Emotional support animals are companions to humans that help treat depression, anxiety, and several related mental health challenges. Understanding emotional support animal laws when renting can be tricky. Do they qualify as pets or service animals? The answer is somewhere in between. Emotional support animals are qualified for certain legal protections, but not as many as service animals. Below is a complete guide to everything you need to know about emotional support animal laws in your apartment.
The key difference between an emotional support animal and a service animal is that they are not specifically trained to do a job their owner can’t perform independently. Service animals are seen legally as “medical equipment” because they provide an essential function for their owners who need assistance due to physical, mental, or emotional disabilities.
In contrast, emotional support animals are not viewed as essential medical equipment and are not there to provide anything besides companionship and emotional care. Emotional support animals do not need to be specifically trained, but a doctor’s note is required to register them. While service animals are given extensive legal protections, emotional support animals are subject to more regulations.
As mentioned above, emotional support animals are given fewer legal protections than their service animal counterparts. However, they are classified differently than regular pets and are given certain legal privileges. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law governing the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords. Under the FHA, landlords may not turn away tenants who have a registered emotional support animal. Even if the apartment is under a “no pets” policy, landlords must make reasonable accommodations for the emotional support animal. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) only concerns animals that perform specific services; therefore, ADA regulations do not protect emotional support animals.
If a tenant applies to live in a no-pets rental, they must be able to show proof that they own a registered, medically prescribed emotional support animal. An emotional support animal letter is a signed statement from the tenant’s mental health practitioner proving that the animal companion is essential to their well-being and recovery. The letter can be signed by a doctor, PA, psychologist, social worker, peer support group, non-medical service agency, or a reliable 3rd party that would be aware of the condition and can attest to the needs of the individual.
Renting to a tenant with an emotional support animal, especially in a no-pets unit, can be a trying experience for both parties. Communicating respectfully and ensuring you have the necessary background information is important. If the tenant has talked to the landlord about their protections under the FHA and the landlord continues to refuse them housing, the tenant may sue the landlord for discrimination.
As discussed above, landlords are only required to make reasonable accommodations to emotional support animals. There are several circumstances for which a landlord may reasonably deny an emotional support animal, including animals that are overly large and will not be housed humanely in the unit. An example is an emotional support horse living in a 17th-story apartment. If the tenant cannot provide proof through an emotional support animal letter, then the landlord has every right to deny them housing. Unfortunately, people do try to fake emotional support animal letters, so tenants need to have their letters signed and dated on the official office letterhead of their mental health practitioner.
Our team at Henderson Properties works diligently to ensure our tenants provide the necessary paperwork to qualify their cats or dogs as Emotional Support Animals and will deny applications if the aforementioned qualifying documents are not shared. Our ultimate goal is to ac certain that our homeowners are compliant with ever-evolving guidelines and protected from potential claims of discrimination. If you have any questions about ESA’s, feel free to reach out to us at any time!