Emotional Support Animal in a new apartment
January 10, 2021 6:28 PM   Subscribe

I will be moving into a new apartment soon for a new job. I qualify for an Emotional Support Animal. Should I mention it to the landlord before moving in? I don't have the pet yet and am still looking at places.

It appears that I am allowed due to various laws in my state, regardless of the official apartment pet policy, and do not need to pay extra. I do not have a pet yet but plan to take care of a family pet in the next few months once I get settled. I will obtain the letter from my psychiatrist who has written one for me before for my previous pet. Having a kitty really does help me manage my PTSD and OCD, although I do not believe I need to disclose my individual diagnosis to the landlord due to privacy reasons.

I want to be honest but I also don't want to get in any trouble, like if there's a potential caveat that I am unaware of. Rent in my area is super expensive although there are many options in the same range.

I'd appreciate your advice and anecdotes. Thank you!
posted by smorgasbord to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
I don’t know what the rules are where you live, but where I live, it is illegal to prohibit pets—unless you renting in a home where the landlord also lives and they have an allergy. I personally have a cat allergy, as does my child, and were we renting out a basement and someone did not disclose a pet and later brought one, and surprised me with it, that would be a huge problem. Be careful of any such exemptions where you live, and respect that in the case of a prohibition on pets due to an allergy, other people’s health and safety is as important as yours.
posted by ficbot at 7:21 PM on January 10, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I think many landlords or property managers might balk/discriminate against you if you said you had an ESA when you applied, and I also think it might be awkward/tense to discuss it at the lease signing. If it were me, I might sign the lease, wait a couple of months, and then send my landlord a letter with the psychiatrist's letter enclosed, informing them that I was getting an ESA. That will be legal, and also it doesn't give that "I was hiding something" vibe they might feel if you told them 5 minutes after signing the lease.
posted by hungrytiger at 7:25 PM on January 10, 2021 [12 favorites]

I would expect your lease would not be renewed if you twisted the landlord’s arm into allowing an animal after you have moved in
posted by sideshow at 7:38 PM on January 10, 2021 [11 favorites]

Landlord here, and I would be appreciative to know in advance if a tenant planned to have a pet at my property, especially if that property is furnished and damage is a concern. For instance, I would apply protectors to the legs of couches and chairs and reseal the grout in the bathroom to prepare for the arrival of a cat. One of my properties has cork flooring that is susceptible to scratches from claws so I would offer to put down runners and a large rug in the affected room/stairs to prepare for a dog. I would even consider installing a cat/dog door to allow access to the outdoors and help prevent indoor accidents.
posted by mezzanayne at 7:38 PM on January 10, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Nope, don't tell them. You're not required to, and you shouldn't. It's not a pet, and they will almost certainly come up with some other "reason" to deny you tenancy to cover their discrimination. Even if they don't deny, they may well raise the rent in anticipation. Any modifications they might want to make can just as easily be offered in the future as part of their disability accommodation at that time.

Do not disclose anything until you're ready to request accommodation, and then only give minimum required info in the request. Contact your local renter's advocacy agency for advice in advance.
posted by stormyteal at 7:48 PM on January 10, 2021 [12 favorites]

You may want to update this question with where you live, as the laws of your jurisdiction will determine what protections you have, and they vary wildly even city to city.

Signing a lease that says no animals and then adding an animal to the unit later isn't going to enhance your relationship with the landlord.
posted by TheAdamist at 2:35 AM on January 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'd encourage you to listen to the people in this thread who are focused on you and not on the landlord in this asymmetrical relationship. Landlords are concerned about protecting their property. Landlords discriminate against people all the time, even though they'll look at you right in the eyes and tell you that they would never do such a thing. Sure, maybe it's "unconscious bias," or whatever buzzword we're using right now, but the fact of the matter is that only six percent of homes in the United States are accessible for people with physical disabilities, and most landlords don't want to get anywhere near making any kind of accommodations for any medical need. Your situation won't even require much, if anything, in the way of changes to the apartment. (I'm sorry, but as a former cat owner, I never needed to replace the grout in my bathroom in my many apartments because of my cat?) But many landlords will dismiss it out of hand as too much trouble, or as an opportunity to charge you extra.

You don't even have the animal yet. This animal is not a pet, it is a medical accommodation. The advice to not disclose anything until you are ready to need the accommodation is the best advice.
posted by k8lin at 4:35 AM on January 11, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Landlords manage all tenants, so you will not know other tenants that have disclosed a disability, they will. Having a tenant with a severe allergic reactions to something is something that the landlord ALSO develops a housing accommodation plan.

People with disabilities also have the same responsibilities as any other tenant, so if the ESA damages a cork floor, or a tenant without a disability has a bottle of red wine soak into the cork floor, they have the same process with their security deposit. The landlord cannot increase the security deposit only for a tenant with a disability without being liable for discrimination. Over 1-in-5 tenants have disabilities, so landlords are already renting to this community, they just don’t disclose in most circumstances because it’s a detail, like diabetes, that does not shift the landlord-tenant relationship.
posted by childofTethys at 6:04 AM on January 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

I used to rent out the 2nd unit in my home. Pets, esp. but not limited to dogs, can cause a lot of damage. Please make sure your pet is very well-trained and managed.
posted by theora55 at 7:09 AM on January 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

I think sideshow's point is important, unless you live somewhere that has strong tenant protection laws. If your goal is a long-term housing situation, your best bet is to find a landlord who allows cats for all of their tenants- otherwise they will likely just not renew your lease or give you a big rent hike.
posted by coffeecat at 10:41 AM on January 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

Thirding sideshow's point. Unless you're planning on moving again anyway after the lease is up hiding it is not a good idea.
posted by Anonymous at 2:05 PM on January 11, 2021

Generally speaking, forcing a landlord to deal with a pet when they didn't want to in the first place (pets can definitely do damage) is not a good idea. You may be able to force them to deal with a cat, but that doesn't mean they will want you to keep living there. Or maybe, I dunno, be extremely passive-aggressive when you need something fixed in the apartment. I think you'd be better off just getting an apartment that permits pets than moving in somewhere that doesn't and then springing this upon them.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:23 PM on January 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

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