Who qualifies to have an Emotional Support Animal?

by on January 19, 2011

Question by Gypsy Dancer: Who qualifies to have an Emotional Support Animal?
My aunt has been diagnosed with anxiety and major depressive disorder… she lives alone and could really benefit from the companionship that a pet would bring. However, she lives in a place where pets are not allowed. How would she go about getting approval to have an ESA, and could the landlord reject it even if she had a letter from her physician.

Best answer:

Answer by mariahleadme
An ESA is prescribed by the persons primary care physician. The person must meet the legal definition of “disabled”. There is no special training involved, as an ESA is not a service animal and cannot be taken in the public venue. The request must meet the definition of “reasonable accommodations”. Example: having a Great Dane as an ESA in a 500 sq/ft apartment would not be termed “reasonable”, and could legally be denied. However, having a well behaved Jack Russel Terrier as an ESA in a 500 sq/ft apartment would meet the “reasonable” criteria.

The FHAA (Fair Housing Act Amendments) does allow for an ESA in “no-pets” housing, under certain conditions. The handler of the ESA is responsible for any and all damage done by the animal to the premises, and if the animal is not cared for properly (becomes a nuisance, barks constantly, eliminates in inappropriate places, is not kept well groomed, is menacing to other residents, etc.) the landlord has the legal right to have the animal removed.

Add your own answer in the comments!

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kirsten 01.19.11 at 6:10 am

It’s not so much a case of diagnosis, but the extent to which the illness impairs her (ie whether or not it disables her).

Under the FHAA, a person with a disabling case of mental illness would generally qualify for an emotional support animal, even if she lived in “no pets” housing. However, there are exceptions. Not all landlords are covered under the FHAA. In particular, landlords with 4 or fewer units may be exempt as would certain types of housing owned and operated by churches. Public housing is exempt from the FHAA, but ESAs are covered under different regulations in that case. Most housing, however, is covered under the FHAA.

The landlord can impose certain restrictions on an emotional support animal, including restrictions on species, breed and size. Generally he would need to permit common household pet species, such as cats, dogs, fish, or birds, but could exclude more exotic pets such as monkeys. He could exclude large dogs or dogs of breeds deemed dangerous by his insurance carrier because allowing a tenant to keep such a breed would raise his insurance premiums unnecessarily (a small dog can provide just as much emotional support as a large one, and a dog of any breed can provide emotional support).

She’d need to write her landlord a letter explaining that she is disabled under the Fair Housing Amendments Act and that she was requesting a reasonable accommodation in the form of a modification of the “no pet” rule to permit her to keep an emotional support animal which her doctor deems necessary for her mental health. She would need to submit a supporting letter from her doctor stating she is disabled, that she is currently under his treatment for mental illness and that in his professional opinion an emotional support animal is a necessary part of his treatment plan for your aunt.

Here are some sample letters: http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/257

Could he reject the accommodation? Yes, in some instances he could:

1. If he is exempt from the FHAA
2. If the presence of the animal would constitute a fundamental alteration of the goods and services offered to other tenants (ie if the dog barked disruptively, preventing other tenants from enjoying their homes as well)
3. If the presence of the animal posed a direct threat to health and safety (ie if the dog’s waste was not properly removed or the dog behaved in a threatening manner toward workers, other tenants, or their guests)
4. If it would cause the landlord an undue burden (ie if it would unreasonably increase his insurance premiums)

2 Wayne O. 04.06.11 at 10:40 am

In actuality, a person who is disabled (emotionally or psychologically) would need reinforcing documentation from their licensed mental health professional (therapist, social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist), NOT their primary care physician.

3 kayla baesman 04.07.11 at 2:00 pm

I recently got a puppy. An my lanlord says know pets. I’m scared to be alone at my house, An she makes me feel secure an happy. I also sleep now with her with me. I’m going to the doctor tomorrow an am going to try an get emotional support papers to give to my lanlord. It will be my first visit with him. I’m scared that he wont give me the papers so i can have her at home :(. Ive had alot of guys stalking me, An coming to my house at random times that wont leave me alone. I cant move because i’m on a lease i really need my dog! any suggestions? I hope an pray my doctor will do that for me tomorrow .. wish me luck!.

