Renting With An Emotional Support Pet? What Are Your Rights?

Although pets of all stripes (and spots) can provide a great deal of comfort and emotional support to their owners, for individuals suffering from certain mental illnesses and issues like depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, a pet can be a lifeline. However, those who choose to rent rather than own may find themselves butting up against strict "no pets" policies or even facing hefty fines or potential eviction after refusing to get rid of a beloved pet. What are your options if being forced to give up your pet could harm your mental health? Read on to learn more about your rental rights as the owner of an emotional support pet.

What rights do you have as the owner of an emotional support pet?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the civil and legal rights of citizens dealing with a variety of disabilities. Although most associate the ADA with public accommodations like wheelchair ramps or Braille signs, the ADA also protects individuals dealing with mental health issues or mental disorders. Under the ADA, businesses and public places that normally ban pets are required to permit seeing-eye dogs and other service animals inside if the person accompanying the animal has a genuine medical need for this companionship.

If your pet isn't a registered service animal but is instead needed for emotional support, your situation will instead fall under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA, unlike the ADA, does not require public businesses to accommodate your need to travel with a pet for companionship, but can require landlords to waive their "no pet" rules as a reasonable accommodation for your medical or mental condition. This waiver is usually considered to extend only to your ability to own and keep the pet -- if the landlord  permits pets but requires a deposit or additional monthly rent, your pet's status as an emotional support animal won't be enough to get this fee waived.

What should you do to enforce these rights if your pet ownership is being challenged? 

If you're battling with your current landlord about your ability to keep an emotional support pet at your apartment, you may want to visit your doctor to obtain some documentation indicating your pet's presence is necessary for your emotional health and stability. As long as you can establish that you have a disability-related need for the animal, your landlord will be obligated to make reasonable accommodations to allow you to keep your pet.

For situations in which you're looking for a new apartment and are having trouble finding one that's pet-friendly, you'll want to be prepared with documentation of your pet's status as an emotional support pet and perhaps even copies of the relevant provisions of the Fair Housing Act for easy reference. Because the FHA prohibits landlords from discriminating on the basis of a number of protected characteristics, including disability, a prospective landlord who chooses not to rent to you because of your pet ownership is breaking the law.

For more information, talk with an attorney and look at different apartments in the area that allow pets.