Fair Housing Act – Emotional Support Animals

Choosing between your ESA and housing is a decision you should never have to face, and the federal Fair Housing Act ensures you’ll never have to. For owners of emotional support animals, their health and wellbeing depend on having their ESA in their life. From everyday tasks to challenging obstacles, an emotional support animal can be vital in successfully navigating day to day life. Thankfully, because of the Fair Housing Act, emotional support animals and their owners have legal rights that specifically guarantee access to housing.

If you’re considering getting an emotional support animal, or are facing a challenge regarding your emotional support dog and housing availability, we’ve created a useful guide to understanding your rights under the federal Fair Housing Act.

What is the Federal Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects individuals from unlawful discrimination in housing, specifically unfair treatment due to disability, religion, race, color, national original, sex, or familial status. Under the FHA, anyone trying to purchase or rent a home, get a home mortgage, or qualify for housing assistance cannot be unfairly discriminated against due to the above-named factors.

The Fair Housing Act also makes it illegal for a property owner to apply different terms and conditions for the rental or sale of a house based on the above reasons, with different rental prices or sale prices also specifically banned. Further, failing to provide proper maintenance, limiting privileges or services, or harassing a resident because of disability, religion, race, color, national original, sex, or familial status (or requested accommodations associated with any of these factors) is prohibited.

While the FHA is designed to protect the rights of those seeking housing, it also considers certain situations in which property owners and/or landlords might be reasonably exempt. Housing managed by religious organizations, members-only private clubs, single-family houses rented or sold by the owner, and owner-occupied buildings with four or less units are categorized as exempt from FHA regulations.

The Fair Housing Act and Emotional Support Animals

Under the Fair Housing Act, an emotional support animal is considered a “tool” for aiding an individual with a disability, therefore excluding ESAs from “no pets” policies and certain other pet-related property rules. If you have been diagnosed with a mental, emotional, or psychological disability outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, you are included in the FHA’s provisions for disabled persons.

According to the HUD, the government entity responsible for enforcing the Fair Housing Act, a housing provider must consider two simple questions when evaluating a request for ESA housing:

  • Does the individual making the ESA request have a diagnosed disability?
  • If so, does the individual have a disability-related need for the emotional support animal?

If both questions can be answered affirmatively, the housing provider is legally required to make reasonable accommodation for you and your ESA. In contrast, if one of the above questions can be answered with a “no,” then the landlord can deny an ESA request.

However, it’s important to understand that just because a housing provider is uncertain about whether you have a disability or a disability-related need for your ESA, that doesn’t mean they can deny your request. Your ESA letter serves as professional confirmation that you qualify under FHA regulations, eliminating any guesswork on the part of the housing provider.

What Does “Reasonable Accommodation” Mean Under the FHA?

The Fair Housing Act states that a housing provider must make all efforts to accommodate an emotional support animal, but the law also acknowledges that in some cases, it may not be possible. This means that in certain situations, a landlord can deny your emotional support animal.

A housing provider can legitimately refuse your ESA request in any of the following scenarios:

  • The property owner can prove that allowing the ESA would subject them to undue financial or administrative stress.
  • Your ESA may be rejected if it is too large for the property. One example might be an ESA request for a horse to be accommodated in a small apartment.
  • If your ESA has caused damage to the property or presented a threat to another tenant, your landlord can rescind ESA accommodation.
  • If the property is owner-occupied and has four or fewer units, an ESA may be denied.
  • If the housing is managed by a religious organization or is a members-only club, the FHA regulations do not apply and an ESA can be refused access.
  • If the property is for rent or sale by owner only, it does not qualify for FHA protections.

It’s important to understand that while a housing provider must attempt to make reasonable accommodation according to the FHA, ESA owners also have certain responsibilities including obtaining the proper documentation, clearly communicating the ESA request in a timely manner, and ensuring appropriate conduct by their animal.

What Documents Can a Landlord Require for an ESA?

Whether you’re an ESA owner searching for housing or are interested in bringing an ESA into the property where you currently live, you will need to secure the required documentation in order to properly submit an ESA request. Your landlord can require you to provide a doctor-issued ESA letter, which is a professional statement that includes specific information outlining your need for an ESA.

An ESA letter serves as your main form of “proof” and is an extremely important document to have on hand before beginning an ESA-related conversation with your housing provider.

What Documents Can a Landlord NOT Require for an ESA?

Many property owners are unfamiliar with ESA laws, so it’s not unusual for them to make requests for documents that you are not required to submit. While you will need an ESA letter to prove your qualification under the FHA, there are no additional documents necessary for housing approval.

In fact, a landlord has no legal right to request information such as your medical history or specific diagnosis, as your privacy is protected by law. If your landlord asks for proof of ESA registration, certification, or information about your ESA’s placement in a national registry, you are not obligated to fulfill the request. While you may see online businesses advertising ESA registry placement, there is actually no such thing – neither registration or certification exists for ESAs.

How to Get an ESA Letter for Housing

Getting an ESA letter for housing is a fairly simple, straightforward process when you choose a professional organization like Support Pets. Although an ESA letter must be issued by a medical practitioner, not all doctors are qualified to provide valid ESA documents. Your ESA letter must be written by a licensed mental health provider, like the ones on staff here at Support Pets.

If you need an ESA letter, you will need to connect with a licensed medical provider. After evaluating you and issuing or confirming a diagnosis, the doctor can then write your ESA letter. An ESA letter is valid for one year from the date of issue, and must include the following components:

  • Your name
  • The doctor’s statement that you have a diagnosed disability as included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders (or other applicable literature)
  • The doctor’s statement that your ESA is a disability-related need and required for your health and well-being
  • The doctor’s official letterhead, signature, license number, and location of the practice
  • Some ESA letters also include specific information about your ESA, such as the breed and size, which can be helpful for identification purposes

Once you have your ESA letter, you are ready to submit a request for reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act.

