Do I Have To Allow An Emotional Support Animal? 5 Rules

“Do I have to allow an emotional support animal?” You’re screening applicants for a property, and you notice the application lists an emotional support dog. You might be wondering if this means you can’t charge a pet deposit or conduct pet screening. And what about asking for proof that the animal is actually a support animal and not just a pet?

These are all valid questions, and it’s important to know the rules. In this article, we’ll explain exactly what an emotional support animal is and if you have to accept a pet even if you have a no-pets policy.

But if you’re looking for a shortcut to compliance without the deep dive, Rentzap’s expert application services can legally streamline the process for you. For those who choose to read on, let’s get into the details.

What is an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) provides support to individuals with mental health conditions or emotional disabilities. The presence of these support animals can alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health issues.

Healthcare providers prescribe ESAs if they determine that the animals are necessary for the individual’s well-being.

Note that there is no such thing as a certified emotional support animal since ESAs do not require specific training or certification. Unlike service animals, which are trained to perform specific tasks, ESAs provide support via companionship and presence alone.

Pet graphic

Emotional support vs service animals

Emotional support animals and service animals both provide support to people with disabilities, but there are some key differences between the two:

  • Training: Service animals go through extensive training to perform specific tasks that directly relate to their handler’s disability. Emotional support animals do not require specialized training.

  • Disability types: Individuals with physical, sensory, or psychiatric disabilities, such as blindness, hearing impairments, or epilepsy, have service animals. Emotional support animals help individuals with mental health conditions or emotional disabilities.

  • Access rights: Under the ADA, service animals are allowed in public spaces where pets can’t go like restaurants, stores, and public transportation. Emotional support animals have more limited access rights, primarily in housing and air travel.

  • Documentation: If your tenant has a service animal, they do not require documentation or certification. Individuals with emotional support animals may need to provide a reasonable accommodation form from healthcare professionals stating that the animal is necessary for their well-being.

  • Species: Service animals are typically dogs, although miniature horses can also qualify in some cases. Emotional support animals can be any species of pet that provides comfort and support.

What animals can be ESAs?

ESAs come from a variety of species, but some animals are more commonly recognized and accepted than others. The most common type of ESA is a dog. This is due to their trainability, adaptability, and long history of providing companionship and support to humans.

Other animals that can serve as ESAs include:

  • Cats

  • Miniature horses

  • Other small animals

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) provide protections for individuals with ESAs, but each state or local law may recognize only certain types of animals.

For example, California’s state law does not restrict the species of ESAs, but in Arizona, the state only recognizes dogs and miniature horses as ESAs.

How does a tenant qualify for an ESA?

To qualify for an emotional support animal, a tenant must meet the following criteria:

Disability: The tenant must have a diagnosed mental or emotional disability recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This can include conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and phobias.

Documentation: The tenant must provide documentation from a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. This documentation should state that:

  • The tenant has a mental or emotional disability.

  • The animal is necessary to alleviate symptoms associated with the tenant’s disability.

  • The mental health professional recommends the ESA as part of the tenant’s treatment plan.


When can a property manager reject an ESA?

While landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with emotional support animals, there are certain situations where a landlord may legally reject an ESA request:

1. Lack of documentation

If the tenant does not submit adequate documentation, you may reject the request. This documentation must include the patient’s name, date, description of the animal, and other relevant information from a healthcare professional confirming the need for an emotional support animal.

2. Unreasonable burden

If accommodating the ESA would place an undue financial or administrative burden on the manager or owner,  they may have grounds to reject the request. For example, if the ESA requires extensive modifications to the property that are not feasible or would be too costly.

3. Direct threat

If the specific ESA in question poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others or would cause substantial property damage, the landlord can reject the animal. This assessment must be based on objective evidence and not on speculation or stereotypes about the animal’s breed.

4. Fundamental alteration

If the presence of the ESA would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s operations, the landlord may have grounds to reject the request. For instance, if the housing is specifically designated pet-free due to severe allergies of other tenants.

5. Species restrictions

Landlords can reject ESA requests that do not comply with local laws and regulations. For example, in Arizona a guinea pig and ferret do not count as ESAs.

Using Rentzap to ensure you are compliant

It can be challenging to stay current with regulations while managing rental properties. That’s where Rentzap comes in. Our managed application screening and underwriting services take the guesswork out of compliance, ensuring you follow the most up-to-date laws and guidelines.

With Rentzap’s standardized rental criteria, you can confidently accept applicants, knowing our experts are watching the regulations for you. Let us be your trusted partner in fair housing compliance, and gain the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re in good hands.

Rentzap managed application screening

Bottom Line: Can emotional support animals be denied housing?

ESAs differ from service dogs, and landlords can legally deny them housing under certain circumstances outlined by fair housing laws.

Applicants must include proper documentation from a licensed professional for an emotional support animal. However, landlords can reject ESA requests for valid reasons such as direct safety threats, undue financial or operational burdens, or violations of local laws regarding permitted animal species.

Thoroughly understanding these criteria by staying up-to-date on ESA regulations and seeking guidance as needed allows property managers to evaluate requests appropriately within the defined rules.

FAQ on emotional support animals in rentals

Are ESA housing laws in Texas?

Yes, Texas has laws that protect the rights of tenants with ESAs under the federal Fair Housing Act. Landlords in Texas must make reasonable accommodations for tenants with ESAs, provided the tenant has proper documentation from a licensed mental health professional. However, specific regulations and requirements may vary by city or county within Texas.

When can a landlord legally reject an ESA in Ohio?

In Ohio, landlords can reject an ESA if the tenant lacks proper documentation, the animal threatens health and safety, or accommodating it causes undue burden.

Why would you deny an ESA?

You may deny an ESA request if the tenant fails to provide complete and required documentation from a healthcare professional.

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