Many U.S. landlords have strict no-pet policies that govern their rental units. Under federal law, these policies do not apply to service animals that assist disabled people. This includes not only animals that provide actual services to people with physical disabilities, but also emotional support animals that serve as companions for people with mental and emotional disabilities. Unlike service animals, an emotional support animal (ESA) doesn’t have any special training, and your mental or emotional disability may not be visible to the naked eye. For this reason, you may need to negotiate with your landlord or even file a lawsuit to enforce your right to keep an emotional support animal in no-pet housing.
Talking to Your Landlord
1Schedule a private meeting. It’s important to sit down with your landlord so you can discuss your situation face to face with minimal disruptions. You may want to have the meeting after business hours at a neutral location, such as a nearby café.
- Particularly if you have an anxiety disorder, try to schedule the meeting at a place where you feel comfortable.
- If your landlord asks, ensure them that the meeting will be brief. You shouldn’t need more than a half an hour of their time, although your landlord may want to go for longer.
- If you schedule the meeting over the phone or in person, follow up with a brief letter that confirms the date and time of the meeting. You should include location information as well.
- For example, you might write “This letter confirms that we have scheduled a meeting at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 21, at the Cornerstone Café, to discuss your pet policy.”
2Make notes for yourself. Before your meeting, write down key points that you want to emphasize to your landlord so you don’t forget anything important. A written outline can help decrease the anxiety you have about the meeting.
- Read through any written information you have about your landlord’s pet policy. You want to be as informed as possible about their position.
- Jot down references to key provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal law that permits ESAs in rental housing for qualified people with mental or emotional disabilities.
- You may want to print up a copy of the law to take with you. Highlight the portions that apply to your situation.
- You also may want to include a brief history of your mental or emotional disability, and how your ESA has helped you, if you feel comfortable talking about it.
3Bring your ESA with you to the meeting. Since you’re asking to keep an animal in your landlord’s property, they probably want to meet the animal. If your ESA is clean and well-behaved, its presence may help convince a reluctant landlord to make an exception to their “no pets” rule.
- An otherwise reluctant landlord may have a different opinion once they meet your ESA, particularly if you have a relatively small and well-groomed animal.
- Make sure that your animal is restrained at all times, such as in a carrier or on a leash.
- Keep in mind that the purpose of bringing your ESA along is to convince the landlord that your animal won’t be a problem. If you have an excitable or rambunctious animal, this strategy could backfire.
4Listen to what your landlord has to say. After you’ve explained to your landlord what you want, give them time to respond to your request and pay attention to their statements or concerns. Encourage them to explain their policy so you can carve out an exception.
- Landlords often have legitimate reasons for creating a no-pet policy. Not allowing pets shields them from liability for damages and potential problems between tenants. It also means they don’t have to worry about animal damage to their rental units.
- Some landlords may be concerned that you are simply claiming that your pet is an ESA to circumvent their policy. They worry that if they allow you to have your ESA, suddenly every other tenant will need an ESA.
- This fear is largely unfounded. In practice, it is very difficult to qualify for an ESA. This can be difficult to understand since mental and emotional injuries are largely invisible, but it isn’t enough to simply claim that you need an animal for emotional support.
- If your landlord expresses this or similar fears, reassure them that you are a legitimate exception and can provide them with documentation of your disability and your need for an ESA.
5Be prepared to educate your landlord. Many landlords don’t have adequate information about mental or emotional disabilities. They may consider your ESA “just a pet.” You must be ready to explain what an emotional support animal is and why they are protected under federal law.
- Let your landlord know that ESAs are service animals just as a seeing-eye dog is. Even though the animal may not provide you with any concrete physical services or be trained to do specific things for you, it is still important to your health and well-being.
- This is where an explanation of your background and the history of your disability can be helpful – again, only if you’re comfortable talking about it.
- If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your disability but don’t mind if your landlord knows, consider giving them the name and phone number of a trusted friend or family member with whom they can discuss your situation.
6Consider a reasonable compromise. Landlords are not permitted to require tenants with ESAs to pay additional security deposits or fees in advance to keep their animal in no-pet housing. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t voluntarily agree to such conditions.
- Landlords can refuse to provide an exception by showing that doing so would create an “undue burden.” Typically this claim is raised as a defense after you’ve filed a lawsuit against your landlord.
- This defense is a complex legal argument, and your landlord would have to meet a high burden of proof to prevail. Nevertheless, fighting a landlord who throws around these buzzwords may end up being more hassle than it’s worth.
- For this reason, if you have the ability to pay a security deposit, and doing so would help smooth the process, offer to do so.
- You also should keep in mind that you are responsible for any damages to the rental unit caused by your ESA – regardless of whether you pay an extra deposit.
Providing Requested Proof
1Talk to your healthcare provider. Your landlord does have the right to demand proof that you have a disability and your ESA improves the symptoms of that disability. If you want to keep your ESA in no-pet housing, you may need a letter from your therapist or other healthcare provider.
- The letter from your healthcare provider must state specifically that you have been diagnosed with a mental or emotional disorder, and that your disorder causes you to be disabled.
- The letter must make an additional finding that your ESA improves the symptoms of your disorder or otherwise helps you cope with your disability.
