Can My Landlord Refuse To Allow Me An Emotional Support Animal?

by | May 17, 2018 | Pets

Can a landlord legally refuse to rent to a tenant who owns a dog (emotional support animal), if the prospective tenant is disabled and the dog helps his disability?

If not, what if the disability is only psychiatric in nature?

And if not, how would the prospective tenant be able to prove to the landlord that his dog is for his disability?

If your lease prohibits pets (and many of them do) a landlord can initially refuse to allow a tenant to get a pet. Note that I said initially. If you are disabled and you need a service animal to provide service or emotional support, you have the right to ask your landlord to allow a pet in the premises regardless of the language in the lease. A service animal is not a pet.

A request for reasonable accommodation before one leases an apartment may be difficult. If prospective tenant applies to rent an apartment in “no pets” building, discloses his or her disability and asks for a reasonable accommodation to have a service animal, a landlord could simply refuse to rent based upon other criteria. For example, an African American or a family with children shows up to fill out an application for a rental and the landlord tells the applicant that the apartment has already been rented—classic examples of discrimination of housing discrimination

It might be difficult and expensive to prove that the landlord discriminated against the tenant based upon his or her disability.

If you suspect that a landlord has rejected your application to rent because you are disabled, you should file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

A guide dog for a blind person is a classic service animal. A landlord who refused a request for such an animal is clearly discriminating against the tenant based upon disability.

A request to allow an emotional support animal is a little more tricky, but your rights are still clearly defined under the law.

What is the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal?

“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. These tasks can include things like pulling a wheelchair, guiding a person who is visually impaired, alerting a person who is having a seizure, or even calming a person who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The tasks a service dog can perform are not limited to this list. However, the work or task a service dog does must be directly related to the person’s disability. Service dogs may accompany persons with disabilities into places that the public normally goes. This includes state and local government buildings, businesses open to the public, public transportation, and non-profit organizations open to the public. The law that allows a trained service dog to accompany a person with a disability is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“An emotional support animal is an animal (typically a dog or cat though this can include other species) that provides a therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship. The animal provides emotional support and comfort to individuals with psychiatric disabilities and other mental impairments. The animal is not specifically trained to perform tasks for a person who suffers from emotional disabilities. Unlike a service animal, an emotional support animal is not granted access to places of public accommodation. Under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), an emotional support animal is viewed as a “reasonable accommodation” in a housing unit that has a “no pets” rule for its residents.” — FAQs on Emotional Support Animals, Rebecca F. Wisch, Michigan State University College of Law, 2015.

Discrimination under the FHA includes “a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford [a person with a disability] an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B). So long as the requested accommodation does not constitute an undue financial or administrative burden for the landlord, or fundamentally alter the nature of the housing, the landlord must provide the accommodation. —Right to Emotional Support Animals in “No Pet” Housing, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

I recommend that you read the entire article quoted above, as it provides a thorough analysis of federal law applicable to emotional support animals.

Asking your landlord to add a pet based upon your disability is called a request for a reasonable accommodation. Your request must be reasonable. For example, you cannot request that the landlord, to accommodate your disability, purchase Flynn, the bichon frisé best in show winner at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club dog show and add him to your lease. That would be unreasonable. It would also be unreasonable to get a big, untrained, vicious dog because the landlord could be liable if the dog bit someone in the building.

You must also be prepared to prove to the landlord that you are disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

When the disability or need for reasonable accommodation is not obvious, a landlord may ask the person with a disability for documentation that he or she has a disability and a disability-related need for the service dog or support animal. The tenant or boarder must then provide the landlord with reasonable medical documentation from a health care provider that confirms the existence of the disability and the need for reasonable accommodation. —When California Landlords Must Allow Tenants to Have Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals, by Zachary Duffly, Nolo Press

Under California law, the health care provider who provides this documentation does not have to be a doctor. Documentation can come from other providers, including clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, or marriage and family therapists.

If you are planning to request a reasonable accommodation to get a companion animal, you should also check out PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support). In San Francisco they are now a division of the Shanti Project . Their site provides a step-by-step procedure to request a reasonable accommodation to get a support animal. The PAWS suggestions about a health provider’s letter are simple, accurate descriptions of the legal requirements for such a letter:

In order to prove that a dog is a service or support animal, you may be asked to have documentation from a licensed professional (doctor, nurse practitioner, psychiatrist, other mental-health professional or social worker) stating that the animal is an essential part of treatment for a disability. A doctor’s letter must have two essential components.

1. It must state that you have a disability. The disability does not need to be identified. 2. It must state that it is the professional opinion of the provider that is it essential for you to have a service/support animal.

From my point of view, a common mistake tenant can make is getting a pet (assistance animal) first and then attempting to justify the need for the animal later–after the landlord, during his annual, unannounced, illegal inspection, discovers Fluffy hiding in a closet. While the mistake is not irreparable if you make a timely request for reasonable accommodation, you don’t want to find yourself in court defending an eviction based upon your breach of the lease. You might win, but it will cost you a bundle of dough, and, believe me, it will only exacerbate the symptoms of your disability.

If your lease prohibits pets, make your request for reasonable accommodation in writing. If your landlord accepts your request, get it in writing.

If you are not disabled and your landlord refuses your request for a pet rather than an assistance animal, forget it. I’ve seen too many instances in which long-term tenants are forced to choose between their beloved dog and living in the streets.


