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 - 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

An assistance animal is defined as an animal that provides assistance and performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. This also includes an animal that provides emotional support which alleviates one or more symptoms associated with a mental or emotional disability. 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. Under the Fair Housing Act, a disability is defined as a”physical or mental impairment” which substantially limits one or more major life activities. These activities can include caring for oneself, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, sleeping, and learning.

The FHA allows tenants with mental or emotional disabilities to request a reasonable accommodation for their emotional support animals. A “reasonable accommodation” is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule or policy that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their home. 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 their disability and verifying the need for the ESA. This documentation must be from a Licensed Mental Health Professional and it should state that that the animal provides support and alleviates at least one of the identified symptoms or effects of the existing disability.

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.
  • Speak with the Fair Housing Act Assistance Team here.

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:

Take My Free 5-Minute Screening

Comments 47

  1. Mimi

    In the U.S. ESAs and service dogs do not need to be registered.
    Also, ESAs do not need to be trained. Even untrainable species can be ESAs.
    If it’s a dog or miniature horse that’s trained to do tasks or work, then it is a service animal.

  2. Amber

    Can I get the ESA letter with my dog’s name on it? My landlord is stating they can refuse my companion due to breed restrictions because my letter does not specify that I need THIS companion dog. Because I could get another dog that is not on their breed restriction list they can basically ignore my letter.

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    2. Sondra

      According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Fair Housing Act protemotional support service dogects those with disabilities in need of service animals and/or emotional support animals. Because of this federal law, an animal considered to be an aggressive breed, such as a Pit Bull, is protected and must be allowed into a rental property if it is determined to be a service animal, despite any local laws that prohibit the breed.

      Fair housing laws can be a bit tricky in this regard. If a disability is not obvious, a landlord cannot ask what the disability is, but can ask for documentation that there is a disability with a need for a service or emotional support animal. If the animal is strictly a pet, the landlord has every right to deny any animal or breed of animal

  3. Melissa

    I have been living in apartment complexes for about 7 months that do not allow pets, but I was recently diagnosed and given an ESA certification for my dog, can I be evicted because of this? Can they deny my ESA pet?

    1. Sondra

      According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Fair Housing Act protemotional support service dogects those with disabilities in need of service animals and/or emotional support animals. Because of this federal law, an animal considered to be an aggressive breed, such as a Pit Bull, is protected and must be allowed into a rental property if it is determined to be a service animal, despite any local laws that prohibit the breed.

      Fair housing laws can be a bit tricky in this regard. If a disability is not obvious, a landlord cannot ask what the disability is, but can ask for documentation that there is a disability with a need for a service or emotional support animal. If the animal is strictly a pet, the landlord has every right to deny any animal or breed of animal

    1. Sondra

      The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, commonly known as FHA, requires apartments and housing communities that ordinarily restrict pets to make “reasonable accommodation” for ESAs. In short, that means that verified ESA owners cannot be denied housing, just as individuals in a wheelchair or with a disability cannot be denied housing based on their condition.

      In order to be protected by FHA laws, the ESA owner must have a diagnosed disability and provide documentation to the property owner or housing representative.

      The benefits to FHA laws include the fact that property owners cannot charge an advance deposit or fees for ESAs. ESA owners should note, however, that if significant damage is done, or if it becomes apparent that the animal is being neglected, the property owner might be able to recoup fees later.

      Property owners also cannot question the disability, require the animal to wear identification as an ESA, or refuse housing. In short, FHA laws protect verified ESA owners who properly care for the animal but may not protect owners who are negligent or destructive.

  4. Jerri

    I’m being evicted in 6 days due to my two ESA . I am on social security disability and considered legally disabled by the federal and state . Is that enough proof of my disability ? Why do I need a doctors letter sharing that I’m mentally disabled ? I feel that is very personal and I’m treated different once it’s known the type of disability I have . Is my being on SSD. Proof enough ?

  5. Tiffany

    I have a letter from my psychiatrist that I would benefit from having a ESA. Our landlord is in contact with a lawyer due to being 100% against animals all together, you name the animal they’re against it. Does anyone have any knowledge if there is a lope hole that they could find to make it so I can’t get a dog for esa? The dog would be even furthering onto be a therapy dog and she is very highly trained.

    1. Tammy

      You should be ok since the doctor who said that you would benefit from the ESA would best suite you. however, there are things that people should know when it comes to ESA animals. They are not “pets”. Like service animals (those who are trained to lead the visually impaired or sense seizures coming on a client) they provide a service. They are trained. However with an ESA most get a letter from the doctor and say yep this pit is going to be my ESA jump on some web site to “register” the pet, and pay what ever the fee is to do this, but they are not realizing is that even an ESA has some sort of training before it can be certified as an ESA. For instance, you get a great new puppy that you absolutely love, and you know that this puppy will be perfect for your ESA as your health care professional said that you would benefit from it, however, the puppy does not bond with you and you do nothing to take care of it. You don’t feed it, you don’t put it in the bath, and the puppy has bonded with your significant other. That pup no longer qualifies as an ESA because it is not providing any emotional support for you.

      There are many sites that you can google like ESA Guidelines for the State of Texas and it will give you all of the information that you need. YES ESA is new to us landlords, but for the most part us landlords know what we have to follow.

