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When To Tell Landlord About Emotional Support Animal?
Living with a mental or emotional disability can be a challenging journey, one often filled with stigma and misunderstanding. Having the right kind of support can make a world of difference. For many, this comes in the form of an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). But navigating housing regulations with an ESA can be complex.
This guide aims to clarify when and how to inform your housing provider about your ESA, while also explaining the rights and laws surrounding ESAs to help you better navigate this process.
When To Tell Landlord About Emotional Support Animal?
- Timing: It’s best to inform your landlord about your ESA before moving in. However, if you get one after moving in, you should inform your housing provider about your emotional support animal as soon as possible.
- ESA Letter: The housing provider should be provided with a copy of your emotional support animal letter issued by a licensed mental health professional.
- Fair Housing Act (FHA): Under the FHA, landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with ESAs.
- Discrimination: Refusing to provide reasonable accommodation to emotional support animal owners, charging extra fees, or evicting a tenant due to an ESA is considered discriminatory under federal law.
Emotional Support Animals & Service Animals
Understanding the difference between emotional support animals and service animals is essential, as the two are protected under different laws.
Emotional support animals are pets that a licensed mental health provider has determined to provide significant therapeutic benefits to an individual with an emotional or mental disability. These animals are not required to have any specific training, and their main function is to provide comfort and companionship to their owners.
On the other hand, service animals, often dogs, are assistance animals that are highly trained to perform specific tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical disability or severe psychiatric condition. Examples include guide dogs for the visually impaired or psychiatric service dogs who interrupt anxiety attacks or other identified symptoms.
Unlike ESAs, service animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), granting them access to public accommodations where pets (and ESAs) might not be permitted. While both ESAs and service animals provide essential assistance to their handlers, their roles and legal protections vary, making it vital for both landlords and tenants to understand these differences.
Fair Housing Act: What Is It About?
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. It applies to a variety of housing situations, including renting and selling housing.
For individuals with ESAs, the FHA requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations that allow tenants with disabilities to fully enjoy their homes. One of these accommodations includes allowing emotional support animals, even when a landlord has a “no pet” policy. The FHA also prevents housing providers from charging pet fees or deposits for these animals, although the tenant would be responsible for any damage caused by the ESA.
It’s important to remember that these protections require that the individual have a mental or emotional disability, and the animal must alleviate some aspect of this disability.
The FHA is a vital tool that ensures individuals with mental or emotional disabilities can benefit from the therapeutic presence of their emotional support animals at home.
4 Steps To Inform Your Landlord Of Your ESA
When you have an emotional or support dog or animal, clear and early communication with your landlord is essential to ensure a smooth transition. Here are some steps to follow:
Step 1: Understand And Obtain An ESA Letter
Before discussing your ESA with your landlord, it’s crucial to understand what an emotional support animal is and the importance of an ESA letter. This document, provided by a licensed mental health professional, affirms your need for an ESA due to a mental or emotional disability. Familiarize yourself with how to get an ESA letter and be prepared to provide it to your landlord.
Step 2: Learn About ESA Housing Laws
The Fair Housing Act protects your right to have an ESA in your housing, even if a “no pet” policy exists. However, you should familiarize yourself with the specifics of these laws. For instance, landlords cannot charge a pet deposit or pet rent for an ESA, but they can hold you responsible for any damages caused by the animal.
Step 3: Have A Discussion With Your Landlord
The next step is to discuss your ESA with your landlord. You can do this in person or in writing. Be transparent about your need for an ESA, provide your ESA letter, and express your understanding of your responsibilities as an ESA owner. Your landlord can’t tell you how many emotional support animals you can have, but they can request proper documentation explaining why you need them.
Step 4: Follow Up In Writing
After your discussion, follow up in writing, reiterating what you discussed, the contents of your ESA letter, and your understanding of the Fair Housing Act. This documentation could be vital in case of future disagreements or legal issues. If you need an ESA letter but don’t have a current medical provider, you can explore reviews like this one for Certapet to find the best legitimate ESA programs online.
Can Your Landlord Charge You More When You Have An ESA?
No. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords are not allowed to charge additional fees or deposits for emotional support animals. These animals are not considered pets but a necessary part of a person’s treatment for a mental or emotional disability.
