When an emotional support animal letter comes with an accommodation request, it can catch property managers off guard. In various communities. Even those with a no-pets policy may have residents  requiring assistance with animals for their daily functioning.

Must landlords accept service dogs or companion animals? Can a landlord deny an emotional support animal? It is important for tenants and landlords  to effectively communicate about what their needs are and whether they can be accommodated.

Definition & Tasks of Service Animals & Emotional Support Animals

Service Animals

Service animals, typically dogs, receive specialized training to assist disabled individuals in several ways including guiding blind people, alerting deaf people, helping those in wheelchairs, or detecting seizures. 

They wear vests labeled “service dog” and can accompany their owners in public places such as restaurants and government buildings. They’re viewed as working animals, not pets. Only dogs are officially recognized as service animals in New York State.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals provide emotional support, comfort and assist those with non-physical disabilities. They offer companionship and can help to reduce depression, anxiety, or specific fears. These animals are not required to possess any special training and are not limited to dogs.

Who Is Eligible For An ESA?

You need to have a recognized mental sickness or disability to get an emotional support animal. Disorders that qualify include: 

  • learning disabilities 
  • anxiety problems
  • depressive disorders
  • intellectual difficulties like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) 
  • attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 
  • disorders linked to motor skills

Your licensed mental health professional or doctor must state that the ESA offers psychological or emotional advantages for your condition.

Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal?

Most apartments have a no-pet policy because they anticipate problems such as noise, destruction, or the possibility of animals getting loose. However, landlords must accommodate emotional support or service animals.

As per the rules set by FHA, landlords cannot reject emotional support animals (ESA) unless their presence becomes completely unreasonable. Even those people who possess any kind of disability, regardless of whether it is mental, emotional or physical, cannot be denied housing either. Landlords are legally obligated to provide reasonable accommodations for ESAs.

The Fair Housing Act protects housing rights for individuals with disabilities. Landlords should provide reasonable adjustments and are not allowed to discriminate against people based on their sex, race, disabilities or other factors.

Verify If An Animal Is Considered An ESA

Landlords can ask for documentation to support a person’s request for an ESA. This documentation must be from a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, social worker, registered nurse, or physician’s assistant.

The ESA doesn’t need to be registered, certified, or trained, and the person’s disability doesn’t have to be obvious to the landlord.

Landlords can ask for proof that the animal has been vaccinated, if it’s an emotional support dog or another type of assistance animal. They can also ask to see an official letter confirming that the animal is part of a mental health treatment plan. But they can’t ask for details about the person’s mental or emotional disability or proof of the disability.

For service dogs, including those for psychiatric purposes, landlords can’t ask you to prove that the dog can do specific tasks like fetching medication.

Acceptable Reasons for Denying an Assistance Animal

Housing providers don’t have to provide reasonable accommodations if:

  • There’s no proven need for the animal due to a disability
  • The animal poses a threat to people or property
  • Allowing the animal would fundamentally change operations or be too costly for the provider
  • The resident violates their contract by keeping the animal

If property managers have questions or worries about their rights or the rights of tenants, they can check HUD’s assistance-animal notice for help.

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