Is Your Massachusetts Landlord Denying Your Request to Keep an Emotional Support Animal?

by | Aug 23, 2023 | Landlord Tenant Law |

Basic rights and obligations of Massachusetts Landlords and Tenants

A service animal is a dog, or in rare cases a miniature horse, that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that is providing emotional support to a person with a disability, just by its presence. For more detail read

Both emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals meet the definition of an assistance animal under the Fair Housing Act. If an individual has a disability-related need for an assistance animal, they can ask their housing provider for a reasonable accommodation to exempt their assistance animal from any animal restrictions, policies or fees that would otherwise pose a barrier to their equal enjoyment of their housing. The housing provider may ask limited questions to determine if the animal is a service animal. For an emotional support animal, the housing provider can ask for supporting documentation from a medical provider who treats the individual to verify that they are a person with a disability and have a disability-related need for the animal.

Housing providers must not discriminate against applicants or residents on the basis of disability. Fair housing laws apply in most housing situations, including private housing and condominiums. However, owner-occupied two-family houses may not have to allow assistance animals.

The resident has obligations to keep their animal under control and follow all applicable laws, regulations and policies, such as dog licensing, rabies vaccines, leash hours, picking up after their animal, and noise disturbances. If a resident’s assistance animal is demonstrably a threat to other people or property, the housing provider can deny or revoke permission for the resident to keep the animal.

Is it an emotional support animal or a pet?

If the animal is not a dog, or it is a dog but does not take specific actions to mitigate the symptoms/limitations of a disability, then it is not a service animal.

If there is a disability-related need for the animal to provide comfort and support, then it is an emotional support animal. See Letter of support for ESA from a medical provider for the documentation a housing provider can request.

If the individual does not have a disability (note many disabilities are not obvious) or does not have a disability-related need for the animal, then the animal can usually be considered a pet.


Assistance animal owners in Massachusetts are not required to possess any certification or identification.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of websites offering service animal and ESA certification, registration or identification cards/vests. However the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considers these insufficient documentation to support a reasonable accommodation request. There is not currently any recognized official registry or certification program for service animals or emotional support animals.

All dogs, whether pets or assistance animals, need to be registered with their town/city, but there is no official registry of assistance animals.

Reasonable accommodation process for permission to keep an assistance animal

If a person with a disability wishes to have an assistance animal in a property with animal restrictions, they need to request a reasonable accommodation from their housing provider, which can be done verbally or in writing. There are three main steps to this process:


The resident must make the request to their housing provider. The housing provider may have forms they ask residents to use. It can be helpful for the resident to:

  1. Make the request in writing and keep a copy as a record to refer back to if there are future questions or problems
  2. Identify themselves as a person with a disability
  3. State whether it is a service animal or emotional support animal
  4. Explain the disability-related need for the animal:
    • If it is service animal, this is the disability-related tasks that the dog performs in response to a command or signal
    • If it is an emotional support animal, this is usually the mitigation of mental health symptoms
  5. Clearly identify the policies/fees that they are asking for an exception to
  6. (For emotional support animals) Provide supporting documentation from a medical professional who is familiar with their disability (see next section)
  7. Ask for a response by a date that gives the housing provider a reasonable amount of time
  8. The resident can also choose to make any assurances they feel comfortable making to mitigate concerns they think the housing provider might have around hygiene, liability, property damage, noise, or threatening behavior.
  9. If the housing provider might not be familiar with how to evaluate assistance animal requests, it may be helpful to share a link to the HUD guidance.

Interactive process

The housing provider asks any clarifying questions and, if necessary, requests supporting documentation to provide them with the information they need to properly evaluate the request. If the housing provider thinks there may be a reason they cannot approve the request, they should discuss the issue with the resident and make good faith efforts to try to find a solution.


The housing provider gives a decision to grant or deny the request. If the request is denied, the housing provider should explain the reason for the denial. Sometimes a denial is not the end of the process. For example, if the resident has not properly explained their disability-related need for the animal, a denial may prompt them to provide a clearer explanation and then the housing provider can re-evaluate the request.

Both the housing provider and resident may find it useful to keep a copy of both the request and the decision to approve/deny it.

Housing providers can refer to the HUD guidance to make sure they handle assistance animal requests appropriately.

If your Massachusetts housing provider is denying you a reasonable accommodation to keep an emotional support animal, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.

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