It is well established that pets afford a number of benefits as far as both physical and emotional health is concerned. When you are mentally unwell, a certified mental health professional may advise you to keep an emotional support animal (ESA) so that you have less stress to deal with. However, in a society that lays down many restrictions regarding places that you may access in the company of animals, the rights of emotional support animals often come under dispute, especially when it concerns rented accommodation and airline travel. Some legal perspectives for both owners and landlords:
What is the best way a prospective tenant can avoid ESA conflict with a landlord?
The best way of avoiding the chance of any sort of dispute with a landlord regarding your living with an ESA in a building that otherwise prohibits pets is to educate him on your condition and how the law permits you to live with an emotional support animal in rented premises. Most disputes occur because landlords are not properly informed of the law and the ESA entitlements. Department of Housing and Urban Development may be approached in case you face any discrimination, especially if and when the landlord cannot prove that he has any valid reason for denying the accommodation. The Department of Justice can levy very harsh penalties to landlords violating your ESA rights.
To what extent does your mental condition need to be revealed to the landlord?
If you are a prospective tenant with a valid letter specifying your need to an emotional support animal for better mental health that has been issued by a competent and qualified mental health professional, it is adequate to share only that letter with the landlord. The landlord is not entitled to ask for any specific details of your condition, however, he is entitled to verify the authenticity of the letter by establishing contact with the issuing doctor. The landlord is only eligible to know that the disability exists and that the ESA has been recommended professionally. It is illegal for an emotional support dog apartment tenant to be evicted.
Can there be a restriction on the breed or weight of the ESA by the landlord?
Pets in rentals are often subject to the restriction of breed and weight, but landlords will usually be ready to make an exception for ESA dogs. However, in case, he feels that due to any reason the animal may prove to be a hazard for other occupants of the building, he may raise an objection legally to either prevent the tenant from keeping the animal or requiring him to comply with some additional safety requirements.
As a concerned tenant, your first attempt should be to approach the landlord and try and educate him regarding your special requirements and also what the law provides for. It can be very stressful trying to deal with an uncooperative landlord, however, you should not be cowed down because HUD’s Fair Housing Act, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, give you adequate protection against discrimination.
Matt Hayward has studied law from Cornell University and works as a trial lawyer for a law firm. He has considerable experience of counseling and representing individuals facing emotional support dog apartment harassment by landlords.