Legal Question in Disability Law in Virginia

I rent a townhouse in VA. I have been seeing a therapist for my depression and anxiety recently. My therapist, along with my family and family doctor, believes that I would benefit from a companion/emotional support animal. My therapist wrote a letter on her letterhead prescribing me a companion animal. I presented this to my landlord and they are insisting that I pay a $500 non-refundable pet deposit along with $35 a month. Is this right considering she is an ESA and not a pet?

Asked on 7/11/16, 6:45 am

2 Answers from Attorneys

Stephen B. Pershing Stephen B. Pershing, Esq.

Hello there--as a civil rights lawyer who has done disability cases, I was intrigued by this question and spent a little bit of time researching it. The ADA definition of service animal doesn't include emotional support animals, but the Fair Housing Act's definition does, according to official HUD guidance I found. What's more, HUD guidance says "no pets" policies or pet restrictions, including pet deposits--even refundable ones--and rent surcharges, have to be waived for qualified folks with disabilities. (Payment after the fact for damage if it does occur would remain the pet owner's responsibility, but that's no surprise.) But: if your landlord owns three or fewer homes, or if s/he lives in your building (assuming it has four units or fewer), s/he is exempt from Fair Housing Act coverage. So let's first make sure s/he is a covered provider. Write or call me back at [email protected] or (202) 642-1431, and let's explore this. If the landlord is covered, I think a good course of action would be a lawyer's letter, which I would do for very little, basically saying hey, you're covered by this requirement, we'd sure like not to have to sue you. Obviously we have to be prepared to sue if the landlord doesn't yield, so we have to be sure our position is strong before we write the letter. But let's look at the facts and see. I'm glad you thought to ask the question, bravo. --Steve Pershing.

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Answered on 7/14/16, 11:13 am
Stephen B. Pershing Stephen B. Pershing, Esq.

PS I fell into the trap! I called your ESA a pet. Don't worry, I quite apprehend the distinction. --S.P.

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Answered on 7/14/16, 11:23 am

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