  1. i live in a no pet on my lease my neibor have a dog i thin brought my pet back home my landlord know the pet is here and let me keep her here i have had her for 10 yrs my landlord have no problem with my pet but know his son is taking over and im hearing through the grapevine he is evicting 3 tenants with pets can my thraphy pet certification stop him from evicting me.

  2. We have a service dog,a pet friendly apts,but ours has an aggressive bark,we’ve coplied to all there rules,2 yrs later ,management sneaking around at night ,dark out,startled manager,and started barking,now wants to evict us,,,my partner is a VA vet,and has been treating him aggressivley,knowing he has ptds, where do we stand

  3. Can my landlord force me and my service dog for autism to move into a pet friendly building after I’ve already unpacked and put everything away.

    during lease signing i was told we could live in the No Dogs allowed building if our dog was registered as service dog or i could wait 11 days for a not as nice apartment but it allows dog.. i refused and said no ill take this one * no dogs allowed* because its ready now, which i need, and its first floor and just perfect location for me.

    now after signing and i inform them when my dog will be here
    and i have already showed them `my Service animals registration they are now telling me I will have to move into a Dog friendly building when one becomes available. This is NOT fair, to make me pack everything i own up and move it and unpack and sort again

  4. ia ANYONE getting answers here I see alot of ?a but no answers?

  5. Request a reasonable accommodation in writing and include a letter from your doctor.

  6. We are allowed to have a dog here .but they first said oh he is a service dog.i said yes.then they said I don’t have to pay the deposit nor the monthly fee .but now they want proof that he is a service dog and he has a I’d.and I am disabled now they want doctors to say I need one and the vet too involved.

  7. I recently moved in to an apartment and my partner has an emotional support dog. We left for a short while to get some needed supplies to clean the house. This morning when I woke up, another tenant left a hand written note threatening to have our dog “silenced” by animal control if we don’t silence him. He is a well-trained dog, but if he hears commotion outside of the door, he tends to react. He is older, about 8 years old, and usually sleeps all day. My partner is usually home with him. I know animal control can’t just come and take our dog, but I read through the lease and they noted that if a pet or service/companion animal disturbs another resident in any way, determined by the owner, that they can revoke our privilege to have the animal on the premises and we will have to remove him. Can they do that solely based on another person claiming our dog is making noise and disturbing them? We just moved in and don’t want to have to deal with an ongoing issue which is why I want to find out our rights.

  8. Can my landlord say my dog isn’t allowed in the unit until I have their paperwork filled out by my Dr when I already have all the proof they need from 3 years ago.

  9. Hi there.. I have random seizure quite often and have been under investigation for the last 6 years for them. Last week I had one on the side of the rd. Everyone has recommended me to look at getting a service dog to help me out with them as it was my dog that helped me realise what had happened. However I’m currently staying at my parents place for a while and wondering if I did look at getting one would my mum and dad have to get a permit to allow another dog on the property even tho it’s working?

  10. Can the manager of my apartments make me get pet liability?

  11. I fall under ADA because I have epilepsy but my reason for writing is I have a signed lease stating I am allowed one pet, but the manager of the building told the rescue service I was not allowed any pets! I got home and confronted her about this because at the signing of the lease she stated ” we could have any pet from a pig to a rooster” but only one. My lease clearly states I am allowed one pet yet she told me I could get a cat, rabbit, or small dog. I believe she is discriminating against me and the dog I adopted who is part pit bull. Should I just sue her in Civil court??

  12. I want to apply to an apartment that does not accept pets and already have a doctor’s note prescribing a emotional support animal. At what point should I bring this up with the new apartment manager? Should I do this after the lease is signed or before I sign a lease at the time of application? I am worried that they will not accomodate my dog or unfairly discriminate before I sign a lease.

  13. Yes. Check with your local disability rights organization.

  14. Can I legally have a service dog due to my daughter asthma.
    She also is ADHD and I feel that she needs a service dog .

  15. I have 5 year old son who has epilepsy..he has seizers during the night while he sleeps he does not show any physical signs..that’s the.scary part.he also.seizes while awake with physical signs..we can not afford a service trained dog..although it is know that a non trained dog can sence a change in the chemical balance in a person.and will alert u when a seizer is about to happen..we would like to get a dog so my son would have a little more freedom..we r not allowed pets were we live..can my landlord make me move if I get a doctor’s letter stating my child would benefit from a service animal..

  16. can a “pet friendly” large apt complex evicted me 3 times over false issues with my SMALL WELL TRAINED LICENSED service dog? Im dying of liver failure & can get confused in public. The dog is trained to never leave my side & important contact #s are on her tags. My landlord is constantly finding some bogus issue over her and keeps trying to evict me. I filed with HUD but have to wait for them. Please respond to my email address. I may need an attorney.

  17. Does a Landlord have the right to ask for a Reasonable accommodation if a person had one already and their Service dog passed away? She waited 2 years before stating she was about to get a new one and would bring vet records and picture in. My friend was informed she needed a new Reasonable accommodation for every Service dog. This is stressing her out as she really does need the animal as she has fell up and down the stairs on a few occasions and it is scaring her also that this landlord will put her though a lot and not allow it. She went through a lot with this landlord to get her last Service dog who saved her life twice. She lives in Maryland in a HUD funded housing.

  18. Hi – This is very helpful. I have already experienced one potential landlord saying “I don’t want a dog” even after I explained it is a service dog. Would you recommend waiting until after a new lease has been signed, but prior to move in, to disclose the service dog? I can honestly say on the application that I do not have a pet…a service dog is not a “pet” per se. Right?


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