Oftentimes, rental units come along with strict pet policies. Many rental homes and apartments don't allow pets at all; others may place strict limitations on animal type, size, or breed. If you rely on an emotional support animal to ease the negative effects of a mental or physical disability, these laws and regulations can prove worrisome. ESAs are often used to mitigate the impact of illnesses or disabilities that are invisible to the naked eye, which makes it easy for landlords and other parties to dismiss your requests for accommodation.
Fortunately, you do have options to turn to if your landlord refuses to allow you to keep your ESA in no-pet housing. A private discussion may be enough to sway them. If not, you're well within your rights to explore your options for legal action. Below, we've outlined how to approach a landlord who's refusing to permit your ESA to live with you in no-pet housing.
Speak With Your Landlord Directly
Getting in touch
The best course of action when any problem crops up is to address it at its source. You're going to have to speak with your landlord (or potential future landlord) one-on-one to try to come sort of understanding or agreement concerning your ESA. It's best to go this route before rushing into legal action or blind panic. Talking to your landlord can definitely bring up some anxiety, but imagine the relief you'll feel if this is the only step you need to worry about!
Make sure you schedule a private meeting with your landlord. You want to mitigate the chance of any interruptions or distractions. It's only right to sit down like two adults and discuss the issue civilly. Many tenants with ESAs suffer from anxiety disorders and other similar mental illnesses; if you're comfortable disclosing this, some people find it eases their worries. Try to schedule the meeting someplace public to help quell your fears. You can also try for a phone meeting, but face-to-face is always best.
If you're worried your landlord will fail to appear or may make claims you never tried to schedule a meeting, send your request in writing. Sign and date it and keep a copy for yourself, too.
Preparing to say your piece
If the meeting has been scheduled-- or is in the process of being scheduled-- it's time to get down to business! This is the fun part of the process. You may as well look at it that way, anyway. You'll get to write down whatever clever ideas, realizations, or defenses come to your mind for awhile before the meeting actually occurs. This is a great way to help dull anxiety and boost confidence. If you're jotting down your best ideas, you can feel more empowered going into your meeting.
Consider the following while you put together your notes and prepare a rough outline of what you'd like to say:
- Written documentation concerning your landlord's pet policy
- References to and information from legal documentation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Your own history with a mental or emotional disability, how your ESA supports you, etc.
- You do not have to disclose this information; however, if you're willing, it can go a long way in demonstrating why your ESA is a non-negotiable
If you're shaky when it comes to your confidence concerning tenant rights, print up copies of any laws that may work in your benefit. Heading into a meeting prepared helps show your landlord you're serious about coming to a simple, clean, and legal resolution.
State your piece clearly and calmly. Whatever you have to say should be backed by facts and the law, so this step should be relatively straightforward. The challenge lies in genuinely listening to what your landlord has to say in response. Their statements and concerns exist for a reason; even if you don't think they're fair, the best way to work through conflict is to show a little empathy.
Your landlord will likely express fears that your ESA may be fake. Try your best not to take this personally. While it's incredibly difficult to qualify for an ESA, there have been instances of people "faking" their way into proper documentation. This has lead to many of today's landlords being wary when they hear those three letters. Assure them that you have proper documentation from a medical professional that certifies your disability and your doctor's approval of an ESA.
Some people advocate actually bringing your ESA with you to your meeting with your landlord. This is a deeply personal decision and is not required, but it can help win some landlords over. Most landlords institute no-pet policies due to potential issues with damage, noise, and otherwise misbehaved pets. Ideally, your ESA should be well-behaved and well-trained, so introducing them to your landlord could help quell their fears of a problematic pussycat running rampant around their complex.
Start thinking about reasonable compromises
You should never have to make a compromise in the name of your mental or physical wellbeing, but there are certain middle grounds in these scenarios that most tenants and landlords find they can achieve. You can offer to pay an additional deposit in order to keep your ESA in housing with you. It's also a good idea to offer an addition or change to your rental agreement. Work with your landlord to fold in rules about damages that your ESA may cause to your apartment or home.
Taking these small steps might feel unfair to you. It's understandable, but consider the bigger picture during the process. Your landlord isn't railing against your personally-- they're concerned for their property. If you're willing to go the extra mile to help them feel at ease, you're much more likely to get an agreement without a fuss.
What if My Landlord Requests Proof?
You can get it! And yes, they're well within their rights to make the request.
Your landlord can ask you to provide proof not only of your disability, but of the fact that your ESA improves the symptoms of that disability. Therapists, doctors, and other healthcare providers can often provide you with this documentation with minimal notice. Your provider should know what to include in their statement in order for it to qualify as legal proof of your disability and need for an ESA. Don't concern yourself with the details here-- your doctor is a professional and you've got better things to worry about.
Speaking to an attorney
For most landlords, signed documentation from a healthcare provider is proof enough that you need your ESA. Other landlords are more strict. Some locales will require that you prove your ESA has been trained to provide specific accommodations. This is when it's time to partner with a disability law attorney and find out exactly what you need to do to dispell questions and concerns.
Take this time with an attorney to get familiar with federal, state, and local laws surrounding ESAs in tenant housing. Your landlord does have certain rights that may not always work in your favor. Knowing about these rights is key to upping your chances of keeping your beloved pet. You'll likely be responsible for several things in order to be allowed to keep your ESA, including:
- Registering the animal
- Ensuring the animal receives rabies vaccinations
- Following animal control restrictions
You may need to work more closely with your attorney if your landlord continues to refuse to allow your ESA on-premises. A disability attorney can help you understand your rights and know when it's appropriate to take legal action. Try meeting with a handful of attorneys to determine which is the best fit for you and your scenario.
Always Get It in Writing
We've all heard this saying a hundred times, but there's a reason for that. If your landlord agrees to an exception and permits your ESA on-premises, you need to get it in writing. This is the only way to prove that you've received an exception and protect yourself from legal action down the line. Even the most well-meaning landlords with the best tenant relationships may find cause to change their tune in the future.
Ensure that your landlord makes a clear addendum to your lease in order to protect you legally. This addendum should include, at minimum:
- Your responsibilities concerning your ESA
- Care, control
- The terms of the granted exception
- Information about additional security deposits, monthly fees, or other monetary exchanges
- Information about your pet-- breed, age, size, species
- Signatures from both you and your landlord
- A copy for you at no extra charge
About the author
Matt Angerer is the Founder and President of VerticalRent. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics that help Landlords, Property Managers, and Renters across America. He is particularly interested in helping renters understand their local marketplace, pick the best places to live, and find an awesome roommate. Since 2011, VerticalRent has grown to service over 100,000 landlords and renters across America.