- For the letter to be valid, both of these statements must be present. It is not enough, for example, for the healthcare provider to state that negative consequences would result if you weren’t allowed to keep the animal.
- Rather, your ESA must provide demonstrable assistance to you that eases the burden of your mental or emotional disability.
2Submit written documentation to your landlord. Once you have a written letter from your healthcare provider, make a copy of it for your own records. Then, send it to your landlord. Include a written letter of your own requesting an exception to the landlord’s “no pet” policy.
- Your letter doesn’t need to include a lot of legalese or formal language – nor does it have to be very long.
- You can simply state “Enclosed please find a letter from my healthcare provider describing my disability and my need for an emotional support animal to help cope with that disability. This letter serves as my official request for accommodations under federal disability law. Please grant me an exception to your no-pets policy so that I may keep my emotional support animal.”
- It can be helpful to personalize your letter. For example, you may include your animal’s name, age, and breed.
- If you’re concerned about your landlord fighting you over the policy, mail your letters using certified mail with return receipt requested. That way you have a record of your request if you need to pursue other legal options.
3Demonstrate that your support animal is a necessary accommodation. Sometimes a letter from your healthcare provider is not enough. You have the burden of proving to your landlord that your ESA is a necessary accommodation for your disability under federal law.
- Some courts have held that landlords also may require some kind of proof that your ESA has been certified or received special training to provide the service it does.
- If your landlord requests such documentation, it’s a good idea to talk to a disability law attorney to find out what the law in your state actually requires.
- Keep in mind that it isn’t necessary to prove that your particular animal is necessary. Some landlords may argue that you can have an ESA as long as it’s a smaller animal, or of a different breed.
- For example, your landlord may say you can have an ESA as long as it’s a dog that weighs less than 20 pounds. This doesn’t help you if your ESA is a St. Bernard.
- The bond between you and your ESA is an important part of that animal’s value to you in coping with your disability. Not just any animal will do, and with limited exceptions you have the right to keep the animal of your choosing.
4Follow state and local laws. Getting an exception to a landlord’s no-pet rule does not mean you also are exempted from state and local animal control laws. Your landlord has the right to request proof that your animal is in compliance with these laws.
- For example, most state and local laws require you to register companion animals and have them vaccinated for rabies.
- Your landlord may request copies of your registration and vaccination certificates to keep on file.
- Your city may have other animal control restrictions, which your landlord has the right to enforce on their property.
Asserting Your Rights
1Consult an attorney. If your landlord still refuses to allow your ESA even after you’ve provided written documentation, talk to an experienced disability law attorney. You may want to pursue other legal options such as suing your landlord.
- Disability attorneys typically provide a free initial consultation, so you can get advice on your situation and what legal options are available to you so you can keep your ESA in no-pet housing.
- If you decide to hire an attorney, you typically want to make arrangements to meet with more than one so you can make an informed decision about the best attorney for you.
- Certain anxiety disorders can make visiting law offices difficult. Disability attorneys understand this and may be willing to make alternate arrangements, such as visiting you at home or holding a consultation over the phone or using online video conferencing.
- An attorney is essential if you get to the point where you have to sue your landlord for discrimination because they refuse to allow you to keep your emotional support animal. However, you should consider a lawsuit only as a last resort after all other options have failed.
2File a complaint with a government agency. If your landlord refuses to allow you to keep your ESA in no-pet housing, this may constitute housing discrimination. Housing discrimination laws are enforced by state and federal government agencies.
- You can file a complaint with HUD, the federal housing agency, online. Your complaint will be evaluated by an agent, who may contact you for additional information.
- Your state housing authority also may allow online complaints. If not, you may have to call or make a visit to the local housing office.
- Government agencies investigate your complaint and talk to your landlord in an attempt to resolve the matter.
- If your landlord refuses to comply with government authority, they may be on the hook for fines and other monetary damages.
- Filing a complaint with a government agency generally is cheaper, and can be more efficient, than filing a lawsuit against your landlord in state or federal court.
3Exhibit proper care and control of your ESA. Unlike service animals that provide assistance to individuals with physical disabilities, ESAs don’t have any particular training. This means you’re responsible for making sure your ESA is not a nuisance or danger to others.
- Keep in mind that if your ESA hurts or threatens another tenant, either they or your landlord can sue you. Your landlord also would have the right at that point to forbid your ESA on their property.
- Your landlord typically will have other regulations regarding animals, such as walking them only in designated areas and cleaning up after them. You still must abide by these regulations, or your landlord may have the power to evict you.
4Get the exception in writing. If your landlord agrees to allow you to keep your ESA in no-pet housing, that exception should be outlined in a detailed written agreement. Have your landlord write up the exception as an addendum to your lease.
- The addendum should include all responsibilities you have regarding the care and control of your ESA, as well as the specific terms and conditions of the exception being granted.
- If you paid additional security deposits or monthly fees, these amounts should be listed specifically along with the policy for refunding the deposit.
- You and your unit should be identified specifically, as well as your animal. Include your animal’s age, size, species, and breed. The addendum may even include your animal’s name and a photo for reference.
- Both you and your landlord should sign this addendum, and you should get a copy of the signed document. It should be kept with the rest of your lease.