Q: I rent an apartment in Minneapolis, and I have an emotional support dog. However, my landlord is saying that since I don’t have a signed written lease, I cannot have my dog on the property. I am a tenant, though, and pay rent, but he will not give me a written lease to sign. What should I do?
A: In Minnesota, when a landlord rents space to a tenant, there is either a verbal agreement or a written lease. When there is any type of basic agreement allowing a tenant to stay in a place, it is considered a lease and can be enforced by the landlord or tenant in court. A verbal agreement gives the tenant rights and protections under Minnesota law, even if you weren’t paying any rent. Since you are paying rent and are living in the building, which means that you and the landlord have come to some type of agreement, then you are considered a tenant with a lease even though your name isn’t on a written lease.
Landlords typically have to make a reasonable accommodation and allow their tenants to have emotional support animals (ESAs) under the Fair Housing Act, unless their building falls under one of the following exceptions: Landlords do not have to allow emotional support animals if their building has four or fewer units and the landlord is living in one of them; or if they are renting out a single-family home that was rented or sold without a real estate broker; or if the building is a private club. If these conditions do not apply to the unit you are renting, then your landlord must consider your application to have an emotional support animal.
Your emotional support dog is different from a service animal because service animals must meet specific certifications. An emotional support animal does not have to be certified, and is chosen as a companion to people who are psychologically or emotionally disabled. Your landlord cannot charge extra pet rent or pet fees for your emotional support dog, but you can be charged at the end of your tenancy for any damage your dog may have caused to the unit. Even though your name isn’t on a written lease, you are still considered a tenant with a lease, so the Fair Housing Act still applies to you. Therefore, your landlord should make a reasonable accommodation for your emotional support animal.
If your landlord still won’t accept your emotional support animal, then you should provide him with a written letter from a licensed mental health professional, such as a physician, psychiatrist or social worker, stating that you would benefit from having an emotional support animal. Under the Fair Housing Act, this letter should be sufficient proof of your need for an emotional support animal.
If you cannot get a letter from a licensed mental health professional, there are many services available to provide sufficient proof after a successful assessment. There are ESA doctors who can determine if you’re eligible for an emotional support animal.
Remember, your landlord does not have the right to inquire about your emotional issue or disability, but can require written proof, such as a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating that you need this animal to function in a normal capacity. The requirement of written proof from a licensed mental health professional prevents tenants from saying they need an animal for emotional issues when they really just want a pet.
If your landlord refuses to make a reasonable accommodation to allow your emotional support dog, even after receiving written proof from a licensed mental health professional, then you should contact an attorney.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.