      My son has an ESA and he is 6 years old, and it is his responsibility to do what he is supposed to do with the puppy like play with it every day make sure that she is fed, etc. ESA pups have provided my son with great therapy that he needs for his issues and he is just 6 years old. But those of us in the house know that we cannot simply pick up the pup and love on her etc because that puppy is for him. Of course me as a parent do what is required to supervise my son and his ESA, but there is formal training that has to happen before she can be “certified” as an ESA. Fortunately for me, my landlord is also a landlord and is aware.

      There needs to be more clarification on what constitutes and ESA vs Pet.

  6. Pierina

    Me and my husband have being living in an apartment complex with 10 building, the condominium asosiation acepts dogs and cats up to 9 lbs, but my building (the only one) doesn’t accept animals, not even a guinea pig or a bird, im only allowed to have a fish. Can i apply for a ESA? And not be kick out of the apartment? I have being living in the states for 9 month, i wasn’t allowed to drive for the last 3 months (until i get my work permit authorization card- it finally came on saturday yei!- and get my usa license) and obviously can’t work . So i have been literally stuck at home. It has been really dificult for me and my husband, specially since he works alot! I suffer with some anxiety issues, not that often and bad but i still do, specially after suffering for hard depresion 3 years ago. It is still difficult for me to adapt to this new life, recently i have been going out by my self more because i always wanted to stay at home. And well i miss my family alot!!. Im worried that they accept the ESA and the psiquiatrics letter but starts bodering us with other things and kickus for something else, we are nice people but you know people cna get u if they want you.

  7. Kayla

    An ESA does not require training like a service animal does. If you question the validity you can ask for a letter from the tenants doctor or mental health provider stating they have some kind of disability that can be improved upon by having an ESA. If they do not have proper documentation they can be turned away. Almost anyone can go online and register their animal as ESA but not anyone can walk in and get a letter from a MH provider. Also, the Fair Housing Act states that the tenant can be held liable for any damage the ESA makes, which may include replacing carpet from accidents made by the ESA.
    With pet amount limits- an ESA is not classified as a pet so they are exempt from the limitation. As long as you have documentation to back up your need for an ESA they cannot turn you or your ESA away.
    I hope this was helpful.

    1. Adriane sell

      Kayla my hoa is asking for a meeting with me about my emotional support dog we have a 2 dog limit I have 2 dogs and my Esa. Do you know where is this law that Esa dogs do not count? I’d like to print it out and give it to them at this meeting. They asked for myour social worker to come and I told them they are welcome to call but will not be present nor is it a legal need.

    2. Grady

      “…but not anyone can walk in and get a letter from a MH provider.”

      This is not true. You can jump online to the multitude of “mental health professionals” who will charge the “patient” $150 for an ESA letter. Many times, these MH professionals will “diagnose” their client’s “disability” without ever speaking to the “patient”. They will simply have the client fill out a form, collect a check and (e)mail a prescription letter off.

      The company I work for, located in NC, receives letter from CA, FL, NJ, LA and all points in between from these online “therapists” on a monthly basis. These licensed mental health professionals, by writing a “prescription” letter, are practicing outside of the state in which they are currently licensed. Medical boards frown upon practicing outside the state in which you are licensed.

      The MH professional, when questioned, will always deflect and turn it back around on their “patient” who could be “lying” about their disability. The whole thing is a scam! I manage some properties where over 30% of the tenants have ESA’s. I have seen some horrific conditions for a couple of ESA’s where the “disabled” person failed to care for the animal.

      There needs to be a standard on the number of visits and follow ups to see if the ESA is truly alleviating the symptoms of the disability. The mental health industry is not policing itself. There is a legit usage for emotional support animals. However, the fraud will ultimately end up hurting those who actually benefit from ESA’s.

  8. Jacinda Miles

    My landlord keeps telling me that there is a one per limiter and that we agreed to one dog but it’s not in my lease one of the dogs are for me and one for my wifey we gave landlord two different complain letters and I am being harsed every time I ask him to fix something.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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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  14. 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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  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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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  20. 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].

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

      2. Joyce

        Still vey unfair as the law states if I’m not mistaken, you can collect from the tenant (damages if any are done.) Now then what if these or this person doesn’t care about their credit or it was possibly abused while they rented from you. Now then if they don’t care about their credit or if they feel they have all the credit they need I am now going to be out more money having to take them to court and plus the burden of legal counsel. So please tell me how this is fair to anyone there are plenty of properties and the like that will take pets. I feel this is just another unfair loop hole by some bleeding heart that has nothing better to do with his time, or maybe a atty with a new get rich scheme, probably the later I’m sure. UNFAIR, UNFAIR THIS LAW NEEDS TO BE RE-WRITTEN. While on this site I already have gotten 10 plus pop-ups wanting me to fill out a CSA so that they can help me qualify. Now what is that all about? Sure states solicitation to me.

        1. Kathy

          Unfortunately, that is the cost of being in the business of residential housing. To reduce the initial legal costs, you can file in Small Claims. If you prevail in your legal action, they are usually responsible for paying you back for all legal cost. If they don’t pay the Judgment, you can file for asset seizure, or garnishment, and take the money from them. You will need to consult your State and Local laws concerning the exact steps to take to do this. It is different from state to state, and some cities have additional requirements. It’s usually best to consult an attorney experienced in landlord/tenant issues. I understand that this is all a big hassle but, again, the cost of being in the business of residential housing.

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