4 Kitty 04.19.11 at 6:53 am

Sorry Wayne, Again I have to disagree, a primary care physician CAN make that determination and it is also unlawful for the landowner to ask the nature of the disability. All they need to know is what is written in the letter of request for accomodation. Discussing with your doctor the nature of your disability and if this alternative medicine called “pet therapy” is right for you is a step towards greater control of each indiviuals mental or emotional health. Getting a puppy because you want a watch dog alone does not merit the need for for a support pet, unless the need has to do with a mental health or emotional disorder.

5 Kimberly 04.22.11 at 6:44 am

Contrary to popular belief, or so it seems from the article and comments here, it is not true that a dog of any size is appropriate for all individuals with the need for a support animal. I know this firsthand. I looked for over two years for a support animal for my son with ASD. After searching and searching, the dog we found was an English Mastiff… recorded in the Guiness Book as the heaviest dog in the world. Known as the gentle giant, this breed is known for their gentleness with children and their big heart (they forgive very easily). My 5 year old son is prone to violence, so a pug wouldn’t have worked for him, and oddly I couldn’t find a golden retriever or a labrador that would have worked. He doesn’t try to beat the dog, but he can get rough, which small dogs can’t take. Luckily we don’t have to deal with a landlord, but as long as I were to rent a home with sufficient yard space, the landlord wouldn’t be able to refuse us unless our dog’s breed were prohibited under his/her insurance policy.

6 sussie 04.22.11 at 7:53 am

And actually, even if the breed was prohibited, they still can’t deny you. A service dog is not a “dog” according to DOJ/ADA rules. A Service Dog is considered, for lack of a better term, an implement. Like a cane, wheel chair, hearing aids, etc.

Sussie and Gunny

7 Kitty 04.22.11 at 9:28 am

I have a cat as my ESA, and for her purpose she is purrfect for me, so I agree with Kimberly that the animal must be matched up appropriate to each individuals need. each animal has a different personality as well so I suggest working with your local ASPCA or Humane Society. Since they are around the animals some time before they can be adopted, they can see the personality. When I got my cat I called ahead and told them that I wanted a small animal that was not a kitten or puppy but a young animal and what the purpose of the animal was for. They did a wonderful job and knew just the pet that would be perfect for me. Plus, all the animal from these shelters come with health certificates and are either spayed or neutered if old enough.

8 Kimberly 04.23.11 at 7:44 am

@ sussie…
Right, Service Animals, like you say, are exempt from those rules. An ESA and a Service animal don’t get the same exemptions. To qualify as a Service Animal under the laws protecting them, an animal must provide at least two services for the disabled individual that the individual cannot perform for themselves. Doesn’t matter who trained the animal, as long as you have a doc’s letter or script and the animal can fulfill the requirements under the law. So an ESA, which isn’t required to do anything but be a comfort animal, has many less rights than a Service Animal… although the two types are commonly confused, they most definitely are not the same thing.
The humane society is a great place to find a gentle, lovable animal that would be great for emotional support/pet status in your home :), I totally agree on that. The perfect ESA could be lurking anywhere…

9 Ellen 05.08.11 at 5:16 pm

This is so helpful – I live in a condo building which has had a “no pet” policy for years. In 2007, they tried to enforce it…now they again are trying to escalate this due to the fact that a woman in here has seen fit to bring her dog through the lobby as well as bring the dog to actual Board Meetings! I have two cats. I have had a history of depression/anxiety for probably 50 years. Only since I have had these cats have I been less depressed and anxious. So…it is very helpful to me and to others here in the building. Thanks for this site.

10 chala 07.11.11 at 4:01 pm

i moved into new appartments where there s no pet allowed. my child was in counseling n i was too with DCFs case but 3yrs ago.after case closed i got my child a therapy dog to help her with her emotional issues, but no doctor note because i lived in a house.what should i do now????

