Millions of Americans in Georgia experience various emotional disabilities and find solace in their fury friends. So, if you’re thinking of becoming a pet owner yourself, then it’s important to understand that having a pet is a big responsibility. And as an urban resident, one of the most important obstacles you’ll have to face is accommodating your friend. Specifically, if your pet is reasonably large and you don’t have your apartment and need to rent one.

Of course, there’s no lack of pet-friendly properties for rent in Georgia. But there might be just not enough of them in certain locations. If that sounds familiar to you, here is a catch. Provided you have a physical or emotional impairment and a licensed mental health professional has prescribed you an Emotional Support Animal, you can keep it in any apartment!   

Accommodation for service and emotional support animals is mandated by Federal law. If a disabled tenant requires ESA to lessen his or her disability as a part of the treatment process, then depriving a person of it is a discrimination. This means that your landlord has to accommodate it or face fines or charges. Moreover, a landlord can't charge pet fees or demand any pet deposits.

To learn more about the regulations concerning emotional support animals in Georgia, look through the most frequently asked questions.

What are the housing rights of ESA owners in Georgia?

Georgia state legislation only covers service dogs, so only federal legislation is applied for emotional support animals in Georgia. In Federal law, it is covered by two main pieces of legislation: by Section 504 and by the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). Both legislations protect disabled people from discrimination, and both of them apply to emotional support animals.

Sec. 504 applies to housing that receives federal subsidies, federal housing projects, or other federal public housing authorities. The FHA applies to private property as well as to the public one. But there are some exemptions: 

  • Buildings with 4 or fewer units where the landlord occupies one of the units;
  • Single-family housing, rented without a broker or advertisement if a landlord doesn't own more than three houses;
  • Private clubs and religious organizations that lease out a property to their members.

Georgia doesn't have any additional exemptions but many other states do. A landlord or a property manager is a subject to these regulations and must accommodate the needs of a disabled person (ESA included) in a rented apartment or house, and in a common area if such exists. A landlord can’t demand pet fees or pet deposit. No pet policy must also be waived for your guests who own ESAs as it infringes upon your ability to have a private life.

Did you know that the denial to accommodate emotional support animals, was first established as discrimination in the court case Majors v. Housing Authority of the County of DeKalb Georgia? In some way, you can say that the Peach State has pioneered ESAs.

What documents will you need for your Emotional Support Animal?

Certainly, it is the ESA letter, but what else?

Firstly, you don't need to provide any proof of your disability when applying to rent a property. In fact, a landlord is specifically banned by law from inquiring about it. They can ask if your animal is a service or an assistance animal and whether it performs a specific function (helping with a symptom is considered a function), connected to a condition. A landlord can deny your application if you don’t answer to both of these questions positively.  A landlord cannot inquire into any medical details at this point. 

However, you might need to provide a letter from a medical or mental health professional, indicating the existence of a medical condition that requires having an ESA and proves the legitimacy of your request. Remember, it’s always good to resolve any conflict kindly. So, if a landlord is unaware of the law, try informing in a calm and friendly manner. Then refer to the Georgia Department of Justice or GeorgiaLegalAid.org. And only then consider filing a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or getting your discrimination lawsuit going. 

You should remember that an ESA is not a toy and you are still responsible for any damages or harm it might do. Also, failing to look and clean after it, or neglecting an animal might be a ground for eviction.

What kind of pet can be an ESA in Georgia?

Any kind. Unlike service or therapy animals, ESAs are not restricted to particular species or breeds. There are no restrictions on that, posed by the Georgia state government. However, whether a certain animal falls under the Federal housing act protection is determined by HUD on a case by case basis. An animal shouldn’t be feral, exotic, too large or dangerous. But there are cases when people had alligators as an ESA: like this senior gentleman from Pennsylvania. In another case, reported by the Independent, a Vietnam veteran and an animal trainer Karl Mitchell was able to keep his eight tigers as emotional support animals on his own property after filing for ESA. As we said, there are also no restrictions on dog breeds for ESA in Georgia. Yes, you heard it right, pitbull lovers. If your local government discriminates against dogs, based on bread, filing for an ESA will circumvent this. 

It’s still suggested to consider smallish well-known domesticated spices and breeds first. Cats, dogs, hamsters, and parrots can be just as enjoyable as exotic animals and can cause much less trouble. 

Does ESA need to pass any training?

No special training is required for an animal to be an ESA. However, it must not pose danger or cause harm to other tenants or the landlord. If one of the other tenants has a cat allergy and you have a cat, or if your ESA is particularly aggressive and unruly, it can be considered a danger then. A dangerous or vicious dog, as determined by the state of Georgia, can be a reason to deny you an accommodation.

There’s also a possibility of being rejected when an accommodation request is unreasonable, like when it requires an extreme modification to a property. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to have a small dog in a tight apartment, whilst it is outright impossible to fit in an alpaca there. Which brings us to another topic.

Where are Emotional Support Animals allowed in Georgia?

ESA access doesn’t include public spaces like cafes, restaurants, hotels, malls, hostels, and workplaces with no pet policy. Although, a lot of businesses make an exception now for Emotional Support Animals.

Note that colleges in Georgia may apply standard FHA rules to their dorms, or have a policy of their own. Some colleges allow ESAs in the libraries or even at the sports facilities. You might want to ask the administration about it in advance.

Airlines also allow ESA’s to travel with their owners. However, in recent years regulations on this point have become somewhat stricter. Also, several species were banned from flying outright. Georgia’s own Delta Airlines has got itself into the hot water recently. It imposed quite a rigorous set of regulations after an ESA pitbull had attacked a passenger. 

What do you need to get an ESA letter in Georgia?

There are two main requirements: a mental disability, diagnosed by a licensed professional counselor (LPC) psychiatrist or physician (M.D.) that is licensed in Georgia; and a prescription for an ESA from any of the previously mentioned specialists.

Disorders that an ESA can be prescribed for include all psychiatric ?onditions, age-related cognitive decline, depression, anxiety, dyslexia, PTSD, panic attacks, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, autism, separation anxiety, social phobias, stress management problems, some forms of emotional instability and many more.

Do you think you might have one of them? Do you need a fluffy friend to manage it? Then contact a specialist near you and get an ESA letter that should look something like this. With it, you and your animal companion can rent any property or fly across the country unimpeded. It can cause a bit of hustle, but being together with your comforting friend is totally worth it.