roommate emotional support dog ESA

What to Do If Your Roommate Wants an Emotional Support Dog

roommate emotional support dog ESA

How to stop a roommate having an emotional support dog ESA if you don’t want one around

Emotional support dogs which people often abbreviate to ESA can be great for therapy, whether it’s helping your roommate with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, or loads of other issues.

However, you may not want the dog around, especially if your roommate got it after you or they moved in.

This article has solutions for if your roommate wants or got an emotional support dog, and you don’t want it around.

The first ways to solve the problem are:

  1. Learn about the Fair Housing Act from this article to see how your landlord may not have to allow your roommate to have an emotional support dog.
  2. Check your roommate’s ESA letter comes from a proper registered medical practitioner and exactly what it says.

Please read this article further for more recommendations that work.

1. The Fair Housing Act FHA means roommates have to accept the emotional support dog, but there are ways around it

department of housing and urban development hud logo

The Fair Housing Act comes under the HUD Government department and being a Federal law it applies to all US States, possession and jurisdictions.

If a landlord or other roommate wants to stop the dog from being in the apartment, the Fair Housing Act maybe what the roommate uses to keep the dog there.

The process the roommate could use so the dog has to stay

The roommate would make an accommodation request with the landlord.

Emotional support dogs don’t need any specialized training, but the landlord is allowed to ask the roommate to prove they need the dog.

For example, a roommate could do this by showing an Emotional Support Assistance letter, which is signed by the mental health professional and on their official letterhead.  A licensed therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist are acceptable mental health professionals for these letters.

The therapist should only write such a letter if your roommate has one of these conditions recognized by the American Psychiatric Association in their DSM-5 Factsheet.

Once the roommate has done this, your landlord cannot refuse to house your roommate for the reason that they have an emotional support dog ESA or tell them that the dog cannot be there, even if the property has a no pet policy.

The act says that an emotional support dog is not a pet, but at the same time, it says that the housing provider may need to change their pet policy because of the tenant with the emotional support dog.

There are however some ways that the Fair Housing Act allows landlords to refuse the roommate to have an emotional support dog in the property which are shown next and later on in this guide.

It’s good to know all about the act, so you don’t make any mistakes with it which could be used against you or the landlord. Also, because your landlord may not know all the rules, then you can advise them of these details.

Things the landlord can say to stop the roommate from having an emotional support dog ESA

The landlord can refuse the animal if they can demonstrate that the dog:

  • Causes a direct Health and Safety threat to others, and it’s not possible to solve this problem reasonably.
  • It would cause an undue administrative and financial burden on the housing provider
  • It would result in physical damage, and there is no reasonable way to stop or reduce it.
  • Would fundamentally change the housing provider’s operations

The landlord cannot just say that the building has a ‘no pets’ policy, even if that is true.

If the roommate felt they were unfairly not allowed an emotional support dog, they could take their complaint to Fair Housing Equal Opportunities.

Some apartment management companies have a reputation for not extending leases or rejecting giving apartments to people with emotional support animals, which is unethical and illegal.

The Fair Housing Act may not apply to the property you and your roommate are in

A lot of people don’t know that there are loads of properties where the Fair Housing Act is not applicable, so your roommate cannot use it to get your landlord to accept their emotional support dog ESA.

Your landlord may not even know these loopholes:

A, Where the owner lives in the building, and it has 4 or fewer units. For example, if the building has three apartments and the owner lives in one of them.

B, If the property owner does not own more than three houses and rents them out themselves without using a broker.

C, if the building is owned by a religious organization who is renting out its apartments, not for profit, they can decide only to rent them to people of their religion or give them preference.

However be careful because the Fair Housing Act carefully says that they still have to be impartial when it comes to tenant’s national origin, color, and race. I hope they would do that regardless of the law.

D, Private clubs who lease their properties for members and do it for non-commercial purposes, can decide only to let their members rent them.