11 sussie 07.22.11 at 9:54 am

Unfortunately a Therapy dog has no rights what so ever. They are just treated as normal dogs. ESA’s have a few rights. Airlines, some forms of public transportation and the right to live in housing with a no pets policy. Service dogs have an open door with the exception of Churches and Indian Reservations. My suggestion to you would be to get a Doctor’s note and get your dog ID’ed as a ESA, or a Service Dog (depending on the child’s mental or physical disability)

12 kg 12.28.11 at 9:17 pm

My apartment allows cats, with a deposit and an extra $20 to the rent. Ihave a pug and mini Schnauzer that I cannot live without and have incredible emotional attatchment to. I want her to live with me at my apartment. From my research, I have concluded that if I go to my doctor and request papers for my dog to be an ESA, my apartment will have to comply. Is this correct?

13 sussie 12.30.11 at 11:25 am

Yes. You are correct.

14 Kitty 01.03.12 at 2:35 pm

Yes, but you do have the responsibility to make sure the animal is healthy and has all up to date shots and so forth and you need to be able to provide these types of records to the apartment manager if they ask for it along with the prescribed letter from your health care provider. By law the apartments cannot ask you what your disability is and must view the animal as they would any other medical device. They cannot charge any extra deposit or rent, that would be considered discrimination. You may call the Bazalon Center for mental health law for any questions or concerns or problems. :)

15 Deb 04.16.12 at 8:46 am

I have a dog that has been perscribed as a therapy dog by my doctor,she weighs between 35 and 40 lbs.My new landlord is telling me that I can not have a dog that big, is there any law that would keep me from having her?She is a great comfort to me and lessens my anxitey panic attacks

16 sussie 04.18.12 at 5:02 pm

No. Not for a Therapy dog. I am surprised that the Doctor would have you using a Therapy dog as opposed to a Emotional Support Animal or a Service Dog. Therapy dogs have no rights other that when they go to places like hospitals and nursing homes for people to pet them.

17 John B 05.03.12 at 5:11 pm

As a homeowner who has tenants, this is disturbing.
If I don’t want pets in my home, a tenant shouldn’t be allowed to find a loophole in the lease.
If the tenant needs a ESA, then the tenant should look for a place that accepts animals.

18 sussie 05.04.12 at 11:23 am

You sir will eventually get into trouble with Fair Housing with an attitude like that. Just because a person has a problem with a law does not give them the right to break it. Allowing ESA’s IS the law!

19 Kitty 05.04.12 at 11:38 am

John, keep yourself in check and lean more by calling the Center for mental health Law in Washington DC. Thats what I did. This is NOT a loophole, it is protection for people with disorders that you, yourself may have but deny. Stop trying to control everyone else and accept it…IT IS A LAW! To deny someone a place to live because they have an ESA is not legal. I am sorry you cannot control this and to make a comment as you have shows you are a cold and judgmental individual. I would so love to say what you sir have really made me feel so instead I will say…Have a nice day.

20 John B 05.07.12 at 10:08 pm

Take your pills and just read what I am saying. I don’t have an issue with an ESA, I do have a problem with being mislead.
If someone needs an ESA, then that person should search for housing that supports having a pet.
Instead what I have read is people abusing something that was meant to help.

21 Kitty 05.08.12 at 1:49 am

Sometimes the person with a so caller “issue” can be discriminated against because know it all people like yourself think then know everything about everyone, your use iof the word issue itself shows that. But let me tell you something Mr John “B”, Who the hell gave you a crystal ball to tell you everyone is misleading you? Who gave you the right to deicde who should and who should not have a roof over their head? It is landlords like you who would probably also discriminate for other reasons as well. Maybe instaed of the government having laws to protect people with ESA, should have laws saying who can and who cannot be a landlord. Actually Mr. John “B”, The law for ESA protects YOU! Think about it… If it was not for someones ESA, you might have had the shit choked out of you by now. An emotional support animal may have already saved your life you ungrateful bastard! Now go find and hug an animal today, it mighty actually be your guardian angel.

22 Windchyme 05.08.12 at 4:48 am

John, I used to have a landlord JUST like you….USED TO….I don’t anymore because he so kindly paid for the acre I live on as part of a settlement to avoid court action by the state because he tried to deny me my dog and throw me out when I wouldn’t comply. I’m sure he thought he knew it all too and /or felt he shouldn’t have to comply…till the state grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and taught him better. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Don’t want animals in your home/s…don’t rent them out…simple.

