Emotional Support Animals and the Fair Housing Act - Smiling Pug

Emotional Support Animals and The Fair Housing Act

Emotional Support Animals and The Fair Housing Act

Emotional Support Animals and the Fair Housing Act - Smiling Pug

The Fair Housing Act was initiated as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and it protects renters from landlord discrimination.

As one government site makes perfectly clear, the fair housing act prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to anyone based on race, religion, age, gender and other factors … such as disability.

For individuals with disabilities, one of the most important factors to their overall wellbeing is a stable place to live. The United States government acknowledges this need and works to combat discrimination by maintaining important guidelines for property owners, as well as offering protections for individuals with disabilities.

The goal of laws such as the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHA) is to protect those with disabilities from being discriminated against by property owners.

That includes individuals with special needs, restrictions, or assistive aids, which includes emotional support animals.

ESAs Are Assistive Aids

The FHA requires property owners to make reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities, including those who are accompanied by emotional support animals (ESAs).

ESAs are often confused with service animals (SAs), but they serve a different, yet still protected, function to individuals with mental or emotional disabilities rather than physical disabilities.

Because outsiders may not as easily recognize mental and emotional disabilities, it is important for ESA owners to be mindful that confusion and uncertainty may be present when they begin searching for housing.

Though SAs and ESAs are distinguished and defined separately in the FHA, owners of both distinctions of animal are protected and must be accommodated.

certapet and the fair housing act - online screening, assessment and prescriptive services for emotional support animals

What Protections Does the FHA Offer?

According to the FHA, individuals who are disabled cannot be denied housing based on their diagnosis or requests for reasonable accommodation. ESA owners should be aware of the protections afforded them, and be mindful of the best way to ensure their rights are protected.

The first step to being protected as an ESA owner is to have documentation verifying a disability and verifying the need for the ESA. While there are currently limited guidelines for the appropriate documentation, it is best to be prepared with an ESA letter, including a written diagnosis from a mental health professional.

The FHA protects ESA owners in the following ways:

Property owners with restrictions on breed, size, or species of animal must make reasonable accommodations to such policies to allow individuals with a verified diagnosis and ESA letter to reside with their ESA. For example, a property only permitting cats cannot deny an ESA owner housing because his or her ESA is a dog but must allow the animal on the premises.

Property owners cannot require ESAs to wear identifying tags or garments or require owners to post identifying materials on their home.

Property owners cannot demand details on the nature of the disability but must respect the information provided in the ESA letter or diagnosis.

Property owners must waive fees or deposits normally required for individuals living with a pet, as the FHA does not classify SAs and ESAs as pets but as assistive aids. This means that property owners cannot request or demand ESA owners to pay deposits or fees for accommodating an ESA, regardless of the species, breed, or size.

Fair Housing Act - Older Woman with Cat

Warnings for ESA Owners

While the FHA, ADA, and other laws provide specific protections for ESA owners, the concept of ESAs is relatively new, and many property owners are unaware of their legal requirements to accommodate ESAs. Additionally, current laws do not offer exhaustive protections for ESA owners.

Exceptions to the protections listed above may include:

  • Housing properties where the property owner resides, such as a single unit or a building with less than four units AND the housing available for sale or rent is listed without a real estate agent, such as those offered by owner.
  • Hotels and motels are considered public places and are not governed by the FHA, but rather the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • While property owners cannot charge deposits or fees for accommodating an ESA, they are legally allowed to charge a tenant for repairs upon vacating the property if it is damaged.
  • Property owners are allowed to express concern, seek legal guidance, and even evict a tenant if an ESA is vicious, threatening, loud, or otherwise behaves inappropriately toward others on the property. ESA owners enjoy many protections under the law, but must also be mindful to respect the laws that protect others as well.

How to Get Help

It is important for ESA owners to recognize their legal rights and responsibilities and practice due diligence in their actions and behaviors. Even when legal rights are challenged, it is recommended that ESA owners strive to remain calm and seek the appropriate help to resolve the situation, rather than exacerbate the issue unintentionally.

ESA owners have several options to obtain guidance and help if they believe that their rights have been violated.

Some of the most common options include:

  • Make sure that the property owner is aware of the law as it applies to ESAs. As noted before, the concept of ESAs is somewhat new, so many property owners are unaware of their legal responsibilities.
  • If a property owner refuses to comply with FHA laws, a complaint can be filed with the U.S. Justice Department against the property owner for discrimination.
  • With proper legal guidance, a tenant may have the option to sue a property owner for discrimination.

In Summary

Renters with disabilities should not be refused for rent, denied dwelling, or imposed more costly terms than others, and property managers are required to to accept a letters from a tenant’s mental health professional.

In the same way that a seeing eye dog helps a blind tenant navigate an otherwise pet-free apartment complex, emotional support animals are essential for people who depend on the psychological companionship of pets such as dogs and cats.

Mental health professionals universally celebrate the benefits of pets in helping people face many symptoms, ranging from depression to headaches. An individual in need of emotional support animals should not be discriminated against, refused housing or charged a pet deposit.