Of course, be careful with these, and just because the property does not come under the Fair Housing Act, there are still other laws about advertising, notices, and discriminatory statements.

Also even when the Fair Housing Act does not apply, there may be local or state fair housing rules which do.

Regardless of the rules, I also hope you will behave fairly and ethically anyway because it’s the right thing to do and you need to have a good reputation.

Other things which a roommate cannot get a support animal with

Your roommate cannot push it too far as some people try to!

For example, they can’t bring in horses, lamas, and wild animals into the apartment if the landlord doesn’t want them.

They can get away with insisting on having more than one animal such as 2-3 dogs or cats if the therapist says they are needed, but not ten chickens.

Examples of reasons a roommate can use to get a landlord to refuse an emotional support dog ESA

It’s nice that the Fair Housing Act gives basic things a landlord can use to prevent an emotional support dog in the property, but it does not say which specific examples a court of law would accept and which it would not.

These examples are all based on the areas available in the Fair Housing Act, as shown above, and are useful because they are specific examples of what can be used.

I cannot find any successful arguments or methods which are outside the areas mentioned in Fair Housing Act, that have worked for stopping a roommate from getting an emotional support dog, or landlord stopping tenants from getting one.

The best example comes from the airline industry where the airline can refuse the dog if it is out of control, the handler does not take effective action to control the dog, or if it’s not housebroken. Examples of this are if the dog is aggressively barking or growling at people.

From further research, I have found this should work for housing with your roommate as well.

If your roommate is not looking after the dog, so it could bite others or cause other such issues, this could be a real reason for them not being allowed to have it. I hope you would never lie about this though.

In the airline industry, even another passenger having a fear of dogs is not enough, partially as then the airline is expected to solve the problem by putting each party in separate locations. From the cases I have seen, it also does not seem to be enough of a reason for roommates and tenants as well.

Basics of the Fair Housing Act

The part of the Fair Housing Act relevant to your roommate being allowed an emotional support dog ESA, is to prevent your roommate from being discriminated against with housing due to their mental disability. Landlords have to make reasonable accommodations with the practices, services, policies, and rules, so they have equal opportunity to enjoy the dwelling.

So landlords cannot refuse a roommate’s reasonable request to have a therapy dog.

If your roommate has a letter from a licensed medical practitioner of the type mentioned above, saying they have depression, anxiety or a similar thing and an emotional support dog will help, that is enough to qualify as a mental illness which comes under the Fair Housing Act.

Things you cannot do to a roommate about their emotional support dog

This is aimed at landlords, but could also you if you are renting the space to them.

Maybe you are renting the whole apartment from the landlord, and then you are renting it to your roommate, instead of you all renting the apartment from the landlord together.

  • Ask the roommate about their disability.
  • Get them to register their emotional support dog ESA (As there are no special registers for ESAs).
  • Make the animal do any specific training.
  • Refuse to house the dog because the insurance does not cover it.
  • Make your roommate pay extra rent or deposit because of the dog.
  • Say you do not allow that specific breed, even if the dog is a pit bull, rottweiler or something you usually would not allow

If for some reason, you refuse to allow the emotional support dog, you must discuss with the roommate about if there is any other accommodation which may be suitable.

An emotional support dog is not a service dog

Service dogs need training for what they do, such as a guide dog for a blind person, signal dog, or any other dog who helps someone who is disabled. However, emotional support dogs do not need any such training, which is why it needs a healthcare professional to say that your roommate needs one.

Service dogs come under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and this act does not mean an emotional support dog ESA is allowed in a building which does not allow pets. The Fair Housing Act from the HUD  is relevant to this situation because it ensures emotional support dogs are given reasonable accommodation.

Your roommate’s emotional support dog ESA is not a therapy dog

Therapy dog’s go into hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, places where there have been disasters, catastrophic events, and so on to give support to people. They are highly trained for dealing with lots of different people and is not for the support of their handler.