23 Erica M 05.08.12 at 2:06 pm

I have a question my apts are no pets, I have a cat because he helps me with my depression and the landlord is fining $25 a week tilo teh cat is gone. I live in Dallas and I have no clue as if this law applies here if so what are teh steps I need to take so I can have my cat if I get rid of him I will be a emotional wreck. Thank you for the help

24 Kitty 05.09.12 at 3:07 pm

Erica M, Yes He may very well be within his legal rights unless you have the proper documentation from your health care provider and records on the animal proving the shots and health of the animal is up to date. If you meet this criteria and he is still charging you, I would suggest seeking the advice of a lawyer.

25 Ann H 05.12.12 at 1:39 pm

I have never been “officially” diagnosed, but my friend who is a licensed psychologist confirmed my suspicions that I have anxiety and maybe PTSD issues. I have panic attacks, my heart starts racing, I break down in tears, and I even hyperventilate sometimes, for no reason at all. I am currently going to college, and had to leave my dog with my parents, when I’m away from him the symptoms happen, when he’s around if I start getting that way, he knows how to react, and he calms me down. Since I left him it’s gotten worse, and my best friend now helps me handle the attacks. I live in a dorm, and the campus has a no pets policy, I’m thinking about trying to get my dog qualified as a ESA once I move out, now I’m reading that anxiety and PSTD warrent a service dog. Which should I try to register him as, and since it’s his presence that calms me, does he even require any training?

26 sussie 05.14.12 at 7:45 am

He is a Service Dog. According to the ADA rules. But there is no need to “register” him. Service dog registries are scams as the ADA states that a service dog does not need to be registered. All you need is a Doctors note stating that you need the assistance of a service dog for your disabilities and have the dog identified is some way as a service dog and that it is well behaved in public and housebroken.

27 Windchyme 05.14.12 at 12:12 pm

Hey Ann,

He is not a service dog according to ADA rules if you are asking if he needs training since individual training is part of what makes an SD an SD. You say he makes you feel better..how does he do that exactly and can you mold it into some of it being command based. BUT- training is not necessarily that difficult- look into it. Otherwise you risk a denial you can’t fight based on the dog not being trained. It is correct that there is no requirement to be registered. You will need a dr. note saying that you have an impairment of one or more major life activities and if possible that you will be using a service dog. Having the dog identified is not a requirement (though it makes your life easier cause if they are not identified you get alot more questions).

Part of the training is having great manners, obedience training and like I said before the task training and solid housebreaking that sussie said.

It depends what state you are in as to whether dogs in training get the same access as service dogs….a plan that I think would be good is to get the ESA letter from your dr. and the SD letter if possible..then you are covered for the dog to live with you while you work out the rest.

28 Mark 05.22.12 at 2:55 pm

To John and all the other landlords:

I understand your frustration with the “loophole” with the No Pets Policy that Emotional Support Animals provide. Sure, there will some people who will abuse the privilege (i.e. people with friends that are doctors who get an ESA prescription without a disability). However, please take a moment to see the other perspective.

Do you honestly think that any person suffering from a major disability, such as severe anxiety or depression, wouldn’t trade the No Pets Policy “loophole” they are receiving in order to be healthy? Any disabled person would take being healthy and being forced to find a pet friendly apartment verses being disabled and having an ESA for a “No Pets” apartment. Special privileges are provided for disabled persons for one reason—being disabled sucks! Throw these people a bone. Disabled persons should be able to feel good about themselves every once in a while, or get a privilege that other healthy persons do not. Give me a break.

29 sussie 05.24.12 at 11:04 am

I totally agree. Do people really think I enjoy having PTSD? I would love to be “normal” again.

30 Windchyme 05.24.12 at 12:19 pm

Mark,

I completely agree with every word…WELL SAID!

31 Lexie 06.02.12 at 1:07 pm

I recently submitted a letter from my doctor regarding my ESA to the condominium association where I live. My landlord had no problem with the animal. I received a letter from them stating the following: tmy doctor would have to fill out their certification form every six months regarding my medical condition, I would need to send them certification of completion form for all the traing that my dog has had, provide immunization records every six months, advise the how the animal would be cared for when I’m at work, and how I intend to keep my dog clean and free of fleas. Can they do this? Isn’t my medical information confidential ? Do I need to get a lawyer? The questions on the medical condition are asking specific information about my mental health.

