Emotional Support Animal: How I Lived With My Dog on Campus for Free
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living with emotional support animal

Living With an ESA 101

When I first got my dog Koda, I knew immediately that I wanted to register her as an Emotional Support Animal. In the year and a half since I went through that process, I have traveled with my ESA on a plane to Puerto Rico, taken her on overnight trips to Vermont, Upstate New York, and Astoria. Now, I have the opportunity of benefiting from the housing accommodations that come with an Emotional Support Animal.


When you register your dog as an Emotional Support Animal, there are two major benefits. The first is that the registered animal flies for free in the cabin with you on a plane. You have the option of leaving the pet in a carrier at your feet or holding the pet in your lap. (More on what it’s like to travel with an ESA here.) The second main benefit that having a registered ESA allows you is that the registered pet can live with you for free.


Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, no matter where you live, an ESA can come with you, despite pet regulations landlords might have. It also means that additional pet fees (or “deposits”) are waived. You are allowed to live under the same roof as your registered pet, for free. After all, that animal is doing a service providing emotional support.


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If the landlord has any specific regulations, ESAs are protected under the Fair Housing Amendments Act in many cases. So if your landlord  has a rule about all dogs except pitbulls and your dog is a pitbull, your ESA is allowed. If it’s a cat-only policy and your ESA is a dog, you can have your dog.


There are a few exceptions to the ESA rule that the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 specifies. They are as follows:


Property managers/landlords are NOT required to make a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act for ESAs or Service Dogs in these cases:
  • Buildings with 4 or less units where the landlord occupies one of the units
  • Single family housing sold or rented without a real estate broker
  • Hotels and Motels are not considered dwellings under the FHA but are considered places of public accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Private Clubs

“Cashing in” on the housing benefits that having an Emotional Support Animal offers hasn’t been applicable to me until now. For a year and a half, Koda and I lived in my parent’s house. They own the house and we don’t share it with any other tenants. We don’t have to follow the rules of a property manager or a landlord. So it’s never been an issue or something I had to address or consider.


Then, this past summer, I took a job on my college and it required me to live there, on campus. Because I was working as a Conference Assistant, I was provided with free housing. The job I took included free housing as part of the payment. However, I was hesitant to accept the position. I didn’t want to be without Koda for a whole summer.


BIG DOG ON CAMPUS 🐶 #kodathebear

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I knew she would be safe and taken care of at home with my parents. But I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. After all, she is my Emotional Support Animal. She makes me happy and helps me through any mental health issues I’m working on — specifically anxiety, depression, and PTSD.


A university representative let me know that having an ESA on campus was an option. Immediately, I began the process. While every housing situation (and university!) might have different standards, it is important to know your housing rights when it comes to owning an ESA.


Keep reading to find out how I got to live with my ESA on campus, for free! 


Universities have to allow an Emotional Support Animal.

Under the Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1974, universities and colleges have to protect ESAs. Therefore, a university cannot deny you, a student, the right to live with your ESA.


Have a doctor fill out necessary paperwork.

All it requires is paperwork and approval from your university’s ESA Board. Have a doctor fill out the paperwork your university gives you. Mine was a brief two-page document. It asked questions like, “Does having an ESA improve the mental well-being of the student?” etc.


Provide documentation of training.

Remember: Know your rights. An ESA is unlike a service animal. ESAs don’t require training. Service animals do. However, some universities prefer proof of training. This was fine with me. After all, I understand the university needing to know that I can handle Koda when she is barking or misbehaving. Her certificate of training proves that she will listen to her owner. I was more than happy to submit this but you might not need to.


Agree to take care of the animal.

I had to sit in a brief informational session with my Residential Life Director. She read me the code of conduct for having an ESA on campus. It consisted of making sure I took care of the dog — feed her, walk her, don’t abuse or hurt her — and picked up after her. It included other things like checking her for ticks and fleas: basic, responsible owner things.

Do you live with an ESA? Share your experience in the comments below!
Steph Osmanski
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