Your roommate would not usually have one of these for their emotional support; they’re for the support of the other people they’re taken to by their handler.

The FHA or ADA do not protect therapy dogs.

However, if the dog is used and needed by its owner as an emotional support dog, not because it’s a therapy dog, then it would be.

2. You are scared of the dog

dangerous dog

Sadly if you are afraid of the dog because you have a phobia, it may not be enough to get it removed.

However, the Fair Housing Act takes Health and Safety into account as a reason for a landlord not to allow an emotional support dog ESA in your home.

If the dog is going to bite people and do other genuinely dangerous behaviors, it’s enough for the landlord to demonstrate they need to refuse the dog.

To help the landlord to easily refuse the dog and give them the material they need to justify why legally, you need to collect the evidence:

  • Document when the dog does dangerous behavior such as trying to bite you; also growling, snapping, or anything which could lead it to do hazardous behavior.
  • If it tries to bite another person, get their contact details, and ask if they will be a witness for you. Tell them it’s to prevent others from being bitten, so it’s not only for you.
  • Video whatever you can as evidence as well.

Your landlord may not understand dogs or their behavior and so feel they are not in a position to make a reliable judgment about if it is dangerous or not. If so, show your videos to a reputable dog behaviorist who can then write a letter stating what the dog’s behaviors are about the risks they pose to other people.

You could find the problem is that the dog has not been trained or treated correctly which might be easier to resolve, than trying to get rid of it. However, sometimes the owners are the problem because of how they behave with the dog, and they won’t change, such as being too lenient with it and not acting like the pack leader so the dog will be obedient to them.

If the landlord doesn’t act, make them aware that they have a legal Health and Safety responsibility if they allow the dog to be in their premises after the evidence has been presented to them. If your landlord still doesn’t do anything then contact the Animal Control.

Also, find out from a lawyer what damages you could be entitled to if your roommate’s emotional support dog ESA does anything such as bite you or another person living in the building and tell that to the landlord.

Many landlords do as little as possible. It’s amazing how the fear of losing money motivates many of them to get off their butts!

3. Check if your roommate used a fake ESA letter to get permission to keep their dog

fake letter

Sadly I have heard these allegations but not know if they are true. I know of people faking that their dog is a service dog and claiming they need their emotional support dog when they don’t, as a way to have in a dog in a plane when they would not otherwise be allowed to.

There are loads of fake templates online which say ‘this is the template a doctor would use’ and to cover themselves say that a doctor would need to be the person signing it. Others are online certificates or letters which are a scam way people use to keep a dog they are not entitled to have in their home.

Try to get hold of your roommate’s ESA letter saying they need to have an emotional support dog ESA at home, then check the details on them are from a real licensed medical therapist such a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

You can contact the practitioner’s office to see that they are real; of course, they will not be able to discuss the details of your roommate’s case because of patient-doctor confidentiality.

Your roommate may not want to let you see the letter, especially if it is fake. So try not to be aggressive in the way you ask, so they don’t feel there is a downside to showing it to you. Say in a nice way that you would like to see it for your peace of mind. If you have a better way to do this, please put it in the comments below.

4. A roommate has allergies

roommate dog allergies

The Fair Housing Act enables a landlord to prevent an emotional support dog ESA staying in their property if it will cause a Health and Safety threat which cannot be reasonably prevented.

I have done loads of research and have not found a case where another person having an allergy has been a good enough Health and Safety reason to deny the dog the right to stay there.

It’s an issue on planes as well, where other passengers could have allergies to the dog, but this is not a good enough legal reason to prevent it being on the plane.

Ultimately the law sees the health needs of a person where a psychologist or psychiatrist has written that an emotional support dog will resolve the owner’s psychological problems, are more significant than another person suffering from having an allergy to that dog.

Where it’s a service dog, and someone else has an allergy to it, judgments in court cases show the right to have the dog wins.