32 Windchyme 06.13.12 at 11:43 pm

Lexie,

They are not allowed to ask specific questions about your medical condition, they may be within their rights to have a renewal letter from your doctor anually. They cannot demand proof of your dog’s training, your dog’s health records, to know how you plan to handle your dog when at work and how you manage parasites or grooming.

They are over reaching themselves here. The law says that if your dr states that it is a need that it is OVER for them. The only thing they could try is to say that your dog is disruptive or damaged the place in some way (which you would be responsible for an includes not cleaning up your dog’s messes on their property) so PROTECT yourself now. Take pictures of your home NOW and save them and make sure you document health care and training and anything else about the dog now. I would write them a letter stating this to them along with the fact that they are further exascerbating your condition with such illegal demands and sent by certified mail with a copy of the letter they sent you sent by certified mail (keep a copy for yourself somewhere safe) and if there are disability helper agencies for housing in your area contact them right away. You can contact me privately at windchymepub@windchyme.com and I can kind of advise you.

If you have the wherewithall to contact a lawyer….that wouldn’t hurt either. They are definately doing things they aren’t allowed to do.

Wind

33 Tomi 06.15.12 at 8:52 pm

Thank God the use of ESA’s has become more common place and accepted. Just like natural remedies like vitamins and herbal remedies was once thought to be quackery – ESA’s have been thought by many to be a scam or a loop hole. In fact, they provide a serious and extremely important function in the lives of people with certain types of disabling conditions. To John B. – I just want to clarify that an ESA is not a “pet” but rather a part of an overall treatment plan for the patient. You as landlord do not get to decide whether or not a person should have a particular medication, nor are you legally entitled to deny that person the use of a legally and medically prescribed ESA. The person is not required to seek “pet friendly housing” because this animal is not considered a pet. This is the reason for the law – it is not just a scam for people to get a pet past your doors. People with mental health disorders are still misunderstood, stigmatized, and often thought to be faking it to get something.
As a person with a mental health condition, I have been accused of not legitimately needing my ESA – even by people with physical disabilities – who should know better.
And fortunately, as a tenant, I do not have to prove to you that my ESA is not a loophole. It is between my medical practitioner and me. You are expected to comply once the proper documentation has been submitted by me and my medical practitioner. If you do not comply, you may be subject to lawsuit and financial penalties.
Good Luck.

34 stephanie 06.20.12 at 7:28 am

I haven’t been diagnosed with anything, because I rarely I have the insurance to go to the doctor, but i feel i have real issues. I become severely emotionally distressed when I’m not with my fiancee… I feel I’ve developed a unhealthy attachment to him. I have violent outbursts which while hard to control i manage usually. I also have a one yr old. It scares me being this way. I have a six month old American PitBull terrier who seems to naturally know when i need her. She is so calm and i feel like she understands the pain being unstable is causing me. She comforts me and keeps an eye on my baby its like she knows I’m freaking out and wants to make sure my baby isn’t forgot in the mess. I understand many people don’t like pits but let’s judge the dog not the breed. I always supervise interaction between the two. When I get into a ‘mood’ Ana comes tight up to me and like hugs me puts her head on my shoulder and whines in my ear. I’m 19 how would yall advise me?

35 Sierra 11.27.12 at 6:30 pm

Hey guys, I’ve been having some difficulty deciding on whether an ESA would be an appropriate choice for me or not. I’m a freshman in college (I do live in a dorm) and have had noticeable anxiety issues for almost 6 years now. I have panic attacks at least once a week, I have fairly severe OCD and my psychiatrist and psychologists are looking into a bipolar diagnosis for me, but if not that then it’ll just be classified as a severe depression with short bursts of manic behavior and activity. Also, on a more personal note, I’ve developed some abandonment issues since my older sister died unexpectedly (just under 8 months ago) and the two room mates I’ve had just up and left because they thought I was too unstable to room with. This has lead to a greater fear of being alone, which as one can image would induce anxiety and panic.
The part I’m worried about is whether or not my doctor will write me a letter of approval or not, because I don’t want to seem like I’m putting words in her mouth so I can get a dog on campus. I’ve tried medications though and we haven’t found anything that’s helped, and the therapy in and of its self doesn’t seem to be making a difference.
One of my doctors from when I was in the hospital recommended talking to my parents about an ESA, but they didn’t like the idea because I was going to college. I’ve looked up a lot of information since I’ve been here though and it seem like if I found the right dog it would be an acceptable course to take, I’m just not sure if I’ll qualify and I’m scared my doctors won’t take the idea seriously.
Oh, and one other thing I forgot to mention earlier; I have a pattern of self injury behavior, which was why I was in the hospital a few times earlier this year. It’s shown a pattern of occurring before or during panic attacks (I can’t take fast-acting medication for those due to prior complications) or when I’m alone, so I don’t know if that would have any effect in whether or not I should or should not get an ESA.
What do you guys thing? Is it even worth mentioning to my doctors or no?

