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Can A Landlord Deny An Emotional Support Animal

Can A Landlord Deny An Emotional Support Animal?

No landlord can deny you the right to accommodation as long as you have an ESA letter signed by a licensed mental health professional. An emotional support animal is protected under the Fair Housing Act. This act requires landlords of apartments or houses to make living arrangements for individuals with certified disabilities.

The landlord will not deny you accommodation if you meet the following requirements:

  • You have an ESA letter written and signed by a mental health professional.
  • When the animal is necessary for the day-to-day requirements, it will help you improve your well-being.
  • You are taking good care of the animal.
  • You meet all the requirements related to the accommodation.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA), is a federal law that states that any individual who is suffering from mental or physical disability and has an emotional support animal, cannot be turned away from housing even if there is a ‘No Pets’ policy.

Under the law, you, as a landlord cannot set alternate or extraordinary rental terms and conditions for persons suffering from mental or physical disorders. Moreover, you are supposed to provide ‘reasonable accommodation’ for the emotional support animal. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and considers everyone equal.

How To Tackle A Tenant’s Emotional Support Animal Letter?

The first and foremost step is to verify the Emotional Support Animal letter. There are tenants who are physically and mentally fit but will try to get around your ‘No Pets’ policy. There are plenty of sources from which they can get an emotional support animal letter after paying a minimal fee.

How to verify an Emotional Support Animal letter?

  • Letter should be issued by a licensed mental health professional
  • Should come on professional letterhead of mental health professional
  • Contains contact information of the physician (number, email, and address)
  • Include’s therapist’s/ physician’s license number
    • Ask your prospective tenant for their Emotional Support Animal letter and go through the specified details to check validity. In case a tenant provides you with certifications and registrations from non-healthcare professionals, you can deny their request for accommodation and can request documentation for a valid source.

How to tell if an Emotional Support Animal letter is not genuine?

  • The letter is not issued by a licensed mental health professional.
  • The letter does not come on professional letterhead.
  • It contains contact information that isn’t valid.
  • The license number specified on the letter isn’t verifiable
    • Contact the mental health professional via the number provided simply to check the validity. Connecting directly with the physician will be a violation of the Fair Housing Act. If the therapist is not likely to speak to you due to HIPAA privacy laws, you can ask your prospective tenant to have their therapist complete a ‘Reasonable Accommodation Form’

Questions Landlords Can't Legally Ask on Rental Applications

As landlords, there are certain questions and documentations that you cannot ask from potential tenants on rental applications. These include:

  1. Their disability.
  2. Their medical records.
  3. Their medications.
  4. Their therapy sessions.
  5. Their rehabilitation programs.
  6. The emotional support animal’s training as neither the Fair Housing Act nor Section 504 requires the tenant to provide proof of training of the animal.
  7. In general anything besides what is provided to you in the ESA letter.

Can a landlord deny an emotional support animal based on the accommodation?

A landlord can deny an ESA or reject a request for accommodation to a probable tenant with an emotional support animal in certain situations such as:

  1. The building has four or fewer units and the landlord lives in one of them.
  2. It is a single-family house that is rented without a real estate agent or broker.
  3. It is housing owned by private clubs or organizations and is used for its members.

A landlord cannot charge a pet deposit fee as an emotional support animal is not considered a pet. However, if the ESA causes any damage to the property, the landlord may charge the repairing cost. To support this, according to HUD’s handbook for subsidized multifamily programs: “A housing provider may not require an applicant or tenant to pay a fee or a security deposit to keep the emotional support animal. Occupancy Requirements of Subsidized Multifamily Housing Programs, HUD, No. 4350.3, 2-44(E) (2013). 5, if the emotional support animal causes damage to the housing unit or the common areas of the dwelling, the housing provider may charge the cost of repairing the damage.”

Violation of the Fair Housing Act

If a tenant who is suffering from emotional or physical disorders feels that he/she has been subjected to discrimination and has been denied the right to reasonable accommodation, he/she may;

  1. File a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) within one year of the most recent date of discrimination.
  2. File a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, within one year of the discrimination.
  3. File a complaint against you with the state’s agency.
  4. Sue and book you for violence.

After a thorough investigation, the HUD attorneys will litigate the case free of cost for the disabled person.

Yes. Usually, an ESA letter stays valid for 1-year from the date of issuance. Once you’ve crossed this threshold, the landlord might require you to renew your ESA letter and then provide them with proof of the same. In the case of an inability to do so, the landlord can ask you to either vacate the premises or charge you an additional “pet fee”.

Yes, a landlord can deny accommodation to an ESA owner in such a situation. An ESA letter is deemed illegitimate if:

  • It is not issued by a licensed mental health professional
  • It is not written on a professional letterhead of the physician/ therapist
  • It specifies invalid contact details of the mental health professional (including contact number, email, and address)
  • It states a license number of the professional that is either incorrect, invalid or expired.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a landlord cannot deny an emotional support animal on the basis of breed, size, age, and weight.

However, you, as a landlord can deny the emotional support animal if:

  • The animal is a threat to the health and safety of others.
  • The animal can cause any physical damage to the property of others.
  • But the rejection should be based on objective evidence to prove the emotional support animal’s conduct and not on your fear about a certain breed or your past experiences.

It’s true that according to some insurance companies certain breeds of animals are considered dangerous. If in case the insurance carrier of the landlord cancels, increases the cost of the policy, or changes the terms of the policy because of the presence of a certain breed of animal, HUD can assist you with insurance coverage or under serious circumstances, launch an investigation against the insurance company for discrimination.

If the Administrative Law Judge (ALA) decides that discrimination has occurred, the landlord will have to,

  1. Pay the attorney’s fee.
  2. Pay the Federal Government a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest. The maximum penalties that can incur are $16,000 for a first violation and $70,000 for a third violation within seven years.
  3. Compensate the person with a disability for actual damages including humiliation, suffering, and causing mental trauma.
  4. Provide injunctive or other equitable relief.
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