5. Roommate saying lies to stop their roommate from getting an emotional support dog ESA

The most common thing people lie about is that they have an allergy to dogs, however this only works if the roommate who claims to need the emotional support dog will go along with that.

Legally the Fair Housing Act says a landlord cannot refuse a tenant to have an emotional support dog if they cannot prove there is a direct Health and Safety issue which cannot be reasonably resolved. Court cases have shown that having an allergy is not a strong enough Health and Safety reason.

The other is physical damage that there is no reasonable way to prevent.

Please see the section on the Fair Housing Act with reasons that work, but I hope you would never lie about them.

Having a roommate is a close relationship built on trust, once there are lies, then it’s coming near to the end.

There are so-called hypoallergenic breeds because they are hairless or shed less, in truth no dog is 100% allergy free for people, but these are much better. However, if your roommate has already bought the dog, this information is of little use to you.

6. Roommate is lying that they need an emotional support dog ESA

You can imagine there are loads of people who want to have a dog, but they’re not allowed to have on in their houseshare. They decide that saying they need an emotional support dog ESA is a great way around it.

I have not been able to find much data for people lying that they need an emotional support dog when they don’t, so they can be allowed to have a dog in rented accommodation. Service dogs are usually permitted in more places than emotional support dogs ESAs, from what I understand emotional support dogs are only legally protected so they can be in housing and planes.

There is evidence that people are saying they need to be allowed to have a service dog in public places such as public transport and planes where dogs usually would not be permitted.

I presume this is because, from a practical point of view, there usually is less of a burden to proof when bringing a service dog into public places. However, in planes, the burden of evidence can be higher as they are allowed to ask for written evidence that the animal is an emotional support one. This would mean the passenger has to present the ESA letter from a licensed medical practitioner.

The authorities recognize it as a serious issue because this abuse poisons the position for people who genuinely need a service dog.

The law varies by state, for example in California the punishment is up to 6 months in prison and/or a fine of up to $1000.

New Jersey has a fine between $100 and $500 for putting a dog in a harness and pretending it is a guide dog. In Texas, the penalty is up to $200 and 30 hours of community service.

All this means the person might also get into trouble if they lie about their animals being an emotional support dog, including with being allowed to have it in rented accommodation with roommates.

The answer to this one is to make sure your roommate gets a proper letter as required by the Fair Housing Act, please see the section on that in this article for more information. People typically get away with these things when others don’t know the rules or don’t bother to implement them correctly.

7. You are afraid of dogs

woman feeling unsafe

I know it’s easier said than done, but exposure therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy and other techniques work really well for getting rid of this fear.

If you have a serious fear of dogs and don’t want to seek psychological help for your condition, you still have a valid concern and reason to be annoyed about your roommate getting a dog, especially if they are not being sensitive to your needs and concerns. Even more so if getting your roommate the dog is a change of circumstances not agreed with each other before they moved in.

It may not seem like much to them, but having a dog is a big part of a household.

Sadly though if the fear is based on your own fears and not the dog being genuinely dangerous or out of control, the Fair Housing Act will not take your side on this one. You may need to find another place to live.

8. Landlord may rehouse you, or let you off the lease and return your deposit


If you are at university or a place where the landlord has chosen your roommates, then the landlord may have to let you out of your lease or rehouse you. Especially if you can prove you’re allergic to dogs or have some other severe conditions such as a phobia (of course I hope you won’t lie).

If your roommate had the emotional support dog ESA before you or they moved in, the landlord should have checked you are compatible, especially if there are other places they could have accommodated your roommate. It can be harder though for them to give you alternative accommodation if your college has a severe housing shortage as some do.

If you are a student, then the tenants union may be able to help. Otherwise, you may need to get legal advice.

If things get so bad that the dog stresses you, cannot even be in the same room as it, and this is causing you to get stressed and anxious. A letter from a doctor to say this could force the landlord to let you break the lease.

