apartment doesn't allow pets, need one for depression
January 10, 2015 8:48 AM   Subscribe

I've struggled with depression for a long time -- I'm officially diagnosed and medicated for it. Having a cat has helped in the past, but last year I had to move into an apartment that doesn't allow pets. What are my options? Do I have any legal ground to stand on when asking for a waiver since it's due to depression? What if I get a doctor's note? I live in Massachusetts. Thank you for the help.
posted by Ain to Law & Government (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Volunteer at an animal shelter.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:55 AM on January 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

I live in a "no pets" building (in Colorado, though) where a number of residents have gotten notes from their doctors because they need dogs for anxiety, depression, or other issues and so far it hasn't been a problem. Here's an article from NOLO discussing the differences between emotional support dogs and psychiatric service dogs (and a mention that the ADA limits the definition of service animals to dogs). You might want to talk to your doctor and building manager or get in touch with the Massachusetts Office on Disability.
posted by jabes at 8:55 AM on January 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

If you wind up needing to get a non-dog or cat pet, I suggest rats--they are generally the smartest non-bird "pocket pets" that I am aware of, and they are also capable of being friendly, knowing their names, and wanting to spend time with you and interact with you in the same way as a dog or cat. Big males can even sometimes be cuddled in the same way as a very small cat. The biggest downside is their lifespan. They should be kept in same-sex groups of two or three.

I also very much second jabes' recommendation to look into getting an Emotional Support Animal note. Your dog would not be allowed to have any extra privileges aside from living in no-pets housing--that is, no taking it into public spaces that aren't dog friendly. But it sounds like you don't need that and that your needs would be suited by having a more usual sort of pet relationship. This is exactly what the Emotional Support Animal designation is for.

Anyway, talk to your psychiatrist and possibly your landlord about your options. I suggest that you do not get any kind of "secret" pet, even if you wind up getting rats--the chances are too high that your landlords could find out and that could cause big problems with your housing.
posted by sciatrix at 9:09 AM on January 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Talk to your landlord and see if they have a dispensation for doctor-approved therapy pets. There's quite a few in my no-pets building -- in fact, I had a friend who had a cat moving in and she got it allowed just by putting up a fuss because the original person who showed her the apartment said (incorrectly) that pets were allowed. You don't know until you ask! Alternatively, you can get a doctor's note first and then submit it to your landlord for an exception. You will likely be required to pay a pet deposit/fee.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:17 AM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it's just state/local or part of the Federal ADA, but here in San Francisco I know a lot of people who have "therapy dogs" and "disabilities" and are allowed to have them in non-pet buildings.

(I put that in quotes because most of these people are taking advantage of the law, but if they can do it than someone with a legitimate disability surely can.)
posted by radioamy at 10:02 AM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seems like it could fall under "reasonable accommodation" to allow you to have a pet if you need one. Personally, if I were a landlord that didn't want animals in the building, I'd want to at least charge a fee or something because of the cost to clean pet hair/smells/dander. It's unclear if they can do that to you or not. If they really don't want to accommodate you, maybe they'd be willing to let you break your lease if you have a doctor's note or argue you medically need a pet.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:06 AM on January 10, 2015

My psychiatrist once offered to write me a formal letter "should you ever need to take your cats on the LIRR" — a cat can most definitely be certified by a doctor as an "emotional support animal." You could look into that, maybe, with your psychiatrist?
posted by brina at 10:23 AM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't talk to the landlord unless you have a note from your doctor or therapist in hand, in which case you can phrase it as a reasonable accommodation given your mental-health disability and therefore required by the Fair Housing Act.

For the note, your treatment provider should be able to attest that you're in treatment with them for a mental-health issue, that you have functional limitations due to that mental-health issue, and that a companion animal will alleviate some of your symptoms or limitations. Not all doctors or therapists are willing to write such notes (I just got a newsletter talking about the ethics of doing so).
posted by jaguar at 10:24 AM on January 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

As a therapist, I have written letters for emotional support animals before and have yet to experience a landlord who wasn't accommodating. There are descriptions online on the form that letter should take. Obviously, people can take advantage of the law, as noted by comments above, but I've seen companion animals make a huge difference for clients who otherwise would spend all their time in bed or too afraid to go outside.
posted by gilsonal at 10:47 AM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you don't want to discuss your medical details with your landlord, I've been in several situations previously where offering to either pay an additional deposit or hire a professional cleaner at the end of my lease was the difference between "absolutely no pets" and "sure, you can have a cat".

