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 is meant to protect 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 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.

FHA Recognizes ESAs as 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 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.

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 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.


Fair Housing Act - Older Woman with Cat

Warnings for ESA Owners

While the Fair Housing Act (FHA), American Disability Act (ADA), and other 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.

In Summary

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:

Take My Free 5-Minute Screening

Any Questions?

You can go to our FAQ section,
Email us at [email protected],
call us at (877) 207-0561,
or chat with us below.

Leave a Reply

131 Comments on "Emotional Support Animals and The Fair Housing Act"

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Samantha Adcock

Not if you have an ESA letter. Because an ESA is NOT a pet by legal definition.


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.


Actually j if you read the law ESA s any breed insurance cannot drop the landlord for this either

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.


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.


You need to check Fair Housing Laws according to the state in which you reside.


What rights do ESA owners have in an HOA setting that precludes dogs of a certain height/weight?


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.


You can require that all of your tenants carry liability coverage. (You cannot just force a specific tenant to, it’s an all or nothing) Roll that provision with their renewals. If they do not want to pay for liability, they can leave. It is a great thing to have on top of your own coverage.

But yes, there is not limit… As long as it does not pose a health hazard… Factor in square footage and take photos if apartment is disgusting (hopefully not) if you or your maintenance staff are asked to do repairs.

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… Read more »