Emotional Support Animals in Housing: Everything You Need to Know

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The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that protects buyers and tenants from discrimination due to disability. It defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Even housing providers who don’t allow pets must accommodate assistance animals who provide emotional support. This gives people with a disability the same opportunity as an able-bodied person to use and enjoy a dwelling. 

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What qualifies an animal as an emotional support animal?

There is no official training for emotional support animals, and they can be dogs, cats, or any other type of companion animal. They provide assistance or emotional support for a person with a physical or mental impairment.

For people with PTSD, anxiety or depression, an emotional support animal is often like a lifeline. Finding out a landlord has a strict no pets policy can be devastating if you have a condition like this. However, a valid ESA letter for housing from a medical doctor or therapist is all you need to classify your animal as an assistance animal. It shows that you have a disability and your emotional support animal is part of your treatment plan.

Who can provide an ESA letter, and what qualifies you?

A qualified healthcare professional licensed in your state must provide the ESA letter. This may be a primary care physician, psychiatrist, therapist, social worker or counsellor. There is a wide range of mental and emotional health conditions that could qualify you to receive an ESA letter. Some of them include:

  • Depression
  • Social anxiety
  • Various phobias, including agoraphobia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Anorexia or bulimia

A consultation with a healthcare professional is necessary to evaluate whether you suffer from one of these conditions. Reputable ESA letter providers work with a large network of medical professionals who offer telemedicine consultations. This makes the whole process fast and convenient. You will usually complete a free pre-screening online assessment to help match you with the right therapist. 

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What animals are eligible for an ESA letter?

There are two categories of assistance animals: common household pets and unique animals. A common household animal is any small domesticated animal people usually keep in a home as pets, such as a dog, cat, hamster or small bird. A unique animal is one that isn’t commonly kept as a pet, such as a reptile or a monkey. For more unique ETAs, landlords may require additional documentation to make sure they are well trained. 

What type of housing is covered by the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act covers most types of housing, including public housing. Housing providers are considered to be any people or entities involved in activities the FHA covers. There are a few exceptions, such as a single-family home rented out by the owner without the use of a broker or rental dwellings with four or fewer units, one of which is occupied by the owner. Housing units owned by religious organizations or private clubs and only rented to members are also an exception. 

Do you have to pay pet fees?

ESAs are not technically pets so owners don’t have to pay pet fees. If an ESA causes any damage to a home, the landlord may ask the tenant for money for repairs. If there is a nuisance issue, a landlord can try to remove the ESA through a legal process. 

Can housing providers request your medical records?

Housing providers cannot ask for the personal and private details of your medical history. They can’t require disclosure of details about your diagnosis or the severity of your disability, medical records or a medical examination. All you need to do is provide reliable proof of the existence of the disability and the disability-related need for an animal as an accommodation. 

Can a housing provider ever legally refuse a request for reasonable accommodation?

Housing providers can refuse the accommodation if the assistance animal could be a direct threat to the health and safety of other individuals. They could also refuse if an ESA has the potential to cause substantial physical damage to the property of others. The animal must pose a direct threat that’s impossible to eliminate or reduce to an acceptable level through the actions of the owner. 

Emotional Support Animals in Housing: Everything You Need to Know

What happens if a housing provider wrongly denies your request for a reasonable accommodation?

If your landlord doesn’t accommodate your need for an ESA, you have the right to request a government agency to investigate your claim of discrimination. You can file a discrimination complaint online with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). You can fill in a form, print it out and mail it to the appropriate HUD office. Many states have government agencies that investigate discrimination, and you can file a complaint directly with your state’s agency. 

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