As other commenters have noted, though, it's a reasonable accommodation to ask for (with the caveat that they might still want some money out of you in case the pet causes damage to the property) rather than something impossible to hope for. I've had depressive episodes in the past where I let depression-brain convince me that no way was anyone going to let me have a pet so why even ask - if "no pets" feels like a hopeless, insurmountable barrier, consider how much this might be depression talking vs a factually accurate view of feasible it's actually likely to be for you to get a cat.
posted by terretu at 11:19 AM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you don't want to discuss your medical details with your landlord, I've been in several situations previously where offering to either pay an additional deposit or hire a professional cleaner at the end of my lease was the difference between "absolutely no pets" and "sure, you can have a cat".

OP, it is very possible that, once presented with a doctor's note, your landlord may have no legal right to ask about what kind of disability you have, to ask for an additional (or any) pet security deposit, or to insist on what kind of animal you must have. Please contact the organization jabel mentioned and talk to your doctor because there are specific codes and statutes (and exceptions) that will apply to your jurisdiction. Also, be sure to ask about what recourse you have in the event your landlord will try to thwart you.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:55 AM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

What you're looking for is an Emotional Support Animal, and landlords are expected to provide reasonable accommodations for such animals under the FHA provided that they aren't exempt for other reasons. You needa a note on a mental health professional's letterhead, not a GP, in order to have an official "prescription." ESAs are provided on the basis of a disability of some kind--it can't just be a need for companionship. You need PTSD, major depression, anxiety disorder, some diagnosable illness. If you present an animal as an ESA and do not have a prescription for one, you are in violation of federal law. The National Service Animal Registry has some more info.
posted by xyzzy at 12:09 PM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I work at the leasing office for an apartment community in Connecticut which is not "pet-friendly", but we are required to make accommodations for people with service animals which we consider to be different than pets, as long as the resident has proper documentation/certification. We do not ask for an extra deposit - I don't even think we are allowed to. As others have mentioned I believe this is covered under the FHA so should be the case in Mass too (For what its worth, though, we have hundreds of apartments so if your landlord has only a few units, there *might* be different laws regarding the accommodations that they need to make. I'm definitely not a lawyer so I don't know for sure).

At this time we have some residents with emotional support dogs, and to be honest it really isn't a big deal to us with the proper certification -- we can't make it into one because its the law. It could cause an issue if other residents notice, because they moved into a place that doesn't allow "pets". and they might put two and two together about your personal business. This would probably be less of an issue with a cat than a dog though.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 1:23 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

OP, I would not consider getting a rat if you have depression. The short lifespans and susceptibility to rather horrible tumours/cancer is something that can upset a non-depressed person once they've formed a bond with the animal.
posted by smoke at 2:35 PM on January 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

In New York City, besides all the other accommodations for service/therapy animals that exist, if you "openly and notoriously harbor a pet" for three months and your landlord is aware of it and doesn't do anything, he's waived his right to enforce any "no pets" clause in the lease.

Your jurisdiction may vary, I've never encountered this before moving to NYC, but then I don't think all that many New Yorkers are aware of this either, so it might be worth researching for your particular area.
posted by yeahlikethat at 6:40 PM on January 10, 2015

Rats are great pets, and are as smart and loving as cats (I've had both). There short lifespan is an issue, and medical treatment can run a few hundred for surgery. Big advantage is not having to worry about people's allergies. And yes, they can happily be out of their cage for playtime, where they may follow you around and snuggle in your lap (and more likely steal your granola bar and carry it to a hidden corner to eat himself into spherality)
posted by Sophont at 8:16 PM on January 10, 2015

« Older Should I stick with Sciences or switch to...   |   Pet care - Cat's Cracked Calluses Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.