Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal?

A woman hugging and kissing her emotional support animal.
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As a landlord and rental property owner, it is your right to have a no-pets policy at your property. There will be certain times when a tenant will claim they have an emotional support animal, necessary for easing a mental or physical disability. Learn what an emotional support animal is and if a landlord has the right to deny a tenant an emotional support animal.

No-Pets Policy

A no-pets policy is an included clause in a landlord’s lease agreement with a tenant. This clause makes it clear that a tenant is not allowed to have any type of pet, such as a dog or a cat, in the rental property. If the tenant violates this clause, he or she could face eviction for violating the terms of the lease agreement.

Some landlords have a pet policy clause that allows certain animals but restricts others. A tenant may be allowed to have a cat, but not a dog, or can have a dog as long as it is not on their insurance company’s list of dangerous dog breeds.

Emotional Support Animal

An emotional support animal is an animal that provides assistance to an individual with a mental or physical disability. Emotional support animals are able to get around a no-pets policy because they are not considered pets.

Animals for those with emotional disabilities can provide comfort or help ease the pain associated with that disability. For example, the companionship and comfort of a dog can help those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Service animals can be considered emotional support animals, but emotional support animals do not have to be certified service animals in order to provide the necessary support to their owners. Emotional support animals provide a mental and emotional benefit to their owners, while service animals generally provide a physical benefit. Examples of tasks or everyday functions that service animals can help with include, a guide dog helping a blind person get around or a seizure alert dog that is specifically trained to react when its companion is having a seizure.

Service animals are usually dogs. Emotional support animals have a broader ranger. They can be dogs, cats, birds, fish, lizards or numerous other animals.

Fair Housing for the Disabled

The Federal Fair Housing Act protects certain classes from discrimination in housing-related activities. People with disabilities are one of the classes protected under this act. Included in this class are disabled individuals who require an emotional support animal to function.

Under Fair Housing, a landlord cannot refuse a prospective tenant based solely on disability and must make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Allowing a disabled tenant to have an emotional support animal is a reasonable accommodation.

Reasonable accommodations do not put a financial hardship on the landlord. For example, allowing an emotional support dog on the premises even if you have a no-pets policy does not place a hardship on the landlord. However, if the tenant requests that you break up all the concrete in the backyard and replace it with grass so that the animal has a yard to run around in, that is most likely unreasonable as it may place a financial hardship on the landlord. In this case, you can discuss a different, less expensive option with your tenant.

Three Questions a Landlord Must Ask

If a tenant makes a request to have an emotional support animal in your property, you are allowed to verify the need for and function of this animal. You can request that a doctor, therapist or other health care professional verify that the tenant has a disability and the way in which the service animal alleviates symptoms or effects of their disability. You should ask the following questions:

  1. Does the tenant have a disability? Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 describes a disability as either a physical or mental impairment which limits one or more major life activities. Some examples of life activities are seeing, hearing, walking, taking care of yourself and learning. Some examples of impairments are blindness, deafness, cancer, depression, alcoholism, and mental illness. You can require proof that the tenant qualifies as disabled, but the tenant does not have to expose their specific disability if it is not readily apparent. 
  2. Does the animal alleviate or assist with this disability? The medical professional should be able to confirm that the emotional support animal is necessary for the individual, meaning that it performs physical or mental assistance that allows the individual to perform necessary life functions.
  3. Is the request reasonable? If the tenant meets the two above criteria and the request for an emotional support animal does not cause you financial hardship, then it is a reasonable accommodation.

When Pet Policy Does Not Allow Animals

Regardless of the terms of your pet policy, you must allow an individual with an emotional support animal to reside in your property if they meet the above three criteria. Since emotional support animals are not considered pets, they cannot be subjected to the rules of the pet policy.

Charging a Fee for Emotional Support Animals

In addition, you cannot require a pet deposit from a tenant with an emotional support animal. However, if the animal does cause damage while residing in the property, you can make deductions from the tenant’s security deposit for this damage.

Rejecting a Tenant With an Emotional Support Animal

There are certain times when a landlord may be exempt from renting to a tenant with an emotional support animal. These include:

  1. Buildings with four units or less where one of the units is owner-occupied
  2. Single-family homes that were rented out without using a realtor. The owner of the home cannot own more than three single-family homes.
  3. If the animal is too large for the specific accommodation. For example, an emotional support horse in a small city apartment.
  4. If making accommodations for the emotional support animal places an undue financial hardship on the landlord.
  5. If the animal causes damage or becomes a threat to other tenants in the building.
  6. If the tenant does not meet the qualifying standards the landlord has for all tenants, such as having an income that is two and a half times the monthly rent.

If the Animal Becomes Disruptive

Even though the animal is an emotional support animal, it does not mean that it does not have to follow any rules. It cannot interfere with the other tenants’ quiet enjoyment of the premises.

If the animal becomes disruptive, you still have the right to request that the animal gets training or obedience lessons, or you can ban the animal from certain common areas of the residence. If the bad behavior continues, you may have to take steps to evict the tenant.

Emotional support animals that cause injury or harm to another tenant or individual can be reported to animal control, although state laws will differ. In addition, if the animal causes damage in the tenant’s unit or in the property, the tenant is responsible for paying for this damage.

Beware of Scams

There are tenants who do not have any sort of mental or physical impairment who will try to get around a no-pets policy by claiming their animal is a service or emotional support animal. Unfortunately, there are many websites that allow an individual to pay a small fee and receive a certificate stating that their animal is a service or emotional support animal.

Service or emotional support animals do not usually require any type of certification. The evidence you should rely on is obtaining the doctor or other medical professional’s advice that the individual needs the animal for daily function.