Emotional Support Animals and Housing: Tips

When you are seeking approval for your emotional support animal, whether, at a current residence or one you are considering, there are a few simple tips that can help increase your chances of achieving a positive, hassle-free outcome:

Communicate clearly, honestly, and professionally with the housing provider

Hiding your ESA is never a good idea, and does not set you up for a positive interaction with your landlord. Instead, keep the lines of communication open. While you aren’t legally obligated to inform the housing provider of your ESA before signing the lease, it can be a proactive way to ensure that reasonable accommodation is possible at the property in question. Additionally, many landlords are open to accommodating your need as long as they are made aware, and communicating positively from the beginning can set a positive tone right away.

If you are planning to bring an ESA into a current residence, be sure to inform your property owner and provide the appropriate documentation when requested. In the event that you encounter conflict with the housing provider, make every attempt to maintain a neutral and respectful tone to avoid escalation.

Ensure that your ESA behaves appropriately

While there are no specific training requirements for an emotional support animal, basic behavior training is important. Your ESA must be able to behave properly in a variety of settings and situations, including at home. If your ESA damages property, makes excessive noise or shows aggression towards other people, you are more likely to encounter problems and potentially be denied housing. Even though you do have certain rights, a landlord can lawfully evict you if your ESA becomes a danger to other tenants.

Educate yourself about your legal rights

Understanding your ESA rights is an important part of being an ESA owner, especially because it can prepare you to defend yourself from unlawful discrimination. Many property owners are simply unaware of ESA laws and may attempt to refuse your emotional support animal because they do not realize the nature of your request. However, being able to clearly communicate the facts about ESA laws and the FHA can help you not only secure housing, but also educate your housing provider and potentially benefit future ESA owners.

What to Do if Your Landlord Denies Your ESA

If you’ve provided your landlord with your ESA letter but they refuse to make reasonable accommodation, there are steps you can take to resolve the issue. While the denial may be valid in certain limited situations, in many cases, you may have to pursue specific action to protect your right to housing.

First, request a formal letter explaining the ESA rejection. Then, reply to the letter (via email or written letter) stating that although you have provided all legally-required documents (your ESA letter), the housing provider is refusing your reasonable accommodation request. Include a clear statement that explains you will be contacting the HUD to submit an official discrimination complaint. Throughout the letter, do your best to maintain a calm, neutral tone.

After receiving your letter, the housing provider may take the time to research the FHA and realize their error, which can result in a reconsideration of your request. However, if they continue to refuse your ESA, you can file an HUD complaint either online or by printing and mailing the appropriate forms to the address below.

Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street, S.W., Room 5242
Washington, D.C. 20410

ESA and Housing: FAQs

Here are many of the most commonly-asked questions about housing and emotional support animals, organized in an easy-to-reference list:

What qualifies you for an emotional support animal?

There are a wide range of diagnosed conditions that can qualify you for an emotional support animal (and an ESA letter), including mood disorders, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and many other mental and emotional conditions. A doctor can provide you with specific information regarding your qualification for an ESA.

Are landlords required to accept emotional support animals?

Landlords must make reasonable accommodations for ESAs under the FHA, regardless of “no pets” policies or property restrictions. However, there are certain situations in which a landlord is not required to allow your ESA.

Can a landlord refuse an emotional support animal?

In certain cases, a landlord can legally refuse an ESA:

  • Owner-occupied properties with four or fewer units
  • Religious housing
  • Members-only private clubs
  • Property for sale or rent by owner
  • If the ESA would place undue financial or administrative stress on the housing provider
  • If the ESA is too large to reasonably accommodate at the property
  • If the ESA has caused excessive damage to the property or threatens the safety or well-being of other tenants

Can my landlord ask for ESA registration?

No. There is no such thing as ESA registration, certification, or an ESA registry.

Can a landlord reject my ESA because of its breed or age?

No. Breed and age restrictions do not apply to ESAs.

Can my landlord charge pet rent or a pet deposit for my ESA?

No. ESAs are not considered “pets” according to federal law, and therefore are not permitted to incur fees such as pet rent or pet deposits. You cannot be evicted or denied housing for refusing to pay pet rent or deposit fees.

Does my college dorm have to allow my ESA?

Amendments made to the Fair Housing Act state that college dorms and on-campus housing must attempt to make reasonable accommodations for qualified emotional support animals.

What happens if my ESA damages property or harms another tenant?

Regardless of ESA laws, you are liable for damages or personal harm caused by your ESA.

Get an ESA Letter to Protect Your ESA Housing Rights

Getting a doctor-provided ESA letter is an important step in guaranteeing your ESA rights, but going through the approval process doesn’t have to be stressful. Support Pets connects qualifying applicants with licensed medical professionals, providing a 99 percent approval rate within 24 to 48 hours. With a professional ESA letter from Support Pets, you’ll be able to seek reasonable accommodation for your ESA and protect your housing rights under the FHA – regardless of any “no pets” policies.

Using the Support Pets online system, you can complete the ESA letter process in minutes. After completing a short quiz and doctor-provided questionnaire, your information will be securely sent to one of our licensed medical professionals. After reviewing your case, a Support Pets doctor will issue your ESA letter if you qualify.

For more information about how to get an ESA letter for your housing needs, contact Support Pets today.

 

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