emotional support law fair housing act happy pug

Emotional Support Animals and The Fair Housing Act

emotional support law fair housing act happy pugThe Fair Housing Act (FHAct Section 504)  was initiated as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and is meant to protect renters from landlord discrimination.

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 protection 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.

Fair Housing Act, Section 5 Recognizes an Emotional Support Animal as an 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.

If you’re wondering whether you would benefit from an ESA or not, take the free, 5-minute pre-screening to see if you qualify. 

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 Fair Housing Act, individuals who are disabled cannot be denied housing based on their diagnosis or requests for reasonable accommodation. Under the FHA, 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 (commonly referred to as an ‘ESA Letter’) verifying their disability and verifying the need for the ESA. This documentation must be from a Licensed Mental Health Professional and should state that the animal provides support and alleviates at least one of the identified symptoms or effects of the existing disability.

An ESA owner can then present his or her Emotional Support Animal Letter to a landlord and request a reasonable accommodation.

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. So can a landlord deny an emotional support animal? A property only permitting cats cannot deny an ESA dog owner housing just because he owns a dog.

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 any deposit, fee or ‘pet rent’ in exchange of this reasonable accommodation no matter what species, breed or size category the ESA belongs to.

emotional support animal in apartment with ESA owner

Warnings for ESA Owners

While the Fair Housing Act (FHA), American Disability Act (ADA), and other Emotional Support Animal laws provide specific protections for ESA owners, the concept of Emotional Support Animals is relatively new, and many property owners are unaware of their legal requirements to accommodate ESAs.

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 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.

If you are a landlord/property owner wondering about relevant laws and your rights, read this article: Landlord’s Rights Regarding Emotional Support Animals

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.

Fair Housing Act Helps Owners Live with their ESAs W/o Problems

The Fair Housing Act protects renters against discrimination based on race, religion, age, gender and other factors such as disability.

A renter owning a Service Animal or an Emotional Support Animal must be allowed to bring the animal into his/her house. This applies even if the apartment or community has a ‘not-pet policy’. Property managers must accept an ESA letter from the tenant’s Licensed Mental Health Professional. They can not ask the renter to pay any pet deposit, pet fee, or pet rent in order to be able to accommodate the ESA.

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.

Licensed 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 an 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:

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Comments 160

  1. The town I’m going to college in requires a pitbull owner to have a liability policy covering $100,000. If the pitbull is an emotional support animal, is it exempt from this requirement? While it isn’t a direct fee for the breed per se, it does cost extra money for the owner.

  2. yes, I have a service pet and just built a new home which he was able to jump over a 3 foot fence so I had to put up a 4 foot fence where he has now torn a ACL but had surgery and doing great!!! but now my HMO now say I can’t have a 4 foot fence but they can’t provide where I signed any thing of sort!!! what should I do??? my service animal can jump over a 3 foot fence ( he stays inside ) I’m unable to always stay outside with him!!??

  3. Hi, I live in subsidised housing. The lease allows dogs with a $800 deposit. I do have physical disability with; if I get a assistant dog would the amount of the deposit be subsidised?
    Thanks…

    1. An Emotional Support Animal must help to reduce an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This is not typically the case for a physical disability unless that physical disability also results in an emotional or mental one as well. Major life activities as defined by the ADA are: Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.

  4. Hi.
    What about friends with emotional support animal? My University owned housing allows ESA for tenants but not visitors. Is this discrimination? I got in trouble when a friend who came to visit me with his ESA. Is this allowed? What if he has a panic attack and the ESA is not there to aid him?

  5. I have lived in my current building since 2015 and have a signed doctor’s note asking for my therapy pets to reside with me dated 2016. My apartment changed rental companies about a year ago and they are constantly pulling scams trying to get tenants to pay more money, like claiming I didn’t pay the rent when I had proof that I did. Now suddenly they have a problem with my two ESAs. I showed them my doctor’s note but they claimed that under Texas law that wasn’t enough. I needed a “certificate” and documentation. After a few exchanges via the Better Business Bureau website they stopped responding. At first they claimed that the note said nothing about needing the animals for my health and I informed them that EMOTIONAL Support Animals were indeed a thing and to step into the 21st century. They claimed I was being “manipulative” to get out of paying for my pets. When they stopped responding I thought the matter had been dropped until today (a few days after I had paid the rent), I got a 30 day eviction notice on my door. I will gladly leave and look for a better apartment as there are other problems with this place and I am just sick of dealing with these people. However, I hate to just stand by and let them win when, from everything I have read, they are in the wrong. Please, someone respond and let me know what I can do to make sure people know that this company doesn’t play fair and doesn’t respect the law.

  6. How does an emotional dog help someone if it is not taking with them during the day in case they have a nervous break down or have a problem with their house that the dog is in there to help them at that time. We have a few emotional dogs in our development and they never take the dog with them when they leave the house we have 292 people here who have lived here for 30 years who have grown old and died and have never gone against our rules why should we submit ourselves to having dogs in our community when we obey the rules have bought here knowing that that’s a no pet condominium association even though we would like to have a dog but because of the rules and regulations formed by the Association 30 years ago we abide by them why should people now come here and disregard the rules because they desire to live in this condominium association when they could go go down the street and live another association allows you to have dogs I look for forward to your response

  7. We have a gentlemen that has lived on the premises for more than 8 years – he recently sent us a letter requesting an emotional support dog and accompanied by no documentation other than telling us his doctor and his therapist said it was okay — we have a no dog policy but we are more than willing to accommodate the individual if he follows the guidelines outlined in the law so we can then present it to the other 94 owners that all is okay – for one thing are we correct to do this by asking for the ESA or other documentation regarding this issue?

  8. What protection does an animal free property have for people who get their ESA paperwork online and just want their pet with them. What protection do we have from the Law.

    1. Sec. 804. [42 U.S.C. 3604] Discrimination in sale or rental of housing and other prohibited practices
      it shall be unlawful–
      (2) To discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such dwelling, because of a handicap of–
      (A) that person; or
      (B) a person residing in or intending to reside in that dwelling after it is so sold, rented, or made available; or
      (C) any person associated with that person.

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