Can a Landlord Deny an Applicant an Emotional Support Animal?


Your pet is far more than just your best friend – there are plenty of times you may depend on your furry family member for emotional support. Moving into a new apartment or home can be stressful enough, but the added worry of whether a potential landlord could deny your application based on your pet can only add fuel to the fire.

An ESA animal plays an important role in your wellbeing. Many emotional support animals are vital medical resources to millions of Americans, helping to relieve anxiety, reduce stress, and even alert their owners to the signs of impending seizures. If you’re looking to rent a new home, read on to learn how to rent with an animal assistant and discover how the law may protect your rights throughout the process.

What are the Differences Between Emotional Support and Service Animals? 

Before understanding how the law might protect your rights as an applicant with an emotional support animal, familiarizing yourself with the basic differences between an ESA and service animal can be helpful. Here’s a breakdown of the key difference between emotional support and service animals:

Emotional Support Animals 

Whether it’s a cat, a dog, or a raccoon, emotional support animals, or ESAs, are companion animals that help owners cope with complications related to mental or emotional health concerns. ESAs offer much-needed comfort with their presence and help owners navigate through challenging conditions like depression or anxiety. Many emotional support animals are protected legally through the Fair Housing Act.

Service Animals 

Service animals are specially trained to help owners navigate complications ranging from psychiatric and physical to sensory and developmental issues. Any animal can classify as an emotional support animal, but service animals can only be dogs. A service animal may aid an owner facing post-traumatic stress disorder, guide a blind citizen, provide autism assistance, and more.

While both emotional support and service animals play important roles in their owners’ lives, ESAs typically aid patients with emotional and therapeutic support, while service animals aid owners with medical issues. Because of the major distinction between the two, service animals are often awarded specific legal protections that emotional support animals are not.

Can a Landlord Deny an Applicant with an ESA or Service Animal? 

In most cases, a landlord cannot deny an applicant because of an emotional support or service animal. However, there are certain instances where denial of tenancy may be warranted, such as:

  • Improper Documentation: Your landlord has the right to request specific documentation related to your emotional support animal. This documentation doesn’t have to spell out the specifics related to your emotional impairment, but it does have to explain how your animal is vital to your wellbeing. The document must be verified and signed by a licensed healthcare specialist. 
  • An Illegal Animal: If your emotional support animal is illegal in your state or country, your landlord has the right to deny your tenancy. For example, if your animal is a peacock, kangaroo, or another unusual species, it may be classified as illegal in your state. If your ESA is classified as an exotic animal, make sure it’s not illegal in your state before applying. 
  • Threat to the General Public: If your emotional support animal poses a threat to the general public, your landlord may have the right to deny your application. To prevent this from happening, make sure your ESA is well-trained and always maintain control over the animal. 
  • Too Large for Reasonable Accommodation: If your ESA is too large for reasonable accommodation, a landlord may deny your application. For example, a landlord may not approve your application if you’re trying to rent a two-story apartment and your emotional support animal is a giraffe. 

How Can You Protect Your Rights if You Have an ESA?

To better understand how to protect your rights as an owner of an emotional support animal, you first have to educate yourself about what landlords can’t do during the application process. A landlord cannot, under any circumstance, ask you why you need an ESA or inquire about your disability. Landlords are prohibited from charging tenants with emotional support animals additional fees such as extra rent or security deposits, too. Finally, landlords can’t deny ESAs based on allergies, pet weight or breed, or existing no-pet policies.

On the other hand, it’s important to remember that you will be held responsible for damaged incurred by your emotional support animal if you’re a renter. Your landlord will be legally allowed to charge you for pet-related damages, and you’ll be legally required to cover those expenses.

When applying for a new house or apartment, communicate clearly with the landlord when requesting the ability to rent with your emotional service animal. If you feel that the landlord isn’t reasonably complying with your request, consider filing a complaint with the Department of Housing or consulting with an attorney.

An emotional support animal is one of the most important family members you’ll ever have. If you’re planning to move into a new home within the near future, hopefully, this article will help you navigate the process with greater peace of mind.


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