You can read more about the benefits of an ESA or see if you qualify for an ESA by clicking below:

Fair Housing Act - see if you qualify for an emotional support animal

Comments 28

  1. Aislyn

    They can’t “take her” because she wouldn’t need to be “authorized” on the lease. You have two pets and a working animal.

  2. brittany

    I am 17 and live in a youth home with 6 other kids. I have lived with animals all my life up until now because the youth home does not allow animals. In this case does the fair house act still apply since I’m a minor and living in a home with other kids.

  3. Jordan

    I was diagnosed and given an ESA certification for my dog. I am moving into a new home and they have a 2 pet limit. I have a dog and a cat as well as my ESA. Should I disclose my ESA prior to move in? Technically, she isn’t a pet, and they cannot discriminate against me for having a disability, but I am concerned they will see her and take her if she is not “authorized” to be there as stated on the lease.

  4. Lindsey

    My apartment only allows one animal per apartment, and doesn’t allow pit bulls.
    However the animal I’m wanting to adopt for ESA is a pit bull.
    Will this still work?

  5. Sarah Anne

    If my apartment requires a $600 pet registration fee, and $150 pet deposit, these fees should be waved if my pet is an ESA, correct?

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  6. Lucille

    I have an emotional support animal. The residence where I live is a resident owned mobile home park I own my trailer and I own the land. My managing agent keeps threatening me saying that my dog Who is 6 pounds non-Barker and very sweet is disrupting the neighbors because I walk her on the streets. I pick up her messes so there’s no issue with that they just don’t want me walking her on my street. They told me that I have to keep her with in my property lines Of which they won’t let me put a fence up so I could just tie the dog when I’m out there. The state is Florida and I’m not sure if that makes any difference. All I wanted do is be able to walk my dog in my own park , And now they’re telling me that if my dog a scene off my property that I’m going to be evicted. How can he fix me when I own the land and my trailer? Can they keep me to where I can’t walk the dog in the park? Thank you

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  7. Tanisha

    The apartment I rent at says I have to have an ESA letter from a doctor in this state but I have one from a previous state I have lived

  8. E.S.C.

    My last three tenants with “emotional support animals” have crapped the carpet, literally, as their animals were very untrained and I question the validity of their support needs as just wanting a pet in a no-dog apartment.

    Is there any way for ESA to have a regimented trained and certified animal licenses? That would solve a lot of problems with landlord tenant relations preventing an exception to the rule causing problems.

  9. Maria

    I live on base but the housing is privatized and i already have 2 animals which is the limit. my mom is having to come live with us and she has a ESA. would this be allowed? i know the law says they cant charge or deny but it doesn’t state anything about pet limits and if they would be able to say no since i already have 2 pets in home.

  10. J

    If the dog is considered a vicious breed like a pitbull some insurances will deem the rental un-insurable. In this instance the tenant will be faced with removing the animal or having to purchase a vicious animal liability insurances.
    Hope this helps some landlords out.

  11. Tammy L. Riffel

    I am currently looking for housing. All applications I have filled out has asked if I have pet’s. Am I suppose to mark yes? I have been denied due to this and wondered how to fill out an application. I do have a rx from my PCP. Any help would be appreciated.

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  12. Ariel

    Do you have a link to a source for this? My landlord doesn’t believe me, and wants a real source from a government site but I can’t find it.

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    1. Post

      Here is a great guide on the Fair Housing Act., we have a summary here Emotional Support Animal Laws.

      If you have further questions you can email us at [email protected].

  13. tommy

    while i understand the law i have a tenant that has 4 dogs now that he has a letter stating are comfort animals seriously??? you need 4 dogs and i dont even allow pets in the community what an easy way to fraud landlords,, can a landlord make the esa have liability insurance because these animals are not trained and if they bite someone while on the property guess who gets sued. not the indigent person with the need.

  14. Me

    As a pet owner and a landlord I find this law stating that I cannot maintain a no pet policy an infringement on my own rights to how my dwelling unit is treated and maintained. Cats and dogs can be horribly destructive and still classified as an ESA by these standards simply because they are a “comfort”?!!! And I don’t have the right to know if someone has a physiological disorder that requires the ESA I simply have to let them live in my home?!!! I am very much in support of fair housing and legal means by which both landlords and tenants are treated fairly but this doesn’t feel fair to landlords.

    1. Post

      The law is meant to prevent prejudice against people who have a recommendation letter from a Licensed Mental Health Professional. It by no means, gives them the right to destroy property and if you read the law, they are 100% liable for any damage, so ultimately it still protects you.

      1. tommy

        yes most of these folks are indigent so ultimately it is the property owner that pays for the destruction all the property owner ends up with is a piece of paper saying they owe they owe. what a joke.

        1. Ariel

          The FHA provides an exception saying that the landlord may charge the tenant for any repairs or damages done by the animal, and may evict the tenant if the animal is aggressive or otherwise inappropriate to other tenants. Your rights aren’t being infringed on, you won’t be liable.

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