESA.

Your ESA doesn’t need to be intensely trained and know many skills like a service animal would, but they do need to have basic manners and be well-behaved so they don’t present a risk to those living around you.

Your ESA Raises Health Concerns

In some cases, the presence of your ESA may raise health concerns for other individuals in the housing or rental complex. Dog and cat allergies are the most common, and if your ESA aggravates these allergy issues for someone already living in the housing complex, your landlord may reject your ESA.

However, depending on state laws and your specific circumstances, the landlord may be obligated to try and provide accommodations for you and your ESA and the person with health concerns related to the ESA. You will need to consult with your state’s laws and reach out to a legal consultant for more information.

Space for Your ESA Is Limited

If your ESA is particularly large or the housing area you qualify for is particularly small, your landlord may refuse your ESA.

In the case that your landlord rejects your ESA due to space constraints, they may be obligated to provide alternative housing accommodations, such as a larger unit, or you may need to look for housing elsewhere. Again, you will need to consult your specific state’s laws about this or reach out to a legal professional for advice.

Your ESA Is Causing Damage

Similar to your ESA causing harm to others in the housing area, if your ESA causes damage to your living space or puts a financial strain on your landlord as they have to repair items damaged by your ESA constantly, your landlord might reject your ESA.

However, to be rejected, your ESA will typically have to cause damage greater than general living damage. Examples of extreme damage include constant soiling of flooring or carpets, destruction of walls or appliances, and the destruction of outdoor or community facilities.

What Can I Do if a Landlord Rejects My ESA?

If you apply for housing and your landlord rejects your application, citing your ESA as the source, you will need to pinpoint the exact reason why your ESA was rejected. Obtain this information in writing, and then consult our list of reasons when a legal rejection of your ESA is allowed.

So, if you believe that your current or potential landlord has violated your rights to have your ESA with you, then you will most likely need to reach out to a legal professional specializing in disability law. They will provide you with advice and more information about your next steps to obtain fair and equal housing with your ESA.

Does the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Protect ESAs?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) does not protect emotional support animals, though it does protect service animals, including psychiatric service animals. Under the ADA, the only animals that are protected with public access and other rights are ‘service animals,’ typically service dogs. These animals must be specifically trained to help their owner with a disability.

Emotional support animals are not trained to help their owner with a disability or guide them through daily tasks, though they do provide comfort and support to their owners. So, due to a lack of training, ESAs do not count as service animals, and they are not protected under the ADA.

However, some states have separate laws that pertain to ESAs and public access rights. You should research the specific ESA laws in your state to stay informed about all of the rights you and your ESA have.

Steps to Obtaining an ESA the Right Way

If you think that an ESA may help you in your day-to-day life, or your doctor or therapist recommends an ESA to help with the treatment of any condition you may have, you are likely wondering what your next steps should be.

Review the following steps to understand more about obtaining an ESA the right way.

Speak With a Medical Professional

The best initial step for obtaining an ESA is speaking with your regular doctor or therapist or reaching out to a doctor or therapist for assistance with any mental health issues or disabilities that you might have. A medical professional will listen to your symptoms and provide you with an evaluation, including a determination about whether or not an emotional support animal will be helpful as a part of your overall treatment plan.

It’s important to note that you must be able to properly take care of and financially provide for any emotional service animal in your care. If you are not quite in the place to do that yet, your doctor or therapist will be able to help you craft a plan that works towards incorporating an emotional support animal in your treatment.

Adopt an Animal

After your doctor or therapist has approved an emotional support animal, you can then go about adopting an animal. Because your emotional support animal will not need to be trained with specific service techniques, you can easily adopt any breed or age of animal you wish. Simply choose an animal you connect with and that you can see supporting you throughout your daily life.

If you already have an animal that you wish to transition into an emotional support animal, you can skip the adoption step. You will instead need to work with your therapist or a doctor or utilize a reputable online service to receive certification for your animal as an ESA.

Obtain ESA Certification

A letter stating that your animal is an emotional support animal is essential. This letter will need to be provided to landlords or airlines in order for you to prove that your animal is essential to your emotional health and needs to travel with you or live with you.

Your ESA certification letter will need to be from a doctor, a therapist, or a reputable online service that has medical professionals signing off on the letters. This letter does not need to state what your disability is or the reason why you have an ESA, and individuals are not allowed to ask this question of you. The only thing you are allowed to be asked is whether or not your animal is an emotional support animal that helps you.

Combine Your ESA With Other Therapies

Once you have your emotional support animal adopted and certified, make sure that you continue working with a doctor or therapist to continue a well-rounded treatment plan. For some individuals, the companionship of an emotional support animal is enough to relieve their most concerning symptoms and support them through their daily lives. For others, the presence of an ESA must be combined with weekly therapies or medications.

Every individual is different, and there is no general rule or treatment plan for you to follow, but with the help of a professional guiding you, you may be able to obtain relief from certain symptoms of your disability or support with your disability and achieve the highest quality of life possible.

Exercise Your ESA Rights

One of the benefits of having an emotional support animal is bringing them with you into any housing area and even in hotels without paying fees, as these fees would be discriminatory when you need to travel or live with your emotional support animal.

Make sure that your ESA is well-behaved and that you understand ESA rules and regulations in your state – once you do, you can exercise your ESA rights and receive the benefits of having your beloved companion by your side whenever possible.

Your Life With Your ESA

Hopefully, the above has answered “When can a landlord legally reject an ESA” for you. Living with your emotional support animal is essential to many who have them as part of a treatment plan to alleviate certain symptoms of a disability or provide companionship. It’s important that you understand all of the rules, regulations, and rights surrounding your ownership of an ESA so you know what is and isn’t allowed.

As you go about life with your ESA, make sure that landlords aren’t rejecting your applications for the wrong reasons, and be cognizant of your ESA’s behavior. Well-mannered and well-behaved animals have the best chances of living and traveling with you without facing any challenges that might decrease your overall quality of life.

Remember, if you believe that your rights living with your ESA have been violated, consult state laws, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a legal professional who can provide you further advice on your next steps that are specific to your concerns.