Housing Rights for Emotional Support Animals
Due to the many benefits that come with having an Emotional Support Animal (link to Dogs as Emotional Support Animals: Benefits and Considerations), “no pet policies” don’t apply to these animals. This means that you can live wherever you wish with your pet, as long as you have an ESA Approval.
Here are the most important mental disorders that can have an ESA as part of their treatment:
Age-related cognitive decline
Post traumatic stress disorder
Important! In order for the person with mental illness to qualify for an ESA, the illness must limit substantially one or more major daily activities.
Please note! There is a difference between a service animal and an ESA. While the first needs special training to assist disabled persons, an ESA needs only basic training. Also, a service animal doesn’t have access to public accommodation, unlike an ESA that can travel anywhere with you. There is a difference between a therapy animal and an ESA too. They don’t have the same rights as ESAs and are used by non-disabled persons in nursing homes, hospitals and schools for the sole purpose of bringing joy and hope into the lives of residents, patients and students.
The number one law that protects persons with ESA is the Fair Housing Act. This Act denies a landlord the right to forbid the presence of an ESA in an apartment or any other type of housing, even though they have a “no pet policy”, accept only cats or certain dog breeds.
Important! A landlord may refuse the presence of an ESA, if the building is:
a housing with four or less units, and the landlord occupies one of these units
a single family housing, sold or rented without a real estate broker
a hotel or motel
a private club
Necessary Documents for ESA Approval:
If you want your landlord to allow your ESA in their building, you need to present the following documents:
A letter issued by your physician that states your disability and the part played by your ESA in your treatment
A letter of verification issued by a mental health professional that attests the disability
These two documents and the Fair Housing Act guarantee that no landlord can refuse the presence of your ESA in their building. In case they don’t allow your ESA in their unit, you can accuse them of discriminating against a disabled person and violating a federal law.
Important! According to the above mentioned law, landlords are not allowed to require:
additional fees for your ESA
special training of your ESA
detailed personal medical records
insurance coverage of your ESA
The Responsibilities of Persons that Have ESAs:
It’s only fair for every party of the contract to have both rights and responsibilities. So, the tenant that has an ESA must:
pay for the damages caused by an ESA on the landlord’s property
control the ESA’s behavior and make sure no one is disturbed or harmed by its presence in the building
If the tenant fails to comply with these obligations, the landlord has the right to evict him or her.
Please note! It’s best that all conflicts between landlord and tenant regarding an ESA to be settled amicably without having to call for the presence of a court of law. However, if such action can’t be avoided, the disabled person should file a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department. You should search for the help of an attorney specialized in animal law.
A tenant was forced by his landlord to choose between his cat and apartment. The tenant proved that he was mentally disabled and needed his cat as an ESA, and sued the landlord for discriminating against a disabled person. The judge ruled in the favor of the tenant and considered the landlord guilty of violating The Fair Housing Act. The landlord had to pay damages, attorney fees and five thousand dollars for the emotional distress and physical suffering caused to the tenant.
The Housing and Urban-Rural Recovery Act of 1983
This is another law that protects persons with ESAs through its Pet Ownership in Assisted Rental Housing for the Elderly or Handicapped Act. Basically, this law foresees that owners and managers of federally assisted rental housing for the elderly or handicapped cannot prohibit or prevent a tenant from owning common household pets.
Tips for an Easier ESA Approval:
If you want to make sure your landlord will welcome your ESA with open arms into his building, you can:
Ask your neighbors to write a letter to the landlord or manager, saying that they are not bothered by your pet.
Create a pet resume meant to familiarize your landlord or board with your pet.
If you live in a condominium, check to see that the rules regarding pets have been properly recorded and legally filed with the county where the development is located.
If other people in your building have pets, you can claim the affirmative defense of selective enforcement of the rules.