When Can a Landlord Legally Reject an ESA?

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Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords and property managers are legally not allowed to reject an emotional support animal except under reasonable circumstances such as unavailable housing or the emotional support animal has a history of threatening or violent behavior. 
Emotional support animals provide necessary relief for people struggling with mental, physical, or emotional health issues. Those with emotional support animals often cannot imagine their lives without their companion, so it can be quite jarring to be rejected from housing because of them. 
Although landlords and property owners are generally not legally allowed to reject a housing applicant simply because they have an emotional support animal, there are specific circumstances that can make their refusal legal. 
Here to break down when an ESA rejection is legal and when it’s discriminatory, is Jerry, the top-rated insurance app and your go-to guide on renters insurance savings.
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A landlord can legally reject an ESA under certain circumstances. Some of the most common reasons for an emotional support animal rejection are:
  • The animal is considered “dangerous” or has a past of violence or threatening behavior towards other people. 
  • The request is “unreasonable”. Sometimes the housing you’re applying for cannot reasonably be expected to provide physical accommodation for an ESA depending on what type of animal they are. ESAs can be any animal, so if you have an emotional support horse, for example, you may find it difficult to be approved. 
  • The ESA would infringe on the owner’s or another resident’s rights. For example, if someone in the building has severe allergies—and chose a no-pet residence for that reason—your ESA could aggravate those allergies. 
  • Your ESA Letter is out-of-date or otherwise invalid. ESA Letters must be written up and properly signed by a doctor or mental health professional and must be renewed regularly. 
  • The landlord or property manager would be assuming too great of a financial risk by allowing your ESA on the premises. For example, your ESA may have a history of property damage in your past residences. Since landlords cannot charge pet fees on emotional support animals, they would be responsible for paying the damages. 
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Is it illegal for landlords to deny an emotional support animal?

Whether or not a landlord’s or property manager’s rejection of your ESA is illegal depends on the grounds for their rejection
In fact, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was enacted to ensure landlords and property managers could not reject applicants on discriminatory bases. This covers factors like race, national origin, sexuality, gender, source of income, and disability—including mental, physical, or emotional illness. Emotional support animals, in this way, act as something closer to necessary medicine than a pet. 
Landlords and property managers are legally allowed to require an up-to-date ESA Letter demonstrating your need, but they are not legally allowed to require you to explain why you need the animal
If you feel that your housing application was denied based on a discriminatory practice, you can file a claim with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). You can find the online complaint form here.
Keep in mind that claims for rental housing need to be made within two years of the offense, and regular housing claims within one year

What to do if your ESA is rejected

As unfortunate as it is, landlords do sometimes reject applicants with emotional support animals. 
If they are refusing to work with you, there is nothing you can do if their rejection is reasonable or meets one of the criteria listed above. 
However, if you feel that their rejection is unreasonable and they refuse to work with you, you can file a claim with HUD. Be sure to get their rejection reasoning in writing if you decide to take this route. 

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FAQs

In general, landlords cannot legally reject emotional support animals. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords and property managers cannot discriminate against housing applicants that need reasonable disability accommodations. 
However, there are certain circumstances in which their rejection is legal, like if the animal is considered “dangerous” or the housing can’t reasonably make physical accommodations for the animal.

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