36 sussie 11.30.12 at 12:56 pm

Your condition does not warrant the use of an ESA. It warrants the use of a Service Dog.

37 Charlene 02.01.13 at 6:23 pm

Hey everyone, I’m in the same boat as many of you. I have been looking into an ESA, my doctor and even psychiatrist have agreed it may be a good option for me. Now, I am beginning to wonder if perhapse an ESA is not what I need but an actual licensed service dog. I have been diagnosed with panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and depression… Although myself & family don’t feel that I am depressed… I have had many tests done all with normal results, been on various medications for depression, anxiety, and most recently major depression disorder medications…. All of which have either triggered a panic attack or have left me unfunctionable to care for my 6month old and 5 year old daughters. The only real set trigger found is sleep, I wake up many times a night in full blown attacks, at times needing the EMS to take me to the ER…. I ask the service dog question because of the agoraphobia that I have been diagnosed with… It is difficult for me to run errands, shop, work, or continue college.. I haven’t been able to work or go to college for 2 years now because if this, but SSI & Disability keep denying…

38 Heather 09.29.13 at 2:47 pm

AtI live in government housing , have a female boxer, little over 2yrs now, never a problem with neighbors or property manager..Now there’s a new manager she says the lease says “no pets” which it does, BUT they make exceptions with a Dr. note which I have!! I tried telling her about my note & that I had my fur baby for over 2years no issues,, that 5 out 7 of the houses here have 1 or more dogs, she agreed & said exceptions can be made, so I thought I was doing good,, Wrong she then asks me the breed , height & weight , says hmmm no too big we have a 20-25 pound weight limit, and there is no such thing in our lease at all! The only rule about pets is no pet’s or pet sitting, but she even admitted exceptions are made per dr statement,,, so now 24 hour notice dog goes or eviction! If one manager didn’t care, I have note for ESA from dr can she do this? Please help !!!

39 sussie 09.30.13 at 9:45 am

Contact the Fair Housing Board in your area.

40 Jaime 01.15.14 at 9:34 pm

Please help me. I live in an apartment that I love for the past two years and I am a single girl living alone. My landlord won’t let me have any pets at all – not even a bunny or a hamster even though I really want a cat. I feel like I’m going crazy. It’s very hard to find apartments in LA and I don’t want to and can’t move. I am in love with my apartment and I want an animal in the worst way. I feel like I’m having a very very hard time with this. I’m in therapy for co-dependent relationships and to become more independent – I broke my engagement in April and have been in therapy since then. I want to get an animal and my therapist agrees that it’s a good idea for me to have an emotional support animal to help with this transition but I am terrified that my landlord will evict me if I ask my therapist for a letter and get one anyway. I have asked to be allowed to get a quiet animal but he is so stubborn. Can I legally get one or will he evict me? I’m scared to have no place to live but it’s too hard to live without an animal. I’ve been so depressed about this that since November I haven’t wanted to leave my apartment. Please help me. I’m so scared that if I legally get one, that my landlord will legally evict me. What should I do? Thank you!

41 sussie 01.21.14 at 3:21 pm

As long as you have a letter from a Psychiatrist for Psychologist stating that you need a pet, you should not have a problem.

42 Don 05.07.14 at 12:03 pm

Can a Shi Tzu whom has had a letter written by a Primary Dr stating that the dog offers medical support and benefit due to me having Anxiety Issues for which he treats me for and prescribes medications,have the animals vet bills submitted and considered as a medical expense for Food Stamps?

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