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Should I rent my home to someone with a service dog or emotional support animal (ESA)?

Should I rent my home to someone with a service dog or emotional support animal (ESA)?

Should I rent my home to someone with an ESA?

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard this question…  should I rent my home to someone with an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)? And, what’s the difference between an ESA and a service dog? 

Good question! While historically there has been a significant difference between ESAs and service dogs, that distinction has been progressively narrowed over recent years… while they are distinctly different categories of support animals, the way landlords are able to view them has changed. Whether you are a tenant with an ESA, or a landlord unsure what ESAs are, knowing the laws and provisions for these animals is essential.

So, what is an ESA? 

ESAs, by definition, are “a dog or other animal which provides companionship, emotional support, and a sense of well-being and safety to their owner, aiding in the treatment of one or more mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.” Since many different animals can provide comfort and support, there is a very wide range of qualified animals. This includes (but is not limited to) cats, dogs, birds, or lizards.

Unlike service dogs, these animals are not trained to perform specific tasks relating to an individual’s disability. Instead, writes Dominick Latino (Disability Rights Legal Advocate), only their companionship is required for their owner to benefit from their presence. Thus, they do not require specific training to fulfill their function.

Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), landlords are required to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. That includes permitting ESAs in their rental property. Even if your rental policy prohibits all animals, landlords are required to make exceptions for both service animals and emotional support animals, providing “reasonable accommodations” for the animals and the tenants who own them.

So, what is “reasonable accommodation”? 

It’s a modification or an exception to a landlord's policy that allows for a person with a disability to properly enjoy the dwelling. In the context of ESAs, this means permitting animals that the policy would normally prohibit. In addition, owners are not allowed to impose extra fees or deposits upon tenants for these animals, nor are they allowed to impose weight or breed restrictions. This means that whether your ESA is a 12 pound cat, or an 80 pound dog, the owner is not allowed to prevent them from entering the home.

Landlord Considerations

But that doesn’t mean landlords have no protections. While landlords must comply with this law at all times, they are also entitled to certain protections of their own. 

For instance, tenants are required to provide documentation from a healthcare provider stating that the ESA is necessary for the individual's mental or physical health. While any animal can fit the description, tenants must prove that they are necessary. In addition, if the ESA poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others, or is causing substantial damage to the property, the landlord can refuse to accommodate the ESA. Landlords do not have to accommodate ESAs if doing so would impose an undue financial or administrative burden.


This circles us back to our original question - should I rent my home to someone with an ESA? Landlords are required to make provisions for emotional support animals in much the same way that they are required to allow service dogs so that tenants can dwell comfortably without having to worry about being rejected or forced to live without their animal. However, claiming an animal as a support animal is not a guarantee that the animal will be allowed -  documentation must be provided establishing the need for the ESA, and tenants must ensure that the animal does not impose a health/safety risk or financial/administrative burden to other people, the property, or the landlord.

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