Owning pets can be extremely fulfilling, and for some, the benefits of this companionship go beyond the typical scope of pet ownership. Emotional support animals can be trained to help you get through a variety of mental illness-related conditions. Still, specific provisions are needed to allow you to have them with you in certain situations. For those in New Jersey looking for legal aid with emotional support animals, The Animal Law Firm is here to help.
An animal that a treating physician or mental health provider has concluded assists a person with a disability by alleviating at least one side effect or symptom of their owner’s disability is known as an emotional support animal (ESA). Your pet is an ESA if your treating physician or mental health provider certifies that it helps alleviate at least one symptom of your condition as defined by New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD).
A service animal and an ESA are two different things. Service animals are taught to carry out specific activities related to their owner’s condition. They are trained to do tasks like guiding a blind person or helping a person with epilepsy during a seizure. A housing provider’s no-pet regulations are automatically waived for service or guide animals; however, these waived restrictions do not apply to ESAs. You must ask for reasonable accommodations for your ESA if you already reside in or are planning to move into an apartment or home that does not allow pets. Your landlord or property manager may ask you to submit supporting evidence from a treating physician or psychiatrist attesting to both as part of your request.
Emotional support animals are not required to undergo the same rigorous training as service animals, which must adhere to strict regulations. Dogs are usually chosen to be service animals because they must be taught to carry out tasks that lessen the signs of mental or physical impairment. Still, they can be either service animals or ESAs. Cats are also a favorable choice for emotional support animals because of their size and connection to their owners. Although cats and dogs tend to be trained as emotional support animals, ESAs can be any kind of animal and are not required to perform any particular activities. As long as your animal is considered domesticated, you can ask your therapist to certify that animal as an emotional support animal.
Dogs make up a majority of service animals; because of this, the specific breed of these dogs is equally as important as their skill set. Since Labradors are among the gentlest breeds, they are commonly used as both emotional support animals and guide dogs. This well-liked dog breed also has the benefit of being easier to teach than other breeds due to its strong food motivation. Labradors make excellent family pets since they get along well with children; however, their size can be a problem for some landlords. Because of their size when fully grown, Labradors can be considered a large breed, so when acting as ESAs, these breeds can cause issues when securing housing. Similar issues can be raised about larger breeds like Great Danes, Mastiffs, or St. Bernards.
People with disabilities are permitted to take their service dogs to any “public accommodation,” such as hotels, cafes, restaurants, businesses, museums, and more, following New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These rules also mandate that service animals be welcomed by people who run transportation businesses. Both legal systems provide extensive safeguards to individuals with impairments who rely on service animals, such as:
When it comes to emotional support animal laws and regulations, some restrictions may apply. Specifically for residencies, you must request an accommodation that allows you to have an ESA. You also need to demonstrate that you are suffering from a disability as outlined by the LAD and that maintaining an ESA is required to give you an equal chance to utilize and maintain a residence. If the housing provider cannot demonstrate that allowing the ESA would put a substantial strain on its activities, then your request that the housing provider relaxes its no-pet policy to qualify for an ESA would be acceptable.
The general guidelines for disability-related accommodations are the same under state and federal legislative schemes. Landlords should not ask for information about disabilities. Still, if a tenant requests that a landlord forgo any kind of rule enforcement or lease compliance to provide a “reasonable accommodation” for the tenant’s disability, the following guidelines must be followed:
A reasonable and fair accommodation is required for these situations. There may be a means to avoid compliance if the desired accommodation is genuinely prohibitively expensive for the landlord to provide and not merely “inconveniently” priced. For example, if one of the requests made for accommodation requires completely renovating a home, this request could be considered unreasonably expensive; however, if a simple ramp installation is all that is needed to make a home accessible, this could be considered reasonable. Relaxing pet-related restrictions can be considered a reasonable accommodation. Landlords do, however, reserve the right to reject a tenant’s application if their reason for doing so is valid.
Because they are not the same as service animals, emotional support animals are not afforded the same protections and rights under the ADA or FHA as service animals are. However, emotional support animal owners can ask for modifications that let them keep their residence despite limitations on animal ownership with a certified ESA letter. According to the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, including ESAs.
Legally, a landlord can deny a request for an emotional support animal if the animal is hazardous or if the application for accommodation is unreasonable. In this context, the term “reasonable” means that the ESA is given proper care and does not negatively affect any other residents in the building. However, under the following situations, a landlord might legitimately refuse to let a tenant have their emotional support animal:
Unless your landlord has a good cause, they cannot legally refuse an ESA. Property managers and landlords are required to provide certified disabled tenants with reasonable accommodations under the Fair Housing Act. Many landlords will ask for an ESA letter from a physician or mental health provider attesting to the owner’s need for an ESA and attesting to their mental illness. The application to have an emotional support animal, however, may occasionally be regarded as unreasonable, in which case the landlord may choose to refuse the request.
In the end, while landlords cannot turn down an ESA without a good reason, there are certain circumstances in which a landlord might refuse an ESA if the animal poses a threat or might harm the property. For example, if you have a dog that tends to shed a lot, and your downstairs neighbors have a severe allergy to pet hair, this could be considered a factor that leads to a reasonable denial of your application. It is against the law for a landlord to try to refuse a service animal because they restrict pet ownership in the building.
Depending on the owner’s health, a pet may qualify as an ESA and be included as a crucial component of the owner’s psychiatric treatment plan. A licensed counselor or therapist must write a letter recommending an emotional support animal. The practitioner must have a valid license for the state and be treating the candidate requesting an ESA letter as their patient. The only recognized form of identifying an emotional support animal for applications is an ESA letter.
When looking to get an animal certified as an emotional support animal, it’s a good idea to avoid emotional support animal accreditation programs that do not address ESA letters. The certifications from these companies are not legally sound and can be denied by landlords or other agencies for being invalid. An ESA letter demonstrates that an emotional support animal is necessary for a person’s mental health plan as directed by their therapist. With a valid ESA letter, emotional support animals are allowed to live in homes and rented properties that typically do not allow pets. The US Department of Housing requires an ESA letter as proof of an animal’s ESA status as the only supporting documentation.
If you already own a dog or cat that you consider an emotional support animal, the only thing you need to do is speak with your therapist about getting an ESA letter. Fees regarding the adoption or purchasing of your animal can be necessary for the process if you would like to adopt or purchase an emotional support animal,
Depending on your healthcare coverage, the cost of a valid ESA letter can range from person to person. Because these letters have to come from a licensed psychiatrist or therapist, you should talk to your current doctor and ask them for a “prescription” to allow you to have your emotional support animal with you. Some online companies will claim to have emotional support animal certification services, even sending out cards that certify the legitimacy of their program, but these are not legally valid.
Having an emotional support animal can be exponentially good for your mental health, but sometimes, having these animals can lead to discrimination from landlords or other business owners. In New Jersey, The Animal Law Firm can provide the legal assistance needed to handle these claims, letting you get the assistance needed to support you and your emotional support animal. For more information on our firm, as well as information on our other practice areas, visit our website and contact us today to get started on your claim.