Emotional Support Animal 101 – How to know if an emotional support letter is legitimate

emotional support animal

Emotional support animals are more popular than ever before, and many people have them living with them in their rental properties but the BIG question is how do you know if an emotional support animal is legitimate or not?

One step to confirming the legitimcy of an emotional support animal is a tenant must provide an emotional support letter from their doctor which proves that their animal is needed because the tenant deals with panic attacks, or another issue that requires them to live with that animal.

If you’ve never received an emotional support letter before, this article will provide you with tips on how to know if the letter is legitiamte or not.

Understanding The Emotional Support Letter

It is vital to make sure that documentation for an emotional support animal is legitimate. And it’s not just landlords that must make sure the document isn’t fake—tenants should also ensure that they get an ESA letter from a reputable company.

Here are a few tell-tale signs that ESA documentation could be fake.

  • Instant service. It takes time to evaluate whether someone qualifies for an ESA. Instant approvals are a definite red flag.
  • ESA registration. There is no legal requirement to register an assistance animal, and a registration number doesn’t mean the pet is an ESA.
  • No healthcare provider information. ESA letters containing no contact information or healthcare professional’s license information are usually bogus documents.
  • No contact information. A legitimate ESA letter should provide contact information. A landlord can use this as part of the screening process.

If you are a landlord, you can also use some of the above information to check an ESA letter’s validity. For example, does the ESA letter contain the contact information of the healthcare provider? Does the healthcare provider’s licensing information check out with your state’s professional licensing database?

If you’re a landlord, what else can you do to avoid an ESA scam?

  • Pet screening service. Invite the prospective tenant to perform a pet screening online. Although this won’t confirm a service animal’s support status, it will help determine if it’s categorized as an ESA. Additionally, legitimate rental applicants with a service animal won’t mind doing the pet screening.
  • Get official confirmation. You can request that the healthcare provider sends you the ESA letter directly. HUD states that “documentation from the internet is not, by itself, sufficient to reliably establish that an individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal.”

Landlords can also ask for additional information from prospective tenants to assess the validity of the ESA.

Can landlords deny tenants who have a real ESA letter?

You can’t deny accommodation requests to a tenant or potential tenant just because they have an assistance animal and a valid letter confirming an ESA. Not allowing pets in a rental unit isn’t a valid reason to reject a rental application or evict a person who has an ESA.

However, there are particular conditions when you can reject an application with an ESA.

  • The animal is too large for the rental unit.
  • The animal is not a domesticated animal or commonly kept in households. For example, the HUD guidelines prohibit animals such as monkeys, barnyard animals, and kangaroos as legitimate service animals.
  • The building only has four rental units, one of which the landlord occupies.
  • The animal harms others or causes significant damage to the building.
  • The prospective tenant wants to rent a single-family dwelling, and the owner owns fewer than three single-family homes.
  • The service animal would result in undue hardship to the landlord or property owner.

Before you take action against a tenant who claims to have an assistance animal, it’s always advisable to seek legal advice.

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