Emotional Support Animals and Landlords: What Your Need to Know.

Emotional Support Animals and Landlords

Mental Health and Emotional Support Animals and Landlords

According to the National Institute of Health, almost 60 million Americans suffer from mental illness. It is no surprise then, that the number of individuals who require the use of an emotional support animal (ESA) is increasing every year. It is critical for both landlords and tenants to understand their rights when it comes to emotional support animals, even when there are specific “no-pets” policies in force.

Generally, there are laws in place to protect individuals who require ESAs from unjust discrimination. These laws specifically extend to those who rely on the companionship of an emotional support animal to help with disabilities. Federal and state laws have been implemented to safeguard an individual’s right to have an emotional support animal as recommended by authorized mental health professionals.

It is important to be familiar with specific limitations and understand the significant differences between individuals accompanied by service animals and those supported by emotional support animals.

However, you can still benefit from federal protections outlined in the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA allows individuals with disabilities to keep an ESA in their home, even if the property owner or landlord has a no-pets policy.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), it is prohibited to refuse housing to an individual due to their disability. Landlords may also not discriminate against those with disabilities by holding them to a different standard or requiring additional qualifications. This includes rental price, fees, and special terms and conditions.  Disruptive behavior from an ESA, such as excessive noise, unruliness, or destruction may lead to the eviction of tenants in severe cases, even with a validly registered Emotional Support Animal, ensuring a balance between the rights of tenants with emotional support animals and the responsibilities of landlords to maintain a peaceful living environment for all residents.

That being said, under the FHA, a landlord is permitted to require documentation or an ESA letter verifying the handler’s need for an ESA. A registration alone is not necessarily sufficient and it always recommended to consult with a mental health professional who can confirm your need for an ESA.

Requirements for an Emotional Support Animal Letter

The main role of an emotional support animal lies in consistently fostering sentiments of comfort and security. These incredible companions hold particular significance for individuals in need of emotional support as a result of mental health conditions or the aftermath of traumatic experiences.

It is a straightforward process to register an Emotional Support Anima. You need a letter or document from a doctor that indicates the animal is a necessary component of your treatment for a qualifying mental health condition. The contents of the letter are at the discretion of the doctor and the patient, and there is no set form that it needs to take in order to be legitimate and valid however the letter should be on professional letterhead and include contact information.

It is not imposed by law, but many ESA handlers looking to rent a new home choose to voluntarily register their animals through Service Dog Certificates to obtain a mobile ID and certification documentation compatible with both Apple Wallet and Google Wallet. A registration provides owners with a presentable form of evidence for landlords and business owners if needed.  Additionally, physical markers such as bandanas and collars can be useful tools for owners of emotional support animals to prevent disputes and allow members of the public to quickly identify them as registered Emotional Support Animals in Michigan.

What Questions can my Landlord Ask me About my ESA?

Landlords do have a right to inquire about the use of an ESA, even with a valid ESA letter and registration.

For example, they can politely inquire about status of your animal to confirm that it is in fact an ESA and not “just a pet”. However, they cannot inquire about your mental condition that necessitates the use of an ESA.

Below are a list of explicitly prohibited questions that may not be asked:

  • Please provide copies of your medical records?
  • What is your disability?
  • What medications do you take?
  • Are you currently in therapy or any rehabilitation programs?

Further, landlords may not contact your mental health professional directly.

Do I qualify for a support dog?

Take the support dog certification quiz now and you'll gain a better understanding of the type of assistance you require and the potential benefits of having a service dog registration or an emotional support animal registration.

Can I have more than one Emotional Support Animal?

The law does not specify a specific number of emotional support animals one individuals is permitted to have. Accordingly, if you require more than one animal in order to help with your condition, you may do so in full compliance with the law. Dogs and cats are the most common type of animal used for emotional support, but just about any pet may be able to qualify.

What if my Landlord Denies me or Tries to Kick me Out Because of My Emotional Support Animal?

Generally a landlord can never kick you out simply because you require an ESA. However, there are times where a landlord is within their right to deny a renter and these are if:

  • The ESA is causing a legitimate financial or administrative disturbance on the presence; or
  • The ESA is causing legitimate and unresolved disturbances to other tenants.

If an ESA disturbance rises to the level of a public safety concern, a landlord may be within their rights to begin an evection proceeding.

What can I do if I am denied or evicted because of my Emotional Support Animal?

If you feel you have been treated unfairly because of your legitimate use of an emotional support animal, you have the option to take legal action under the Housing and Urban Development Act within a year of the incident.

The Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency will then investigate the complaint, without any cost to the individual with disabilities. Alternatively, the person can also choose to escalate the matter to the federal district court within two years of the alleged denial.

Once the case is deemed valid, it proceeds to an administrative hearing where HUD will represent the case.

During the administrative hearing, a judge will carefully consider all the evidence presented by both the tenant and the landlord. If it is determined that discrimination has indeed taken place, the landlord may be ordered to take one or more of the following actions:

  • Compensate the tenant for actual damages, which may include factors such as humiliation, pain, and suffering.
  • Provide appropriate injunctive measures or other forms of equitable relief.
  • Pay a civil penalty to the Federal Government in order to uphold the public interest. The maximum penalties range from $16,000 for a first violation to $70,000 for a third violation within a span of seven years.
  • Cover the reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the tenant.

It is important to note that the above information is presented in a general context and is not legal advice. It is advisable to consult with a legal professional regarding any specific concerns or cases related to ESA discrimination and housing.

References

  1. National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml
  2. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (n.d.). Fair Housing Act. Retrieved from https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/Fair_Housing_Rights_and_Responsibilities
  3. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (n.d.). Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act. Retrieved from https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/reasonable_accommodations_and_modifications
  4. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). 42 U.S. Code § 3604 – Discrimination in the sale or rental of housing and other prohibited practices. Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/3604
  5. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (n.d.). Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs. Retrieved from https://www.hud.gov/sites/documents/SERVANIMALS_NTCFHEO2013-01.PDF
  6. Americans with Disabilities Act National Network. (n.d.). Service Animals. Retrieved from https://adata.org/guide/service-animals
  7. American Kennel Club. (n.d.). Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Dogs. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/dog-owners/training/service-vs-emotional-support-animals/
  8. U.S. Department of Justice. (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA. Retrieved from https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html
  9. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (n.d.). Emotional Support Animals in Rental Properties. Retrieved from https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/emotional_support_animals
  10. Michigan State University College of Law. (n.d.). Emotional Support Animals: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.animallaw.info/article/emotional-support-animals-what-you-need-know