Q: When I texted or e-mailed my landlord prior to getting my emotional support animal (ESA) letter, he was initially responsive. He does not allow animals within his apartment building, which contains more than 10 different apartments.
When I received my ESA letter, I sent it to him and told him that if he had any questions, my therapist could be contacted; her information was on the top of the letter. I asked him to please respond to my e-mail. Three days later he still had not responded, so I sent another text letting him know that I was possibly going to be bringing my ESA home that day. Since there was still no response from him, I decided to call him.
During our phone conversation he said that I knew animals were not allowed when he rented to me. I said that, yes, I knew that, but that I didn’t know that I was going to need an ESA for my disability. He said there could be people in the building who are allergic, and that some tenants live there specifically because it has a no-pet policy. I pleaded with him and let him know that my ESA is not a pet, that the ESA will support me emotionally, that I am disabled and have no control over the symptoms that I experience. He said that everyone in the building was going to find out about my illness.
I have sent him three messages concerning things other than this issue, and he is not responding. He is treating me differently than the rest of his tenants, which is discrimination. I am concerned that he is going to try to evict me, not renew my lease or raise my rent to a ridiculous amount. What are my options?
A: The Minnesota Department of Health and the Fair Housing Act require landlords to make a reasonable accommodation to allow their tenants to have an ESA, with a few exceptions. The exceptions include a rental building that has four or fewer units and the landlord lives in one of them; a single-family home that was rented or sold without a real estate broker; or if the building is a private club. Since your building has more than 10 units, and if the other two exceptions don’t apply, then your landlord must make a reasonable accommodation for your ESA. Since you have a disability, you have the right to ask that your landlord allow your ESA to live with you. Landlords must allow the change unless it creates an undue hardship.
An ESA does not have to be certified, and is chosen as a companion to people who are psychologically or emotionally disabled. Since you provided your landlord with a letter from a licensed therapist stating your need for an ESA, including your therapist’s contact information, you have followed the correct protocol. Your landlord cannot charge extra rent or pet fees for your ESA, but your landlord may charge you, at the time your tenancy ends, for any damage caused by your dog.
Your landlord does not have the right to inquire about your disability, but can require written proof, such as the letter you provided stating that you need this animal to function in a normal capacity. The written proof requirement from a licensed mental health professional prevents tenants from saying they need an ESA, when all they really want is a pet.
Discrimination occurs when your landlord treats you differently based on a specific and legally protected characteristic or trait, which includes skin color, disability, race, religion, sex and several others. You mentioned you’ve sent him three different messages about other matters, and gotten no response, but you didn’t state if they were repair issues. If they are repair issues and they aren’t getting resolved, you should contact your landlord and let him know that he has 14 days to make the repairs. If the repairs aren’t made within 14 days, then you can file a rent escrow action in the county where you live.
Your concerns that your landlord will raise your rent, not renew your lease, or evict you are valid. However, any one of those events may be considered retaliation, especially now that you have proof he’s treating you differently due to your disability and your need for an ESA. Your landlord could raise your rent and the other tenants’ rent once your lease is up, but he cannot treat you differently from the other tenants by raising your rent but not raising theirs. If your landlord does not renew your lease once your lease expires, you have a strong retaliation argument, and your landlord could be facing a lawsuit and a civil rights violation investigation. Your landlord cannot evict you for having an ESA, but may evict you if you are violating your lease terms by not paying your rent, committing illegal activity on the premises or any other lease violation. If your landlord won’t make a reasonable accommodation to allow your emotional support dog, even though he’s received written proof from your therapist, then you should contact an attorney. Make sure to document your interactions with your landlord and keep all your correspondence, along with his responses to your e-mails, in case you need it as proof of discrimination.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to email@example.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.