Can My Landlord Deny My Emotional Support Animal?

Under the FHA, landlords are typically required to accommodate reasonable requests, like an emotional support animal for a disability.
Written by Melanie Krieps Mergen
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Under the federal Fair Housing Act, landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. As long as accommodating the animal in a rental unit wouldn’t be considered an undue burden for your landlord or present a health or safety hazard to other tenants, emotional support animals typically can’t be denied.
Emotional support animals can make living with a disability a lot more bearable. If you’re a renter, however, you might be under the impression that “no pets” policies and monthly pet fees are at odds with your ability to keep one, but that’s not necessarily the case. 
In fact, federal law requires that landlords accommodate reasonable requests for tenants with disabilities—and in many instances, that includes keeping an emotional support animal. 
So, what animals are considered emotional support animals, and when can a landlord deny one? Here to help answer these tricky questions and more is
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What is an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal owned to bring relief to an individual with a disability through companionship. 
Emotional support animals are commonly used to help alleviate symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, PTSD, CPTS, phobias, and more. 

Are emotional support animals different from service animals?

If you own an emotional support animal, you might have difficulties bringing your animal with you to certain places since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not consider emotional support animals as part of their definition of service animals.
However, under the federal
Fair Housing Act
, emotional support animals would be considered a type of “
assistance animal
.” They are not considered pets, but essential tools to help improve the life of someone with a disability.
While service animals under the ADA definition tend to be limited to dogs and, in some cases, miniature horses, emotional support animals aren’t limited to any particular species
Service animals, as recognized by the ADA, also have to complete specific training to accommodate a certain disability, but not all emotional support animals do

Can a landlord deny an emotional support animal?

The federal
Fair Housing Act (FHA)
protects certain groups of people from housing discrimination. It makes it illegal to discriminate against a tenant due to someone’s disability, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or familial status.
One of the FHA’s requirements is that landlords must make “reasonable”
accommodations and modifications
for individuals with disabilities, which would include various actions like making structural changes to a unit so it’s more accessible, as well as adjusting certain rules and policies.
This includes making allowances for emotional support animals and other assistance animals—even if the house or apartment complex has a “no pets” policy. Additionally, a rental property’s pet fees shouldn’t apply to an emotional support animal. 
As long as the accommodations and modifications needed to house your emotional support animal are considered reasonable, your landlord can’t deny your assistance animal. Generally, “reasonable” means it wouldn’t present your landlord with an undue financial or administrative burden to let you live with your assistance animal.
Typically, under the FHA, you should be able to live with an emotional support animal if:
  • You can prove you live with a disability (although you aren’t required to disclose what it specifically is)
  • The animal will help you more easily live with your disability
  • The accommodations the landlord would need to make are considered reasonable
Depending on where you live, there may also be additional local and state housing laws that require landlords to make accommodations specifically for emotional support animals.
MORE: When to start looking for apartments

How to get a landlord’s approval for an emotional support animal

If you’d like an emotional support animal to assist you with a disability, you’ll generally need to make a request to your landlord first. While not required, it’s a good idea to do so in writing to avoid miscommunication and have a record of your request.
If your landlord allows pets, you might not need additional permission to keep your emotional support animal. That said, you can request that the landlord waive an existing pet fee for your emotional support animal since assistance animals aren’t considered pets under the FHA.
The FHA requires that your landlord consider any request, whether you already have an emotional support animal living with you or you’re considering whether to get one. 
Before approving or denying your request, your landlord might ask you for more information, like what type of animal your ESA is or whether you can provide an ESA letter from a licensed healthcare professional. 
Your landlord isn’t allowed to request specific information about your diagnosis, but it can be helpful to include the following in your request:
  • Your name
  • The healthcare professional confirming you have a patient-client relationship
  • The type of animal the accommodation is for
  • Whether the animal would benefit the individual for a reason related to their disability
It’s usually easiest to get approval for an assistance animal when it’s a dog or another common household animal, like:
  • Cats
  • Gerbils, hamsters, or other rodents
  • Rabbits
  • Small birds
  • Fish
  • Turtles
To help you better prepare to make an ESA request to your landlord, you can review
offered for both landlords and tenants by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Key Takeaway To get approval for an ESA, submit a request to your landlord in writing and have the support of a healthcare professional confirming that an ESA would be beneficial to you. 
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Why an emotional support animal might be denied by your landlord

Unfortunately, making a request to your landlord doesn't guarantee your ESA will be approved. Your landlord is required to consider your request for an ESA, but they might have grounds to deny it depending on the circumstances.
Here are a few common reasons that requests for emotional support animals are denied:
  • The accommodations to allow a certain emotional support animal would be considered “unreasonable” or present an excessive “financial burden” for your landlord—like building a stable and enclosure for the animal
  • The animal isn’t commonly kept in households—however, if they have specific benefits or training that a regular household pet doesn’t or you have an allergy that would prevent you from owning a normal household pet, you might still be able to seek approval
  • The ESA letter is invalid, and/or there wasn’t one submitted within a reasonable amount of time
  • The ESA would interfere with other tenants’ health and safety
MORE: The basics of pet liability insurance for renters

What to do if your landlord denies your emotional support animal

Learning that your landlord has denied your emotional support animal can be upsetting. However, depending on their reason for doing so, you might be able to reverse that decision.
Here are some of your options if your landlord has denied your request for an emotional support animal:
  • Ask your landlord to provide the reason for ESA rejection in writing
  • Provide additional requested informationif your landlord has the grounds to ask for it
  • Review applicable landlord-tenant laws, which would include the FHA, as well as any local or state laws that apply to ESAs
  • Consider seeking legal counsel as needed
  • Try to mediate with the landlord to determine whether there’s an easy fix for the denial that could get your ESA approved
  • Search for another rental—If your new landlord seems particularly uncooperative or resistant to the idea of an ESA request, it could be an early red flag. If there are a good number of prospects for other rentals where you live, you could consider renting elsewhere. That said, there’s a difference between being uncooperative and being discriminatory, which shouldn’t be tolerated
  • If you feel the reason your ESA is being denied is discriminatory, you can
    file a complaint with HUD

Finding affordable, ESA-friendly renters insurance

Having a
renters insurance
policy that covers your needs is essential—especially if you’re living with an emotional support animal.
You hope it wouldn’t happen, but having a renters insurance policy with the right amount of liability protection can give you added financial security if your emotional support animal were to accidentally injure someone or damage their property. 
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The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities. That would include allowing them to keep emotional support animals or other assistance animals, even in a unit with a “no pets” policy, and waiving fees that would otherwise be applied to tenants with pets.
A landlord can typically only deny an emotional support animal request if doing so would present them with an “undue financial or administrative burden,” or if the animal would be at odds with other tenants’ health and safety.
A landlord can typically only deny an ESA if doing so would present them with an “undue financial or administrative burden,” or if the animal would be at odds with other tenants’ health and safety.
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