Can My Landlord Refuse To Allow Me A Service Animal?

by | May 24, 2012 | Pets

Can a landlord legally refuse to rent to a tenant who owns a dog (service 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 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.

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 Malachy, the pekinese best in show winner at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club dog show and add him to your lease. That would be unreasonable.

It might 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.

If your disability is psychiatric your are absolutely entitled to request a reasonable accommodation that could include owning a service animal.

The Bazelon site is the “go to” resource for any questions about the law pertaining to mental disability and your rights under the various laws that prohibit discrimination based upon mental disability.

Usually you can get a letter from your treating doctor describing your disability and that having a pet would mitigate your, say, your anxiety disorder. The Bazelon link above provides a sample doctor’s letter that briefly describes the patient’s mental disability and “prescribes” a pet to provide some alleviation of the symptoms.

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, the biggest mistake a tenant can make is getting a pet 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.

If your lease prohibits pets, ask first, in writing. If your landlord accepts your request, get it in writing. If your landlord refuses and you can demonstrate your need based on disability, go through the steps as outlined above.

If you are not disabled and your landlord refuses your request, 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.


As I noted in my comments in the SF Appeal, I answered the question assuming that the reader already lived in her apartment.

Indeed a request for reasonable accommodation before one leases an apartment will be considerably more 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.

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.


  1. Dave Crow

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

  2. Mary brooks

    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.

  3. Christina Velez

    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.

  4. Amy

    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.

  5. Sharee Smith

    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?

  6. Alycia

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

  7. Christopher Purnell

    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??

  8. Jen

    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.

  9. Dave Crow

    Yes. Check with your local disability rights organization.

  10. Sheila

    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 .

  11. Amanda

    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..

  12. Wendy

    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.

  13. Marie

    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.

  14. EW

    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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