9. Swap apartments or rooms with someone else

roommate swap

If you can find a new roommate to take your place who is okay with dogs, then you might be able to switch places with them.

This new roommate may like to change to your place if they are already friends with your current roommate, or you can find some way this other person would find it advantageous to be housemates with your roommate who has the emotional support dog ESA.

Landlords usually only care that they have a good tenant who will pay the rent, so should not mind this swap

Make sure you swap of security deposits correctly though!

If the landlord wants to charge a lease-breaking fee, they can only charge for the period until they have found a new tenant, but you have found them a new tenant. Good communication with the landlord before you switch accommodation will help sort out any potential problems.

10. Can your roommate look after the dog in the long term


If your roommate has severe depression and the emotional support dog does not solve it enough, then they may not be able to look after the dog. Maybe your roommate is sometimes depressed and sometimes okay, and this still happens even with them having the dog.

Your roommate may be able to look after their emotional support dog when they are well, but not when they are not.

The practical reality from what I have read is that sometimes they work for patients, sometimes work a bit and sometimes not at all. For example, the emotional support dog can give your roommate comfort and a reason to go out or could add to the stress in their life from having to look after it. Your roommate could get more depressed if they can’t look after it properly.

Your roommate may not be able to look after the dog for more fundamental reasons, such as if they have never had a dog before and so have not put the work into learning how to do so, or they’re lazy like some people can be.

Just because your roommate needs it, doesn’t mean they are up to it. Having a dog involves responsibility, work, and there’s always a risk something can go wrong.

A dog who is not looked after well, fed, healthy, exercised, and so on will not be happy and then not good emotional support for your roommate.

Make it clear from the start that you are not going to put the time and work into looking after their dog if this happens. Also will not pay for their vet bills and other costs if your roommate fails to do those things as well.

If your roommate does not look after the dog properly, it’s neglect which you cannot be a party to; you will need to report the situation to the authorities.

Your roommate should also consider which breed dog is best for them, as each breed has a different temperament, ease to look after and so on.

11. A different easier to maintain emotional support animal may work

See if your roommate’s problem such as depression or anxiety will be sorted out by a cat, rabbit, or other easier to maintain animal. Also, one with other advantages like one of your roommates’s not being allergic to them, or other such problems.

There are loads of different animals your roommate could consider, such as guinea pigs and surprisingly even domesticated rats. Each type of animals has distinct advantages and disadvantages. Dogs are still the most prevalent emotional support animals ESA because they are the most likely to be supportive if trained and brought up in the right way.

There is even a case of a person having an emotional support pig, but I can’t verify that the person was not making it up

Ultimately a medical professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist is the one who will decide if an emotional support animal will help your roommate and the condition they have. You can see if your roommate thought about these different options, but be careful as discrimination laws mean that legally a landlord is not able to ask a tenant about their disability.

12. It’s not odd if you are upset that your roommate brought in a dog without your consent

hate roommate

It’s very easy for someone with a challenging condition such as depression or anxiety to think that their roommate should be okay with them bringing a dog home without their roommate’s consent.

They expect their roommate to be understanding of their mental health problems because they are suffering so much from the condition, and think that others should understand.

Having an animal in the house is a huge thing; it’s not unusual if you are not happy that your roommate has done this. Your roommate taking a new medication does not affect you; having a dog around does.

Your roommate should have at least talked to you about it first. Even the Fair Housing Act law talks about tenants asking their landlord first before the dog moves in. The act then talks about the criteria the landlord has to prove to deny this request.

As with all things, the problem is often how your roommate has done it, rather than what they did.

If your roommate genuinely cares about your needs, acknowledges and talks with you about them, then it’s much easier. If your roommate only thinks about their own needs and think they matter more than yours, things are understandably not going to go well.

