Living with your ESA is something you genuinely may need. You wake up in the morning feeling the customary emotions you always have, and there your sweet animal is, keeping you company and silently listening to your unsaid worries.
If you live in your own home, it’s probably no issue at all. You clean up after your beloved pet regularly and you have them listen on your home insurance policy (if it’s necessary for your animal’s breed). You like to sleep with it in your room and take it on walks regularly.
However, if you’re a renter, having an ESA can have its own complications. You might need to provide an ESA letter if you have one, and you might need to pay an extra fee if you don’t yet. Furthermore, if you have roommates, there may be other complications.
All this aside, you really do need your emotional support animal. But what if your landlord says that’s not allowed, period? Do they have the right to deny an ESA? Under the laws of the FHA, landlords cannot legally deny emotional support animals unless they are completely unreasonable. They can’t deny housing to a person with any sort of disability, either mental, emotional, or physical. They are required by law to make reasonable accommodations for ESAs. So you may need to go through a business like US Service Animals to prove your ESA is legitimate.
So that’s it, right? You’re good to go? Don’t start getting things ready to move to an apartment in your area just yet. There are still reasons landlords may not allow ESAs in certain apartments, or ESAs with requirements which are not reasonable (they don’t have to build a stable for a horse considered “ESA”).
The Fair Housing Act and ESAs
In 1968, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) was passed to protect housing rights for people with disabilities. This requires landlords and apartment complex managers and owners to make reasonable accommodations to house those with any type of certified disability. It also makes turning away anyone due to sex, race, national origin, etcetera illegal since that is discriminatory.
An apartment complex today cannot turn down a man or woman due to their ethnicity, age, race, sexuality, religious views, or disabilities, within reason. For example, they may not turn down someone who uses a wheelchair and they must make reasonable accommodations.
Many apartment complexes and rental units today are against pets in their units, which is understandable. Pets can be messy and they can cause some problems. Damage could be caused by a dog consistently scratching at a door, or complaints could be made for a dog which barks nonstop.
Landlords have the right to allow or not allow pets in their housing. However, they are also required to make reasonable accommodations for those who actually need pets, such as ESAs or service animals.
They’re not required to allow a guard dog on the premises if they choose not to. Guard dogs are trained animals who are meant to protect their owners, but these are not medically or emotionally needed and can cause some issues with other residents at times. While service animals and ESAs and allowed by law in most cases, guard dogs are on a case-by-case acceptance level.
Definitions of “Reasonable” Accomodations Landlords Must Make
The wording of the Fair Housing Act specifically states that the accommodations landlords are legally required to make for tenants with disabilities (including ESAs) are to be within reason.
For example, if you have an emotional support dog who is well-cared for and who helps to alleviate specific symptoms and side effects of a mental or emotional health condition, and you would not be able to go through your daily functions without this animal, even landlords of no-pet rental units must allow you to keep the animal in your apartment without extra charge.
Furthermore, you should be able to walk the animal around, at least to some extent, for the animal’s health and care purposes. They are not required to allow you to bring the animal everywhere in the complex (as in fitness rooms, other people’s apartments, and the clubhouse), but they do need to make reasonable accommodations so you can keep your ESA with you and keep it and yourself healthy.
An “unreasonable” request would be to ask for a very specific rental unit or roommate simply because you need an ESA. For example, asking for one of the nicest rental units available, complete with a balcony and extra rooms, at no extra cost simply because you have an emotional support animal is an unreasonable request.
You may get a regular apartment complex and pay the standard prices while keeping your ESA at no charge, which is very reasonable. Paying extra for the nicer apartments and making sure they are well-cleaned and cared for while housing an ESA is acceptable, as determined by the landlord.
Another unreasonable request is to ask for a specific roommate in an apartment or dorm who does not wish to be a roommate or be around the animal and trying to insist that the animal is “happier around this roommate” or that you need them along with your ESA. This is an extreme example of an unreasonable request attached to ESA rights.
When Can a Landlord Legally Deny an ESA
There are very few situations in which a landlord can legally deny an emotional support animal. These include when the housing for the animal is not reasonable (such as requiring a horse stable in a small apartment), when the animal is aggressive or destructive, and when your letter is not valid. ESAs are exempt from breed and weight restrictions, and you cannot be charged pet rent, pet fees, or a pet deposit for living with them.
When Can’t a Landlord Legally Deny an ESA
A landlord cannot legally deny an emotional support animal as long as you have a valid ESA letter, the animal is well-behaved and non-destructive, and their accommodation requires are reasonable. If these conditions are meant, they are legally required to allow you to live with your emotional support animal.
