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Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal?

a blonde girl wearing glasses hugging her brown and black dog

It is sometimes difficult for people to understand the differences between a service dog and an Emotional Support Animal. These two designations are often used interchangeably, but both have vastly different criteria and are thus permitted different rights and privileges.

In order to perform their jobs or tasks, service dogs (SDs) are allowed to be with their owner in public places such as restaurants and stores, and they can live with their owners in housing where animals would otherwise not be permitted.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are not allowed in any public places except for airports, meaning that ESAs have more limitations than SDs. But does this mean that an ESA cannot live with their owner in places where animals are now allowed? What makes SDs different from ESAs?

What Is An Emotional Support Animal?

While Service Dogs are trained to perform various physical tasks, Emotional Support Animals are not. Instead, ESAs are trained to help their humans with emotional or mental disabilities and support them in their daily lives. They can be almost any kind of pet animals such as dogs, cats, lizards, rabbits, birds, and pigs. Service Animals are limited to dogs and miniature horses in some cases.

Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals can both start out as your own pet, but excellent behavior while out in public and rigorous training are both necessary for pet dogs to be considered Service Dogs. ESAs might not require specific training for them to help keep their owner calm but will benefit from basic training so that they are not a distraction to others in public.

How To Get An Emotional Support Animal

In order for your pet to become designated as an ESA, you will require a letter from a licensed mental health professional. This letter is used to confirm that your ESA is essential to your well-being and can describe some of the ways your ESA helps you throughout the day.

There are numerous disabilities where ESAs can be extremely helpful to their owners every day. Some of these disabilities include the following:

Airports are one of the only public places where you can have your ESA with you, including inside the cabin of an airplane. It is best to have an ESA letter with you, as well as proof that your ESA is healthy and does not pose a public health risk to others around you. This can be done with a written health certificate from your veterinarian. There is no formal registry or identification system for ESAs but a vest or harness that labels your animal as an ESA can be very useful.  

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Can A Landlord Deny an ESA Animal?

Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not consider ESAs to be the same as the average pet, the “no pet” policies of apartment and housing complexes do not apply to ESAs. This also means that ESAs cannot be discriminated against based on their size or breed, and their owners are not subject to paying additional fees for their ESAs to live with them.

You will need to have your ESA letter as proof of documentation, and the letter will include information such as your mental health professional’s contact and licensing information. It will further serve as proof that you have a disability but do not necessarily need to list the specifics of your disability. Also, your landlord is not allowed to ask you for more information about your disability.

It is illegal for your landlord to ask for personal material such as your own medical records. However, it is good practice to keep your ESA’s vet records up to date. By showing proof of his updated vaccinations and preventive care, this shows that your ESA will not pose a public health risk to other tenants or neighbors. It can also serve as proof that your ESA is a well-behaved good citizen!

If your landlord rejects your ESA and denies him access to your living quarters, you should ask for a formal letter of rejection from your landlord or the housing development. You can then file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by filling out a form online through the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). You can find the form  here.

Even though ESAs are not afforded the same protections as Service Dogs, ESAs are permitted with you on an airplane and can live with you even if your housing development has a strict “no pet” policy. This is because the Americans with Disabilities Act does not consider an ESA to be a pet, and so ESAs are not subject to rules against pets.

An ESA letter from your mental health professional is necessary for proof, but your landlord cannot ask for personal medical information from you. If you and your ESA are being discriminated against, you can file a complaint online.

Meet The Author 

Dr. Erica Irish DVM


Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.

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