Service Dog Letter For Landlords: Why You Don’t Need One
Service Dogs and Their Rights
Service dogs have numerous rights under federal laws. These laws allow service dog owners to be accompanied by their assistance animal in public locations, during travel, and in their residences. To qualify for a service dog, a person must have a qualifying physical or mental health disability that requires the use of a trained service dog.
When it comes to housing, service dogs are exempt from “no pets” policies in residential buildings under the Fair Housing Act. Service dogs are also exempt from pet fees and deposits, as well as size and breed restrictions that are applicable to normal pets.
The Fair Housing Act also protects emotional support animals, which are a different category of assistance animals. Emotional support animals help with mental health disabilities and do not need any specialized training.
Another major difference between service dogs and ESAs is that ESAs require an ESA letter from a licensed healthcare professional as proof, whereas service dogs do not require special documentation.
How Do I Prove I Have A Service Animal to my Landlord?
The ADA and Fair Housing Act do not require service animals to have vests, ID cards, registrations, certifications, letters, or gear that identifies them as service animals. Service dog owners commonly use these accessories, but they are not required. Third parties cannot demand to see these items before granting access to a service dog on the premises.
You also cannot qualify for a service dog by obtaining an ID card, registration, or certification. You can only obtain these items after you have already fully qualified for a service dog and can represent that you have a legitimate service animal for your disability.
So how do you prove that you have a service dog to your landlord? If the disability-related need for the service dog is not obvious, your landlord can ask you two questions: 1. Is the dog a service dog required because of a disability? and 2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
Disabled tenants with disabilities have a right to privacy and dignity. Landlords cannot ask the tenant to have their dog demonstrate the task it has been trained to perform or request the tenant’s medical records.
While you do not need service dog paraphernalia, it can be helpful to have things like vests, IDs, and certificates to easily signal to other tenants that you have a service dog and not a normal pet.
Service dog owners do not need to submit documentation such as a letter from a doctor or therapist. However, some tenants with psychiatric service dogs will obtain a PSD letter confirming they have an eligible mental health disability such as severe depression, anxiety, or PTSD. PSD letters are optional but provide peace of mind for current or potential owners of psychiatric service dogs.
So, What Animals Need A Letter?
Under HUD guidelines, owners of emotional support animals should submit a letter from their licensed healthcare professional to their landlord. Landlords are entitled to see a valid ESA letter before accommodating an ESA in a no-pets building. ESAs are also exempt from pet fees and pet restrictions on size, breed, and weight.
An ESA letter verifies that a tenant has a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or PTSD that is helped by the presence of an emotional support animal. While service animals can only be dogs, ESAs can be dogs, cats, birds, fish, and other small household pets. Emotional support animals have housing rights but not the broader public access rights of service dogs because they are only protected under Fair Housing rules, and not the ADA.