Can Colleges Deny Emotional Support Animals
The FHA and all other laws in connection with emotional support animals do not grant access to ESAs in public areas or in colleges and universities. They also do not grant the animals access to stores and classrooms.
While you may find some colleges that are more pet-friendly than others, and all college dorms are actually required to allow certified emotional support animals, most universities are not going to be very happy if you’re walking around campus with your furry companion.
If you feel uncomfortable walking around your school without your soothing sidekick, you may bring it up with the administration specific to your college and see if there is something you can work out. Otherwise, keeping your ESA in your apartment room or out and about in pet-friendly areas is the best way to go.
Dorm Rooms and ESAs
College can be difficult. It’s a time of learning and growth and branching into new ideas and career options. It’s when many long-lasting relationships and friendships are found. It’s also a time when many students find themselves worrying about whether or not their emotional support animals will be allowed in their housing.
Fortunately for them, dormitories across the United States are also under the laws of the Fair Housing Act and must make reasonable accommodations for ESAs and their owners. Usually, getting your animal into your dorm can happen in five steps:
- Let the apartment complex know when applying.
- Provide proof that the animal is necessary as an ESA letter or registration/certificate. (There are websites out there like US Service Animals where you can obtain one legitimately)
- Fill out the required forms. (Don’t pay any extras fees.)
- Make sure your apartment is animal-proofed and your roommates are okay with it.
- Clean up after your animal and make sure it doesn’t damage anything.
If your roommates are all fine with your ESA, you take great care of it and clean up well, you have all the necessary forms, and you make sure no damages are caused by your animal, you’ll have a smooth and easy dormitory-and-ESA experience.
Can Landlords Charge Fees for ESAs
Landlords are required by law to make reasonable accommodations for emotional support animals, but are they allowed to charge extra for them, as well?
Since the animal is necessary for the tenant to carry out the daily functions of life and is helping specific symptoms and needs as medicine would, landlords are not allowed to charge for the animal to live on the premises.
Even in pet-allowed areas, where other tenants must pay a necessary pet fee, ESAs are not considered pets and should not be charged the same. However, rentals which require a security deposit may apply charges to a tenant’s account for damages caused by an emotional support animal.
If you keep your animal well taken care of and keep any damages from happening on your watch, you should not be charged for having an ESA at an apartment complex.
What Can a Landlord Ask About Your ESA
While apartment owners or managers, or other landlords, can ask for proof of the need for the animal (such as an ESA letter), they are not allowed to ask exactly why you need the animal. Most of the time, landlords will know this and will not pry, but sometimes they may not understand the Fair Housing Act and they may ask.
Instead of shouting that the FHA protects your ESA and that it’s none of their business why you have it, it’s a good idea to calmly state that the animal is needed and they are trespassing on your rights to privacy if they continually inquire as to why. You may show proof of the need for the animal as a service or ESA letter, but you do not need to explain yourself.
Furthermore, you should not feel embarrassed or humiliated about having an ESA. If you’re in a no-pet rental, others may note that you have an animal and they may ask the landlord if that is allowed. Many landlords will be discreet, and some will be blunt that you need it as an emotional support animal.
If you’d prefer your landlord not talk to others about the animal, you could politely ask for this to be kept discreet so you don’t have to explain yourself. However, if you will be housing with roommates or dorm mates, your landlord is usually required to give them a heads up about the animal before they move in, as they may have allergies or they may dislike animals.
Filing a Claim Against Your Landlord About a Denied ESA
Those who feel discriminatory action has been taken against them for any reason are allowed to file a claim with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Claims need to be filed within a year of the offense if it has to do with regular housing and within two years if it is in the case of a rental. Filing a claim in relation to an emotional support animal may be done if there was unfair action taken against a tenant based solely on the fact that they have a disability, and not because of any reasonable issue (such as the tenant’s credit score, loss of insurance, general legal issues, or breaking the lease contract).
If you feel you have been the victim of a discriminatory offense because of your ESA, you may file a claim with the HUD here. This link will also answer further questions about filing claims related to the FHA and the technical details involved, as well as giving tools to get started with filing a claim if legal action needs to be taken to protect your rights.
How to Make Your ESA Comfortable in a New Apartment
Once you’ve gathered the necessities for an emotional support animal to move in with you (such as an ESA letter), you will need to make sure your animal is comfortable and that you both adjust well to the apartment complex. You also need to make sure you know where to go for certain necessities and how to respect other residents.
The first order of business when bringing an animal into a new apartment (or the apartment you’ve been living in for a while) is to make sure that it is ESA-proof. This means that your dog won’t be chewing on shoes, your bird won’t be escaping easily, and your cat will know where its litter box is and won’t pee in the closet.