However, it’s important to note that if your ESA or service dog causes damage to the property, the landlord can deduct repair costs from your general security deposit, just like any other tenant-caused damage.
Conditions That Qualify For An Emotional Support Animal
A wide range of mental and emotional disabilities could make an individual eligible for an emotional support animal. An individual must receive a diagnosis from a licensed mental health professional to be eligible for an ESA or assistance animal. Here is a non-exhaustive list of conditions often associated with ESA prescriptions:
- Depression: Individuals suffering from depression can significantly benefit from the comforting presence of an ESA.
- Anxiety: ESAs can provide a calming effect to people experiencing anxiety, helping them navigate through their daily routines.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): ESAs can provide a sense of security and aid in reducing symptoms of PTSD.
- Bipolar Disorder: The companionship of an ESA can help regulate mood swings associated with bipolar disorder.
Remember, these are just a few examples, and many other mental or emotional conditions can potentially qualify for an ESA. What matters most is the impact the condition has on a person’s daily life activities and the relief provided by the companionship of an animal. Licensed mental health professionals can document these needs with ESA letters.
4 Steps To Help You Obtain A New Emotional Support Animal
When looking to obtain a new ESA, there are a few crucial steps you should follow:
Step 1: Read Your Rental Agreement
Reviewing your rental agreement is important before introducing a new ESA into your home. Even though ESAs are protected by federal law, understanding your agreement can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure smooth communication with other tenants and your landlord.
Step 2: See If A New ESA Letter Is Required
If you’re obtaining a new ESA, you might wonder if a new ESA letter is necessary. The answer depends on your mental health, the medical professional’s recommendation, and the specifics of your previous ESA letter. In some cases, an updated letter may be required.
Step 3: Choose the Right Animal
Selecting an appropriate ESA is also crucial. Consider the animal’s temperament, size, and care needs, breed and weight restrictions to ensure it will be a good fit for your living situation and lifestyle. Your ESA should provide comfort and support without causing undue stress or difficulty.
Step 4: Introduce Your ESA To Your Landlord
Once you’ve secured your new ESA, repeat the landlord disclosure process. Keep them informed about the introduction of your new ESA and provide any necessary documentation, like your ESA letter. Transparent communication can help maintain a positive relationship with your landlord.
Emotional Support Animals provide invaluable companionship and support to those dealing with mental or emotional disabilities. While communicating your ESA status to a landlord may seem daunting, it’s manageable when you have the right knowledge and preparation.
Always remember your rights under the Fair Housing Act and keep a legitimate ESA letter handy. Never let the fear of misunderstanding deter you from enjoying the therapeutic benefits of your ESA.
Frequently Asked Questions
No. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords cannot deny reasonable accommodation for ESAs.
No. Landlords cannot charge extra pet fees for ESAs.
Ideally, you should inform your landlord about your ESA before moving in or as soon as you get the ESA.
You need an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional stating your need for the ESA.
No. Landlords cannot request to see your medical records or specific diagnosis. They can request proof that you need the animal, however.
+ 7 sources
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- Howell, T.J., Nieforth, L.O., Thomas-Pino, C., Samet, L., S. Agbonika, Cuevas-Pavincich, F., Nina Ekholm Fry, Hill, K., Jegatheesan, B., Kakinuma, M., MacNamara, M., Sanna Mattila-Rautiainen, Perry, A., Christine Yvette Tardif-Williams, Walsh, E.J., Winkle, M., Yamamoto, M., Yerbury, R.M., Vijay P.S. Rawat and Alm, K. (2022). Defining Terms Used for Animals Working in Support Roles for People with Support Needs. [online] 12(15), pp.1975–1975. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12151975.
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- Carroll, J.D., Mohlenhoff, B.S., Kersten, C.M., McNiel, D.E. and Binder, R.L. (2020). Laws and Ethics Related to Emotional Support Animals. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online, [online] 48(4). doi:https://doi.org/10.29158/JAAPL.200047-20.
- HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). (2021). Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications. [online] Available at: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/reasonable_accommodations_and_modifications
- HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). (2021). Fair Housing and Related Law. [online] Available at: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/fair_housing_and_related_law