Some people feel that legally the owner of the emotional support dog cannot be removed from the apartment because of the Fair Housing Act, but they have to leave as they can’t cope with the dog. This is especially hard if they are trapped into the lease so cannot afford to go, so are forced to suffer the dog they cannot cope with being around.

13. Methods to resolve why you cannot cope with a dog being around

There are so many reasons you cannot deal with a dog, and most can be sorted out, or reduced to they are tolerable, for example:

Fear of dogs

This is called Cynophobia.

Maybe you were bitten as a child by a dog, and don’t feel safe with a dog in your home. The answer may be to get help from a psychologist who can use Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Exposure Therapy, and lots of other ways to resolve the problem.

Even severe phobia’s of dogs can be resolved, for example by starting with just looking at pictures of dogs with the psychologist.

If you have a terrible experience with a dog and think it could lead to a phobia, it’s crucial to get exposure to other dogs quickly, so you see they’re not so bad and prevent a fear of dogs from growing.

As you are afraid of dogs and don’t like them, dogs tend to be aggressive to you. This is quite easy to solve if you are happy to do some dog handling training.

Allergic to dogs

If your roommate has not yet gotten the dog, see if they can get a hypoallergenic breed. These are the ones that shed less, so they will never be 100% with not causing an allergic reaction to you but will be a lot better than other breeds.

It’s good to get a blood or skin test from your doctor which can show if you have an allergy to dogs, as sometimes it’s an allergy to the pollen or mold that a dog is bringing when they come inside.

There are drugs which can help reduce dog allergies, although the best thing is to keep the dog and home clean to reduce dander, make your home easy to clean and filter the air. Also, keep as much distance between you and the dog as possible, keep it out of your bedroom and have it outside as much as possible.

Sensitive to sound

If you are sensitive to sound, maybe you can wear earplugs when you work and sleep. This article on our site called What to do when your roommate complains about noise? Is very useful.

Is the dog trained and looked after properly?

There could be justifiable reasons why you don’t want the dog around, such as if your roommate doesn’t clean it, hasn’t trained it and so on.

14. Can your roommate have more than one emotional support animal

The Fair Housing Act does not say the landlord can stop your roommate from having more than one dog, but it also depends on how the landlord interprets it.

If you’re in a one-room place or a tiny apartment, there may not be space for three large dogs. However, that may not be enough of an open and shut case; they need to prove at least one of the following:

  • It’s unsafe for dogs or other people.
  • There’s no way to prevent physical damage from the situation.
  • It will fundamentally change the operations of the housing provider.

The Americans with Disabilities Act states that a person can have more than one emotional support animal, but it’s the Fair Housing Act, which is probably more relevant to your situation.

The best way of stopping your roommate from having more than one emotional support dog is if the letter they are using for their Fair Housing Act request to the landlord mentions ‘dog’ and not that they need two, three and so on dogs.

15. Learning about how your roommate’s emotional support dog ESA helps their life

If you read the testimonies and speak to people for whom an emotional support animal ESA has worked for them, you may have a lot more sympathy for your roommate. Of course, they don’t always make people’s symptoms better, but they can help a great deal.

How having an emotional support dog, ESA helps people with certain mental illnesses

There are two sides to it:

  1. The animal’s unconditional love, warmth, and softness are calming and mind boosting to your roommate; just their presence helps them.

Getting this kind of unconditional love helps a lot, and keeps your roommate calm.

B, Your roommate gets a purpose, structure from being needed by the dog to look after it.

As a result, the animal does not have to be a dog, different animals work for different people, even a mouse, or pig.

Understanding this can help you work with your roommate

This may help you to see that often it’s not a silly fad, but something which can really work. From this knowledge and understanding you may get more sympathy and compassion for your roommate’s situation.

For some people it can be as basic as having a dog to give them love when their medication is really bad, or they are feeling depressed. Mental health conditions can be so harsh and severe that their emotional support dog ESA can be a lifeline.

Writer: Ian Taylor

roommate expert


Comments 2

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    1. Post

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