Dogs: Either train your puppy or make sure your dog is well-trained. Keep things off the floor, make sure there are protections between the dog’s feet and stainable carpet (rugs or blankets in needed places), and definitely make sure he or she is potty-trained! Have a place your puppy sleeps and make sure his or her food and water is in an area where spills won’t cause problems.
Cats: Have the litter box ready, and make sure you set it on extra protection, like blankets. Make sure there are things your cat can play with and climb so that he or she doesn’t get too bored and decide to scratch at the windows or walls and damage them. Vacuum up any hair.
Birds: Have plastic or fabric floor protectant under the cage to protect the floor from bird droppings. Also, make sure that you have a vacuum handy for spilled seeds! Get a cage which won’t be too small, but also make sure it isn’t easy to escape.
Others: If you have a bunny, make sure there’s plenty for it to chew on before it can get to floorboards or furniture and damage the property. Keep it well-cleaned. If you have any gerbils or rodents, don’t let them run around without supervision, as they may chew cords or get under larger furniture and leave waste which can stain the floors.
Clean Up After Your ESA
It’s common sense to clean up after animals, and ESAs are no different. Especially if you have roommates, be thorough in your cleaning when you’re renting. Make sure you have all the equipment you may need in the event of an accident on the carpet, or if there’s a scratch on some paint.
Here are some detail areas some pet owners miss:
- Floorboards: These accumulate both dust and hair from animals. Washing them is best.
- Carpet edges: Vacuuming is great, but using an attachment to get in corners is better.
- Furniture legs: Spills, licking, and rubbing can make the chair, couch, and table legs dirty.
- Doors: Scratch guards may be needed on these, but even pets with clipped nails can make these dirty when they jump up in excitement as you’re coming home.
- Mattresses: Even after the blankets and sheets have been washes, mattresses may have a lingering smell. Leaving it outside on a fresh day with some supervision and Febreeze may help with any lingering smells and keep it from permeating a room.
Where to Walk With Your ESA
Find the best route for walking your animals, if that’s an important part of caring for your ESA. Take your dog on a few walks at the get-go to test where other yappy dogs, unhappy neighbors, or particularly undesirable (muddy, stinky, etc) animals may be.
If you have a cat or bird for an ESA, it’s best not to let them out of the house unless you can really make sure they’re not going to escape or wander as they please.
Other things to take into consideration for walking routes are where the flow of traffic is, where fences are, where community parks and pools which don’t allow pets are, and where any dog-walking parks or other pet-friendly areas may be.
Barking and Noise from Your ESA
Having an ESA which barks, meows, chirps nonstop, or regularly knocks over loud items can be a pain. You may not like it just as much as the neighbors. If necessary, invest in a bark collar or other training method for noisy dogs. Try to quiet any ESA so no one in your apartment complex has any complaints, and also so you can get some rest at night.
Don’t Leave Animal Droppings by Your ESA
Don’t leave animal droppings anywhere, but especially outside. Making sure your ESA is well-fed is obviously important, since you want to take care of this animal as well as it takes care of you. However, making sure the waste which it produces is properly taken care of is important.
Please don’t be the one roommate who has an adorable little kitten or bird, but who doesn’t clean up after it regularly. If you have a dog, don’t expect doggy do-pickup stations to be on your walking route. Carry your own with you no matter what so no waste is left behind your beloved ESA and so no fines or fees can chase after you.
If you have an ESA bird, make sure you clean its cage regularly. Bunnies also create a large number of pellets and these need to be properly cleaned up so they don’t get tracked into the carpets or stinking up the rooms. Clean litterboxes and replace them with fresh litter regularly so the kitten can live a clean lifestyle.
How to Handle a Landlord Denying Your ESA
As much as we may dislike it, there will be times when there are no apartments which can adequately meet our needs for an ESA, and there will be times when the accommodations are unreasonable for the housing complex or landlord. There may also be times where the landlord simply doesn’t believe in ESAs and he or she simply says no.
Whatever the case, these things happen. The best way to deal with it is to react calmly and work with them if that is a viable option. If you feel they are being discriminatory based on your animal or any other reason, you can also file a claim.
There will be times when those who need emotional support animals will need to take legal action against unfair, discriminatory, or stubborn landlords who wish to avoid the laws protecting ESAs. If this is something which has happened to you within the last year (or within the last two years for those who rent), you can file a claim with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
You can file the claim on their website fairly simply. You’ll need your name and address, the offending landlord or complex’s name and address, the date of the issue and the general information to describe what happened and how it trespassed on your rights under the FHA for those with disabilities (or any other reason).