Fair Housing Act Emotional Support Animals – The Easy Guide

Fair Housing Act emotional support animals

Welcome to Fair Housing Act Emotional Support Animals

Service animals are defined differently whether we are talking about public access rights, housing rights, or air travel rights. This can get confusing. Under the Fair Housing Act, service animals, companion animals, as well as emotional support animals are all referred to as “Assistance animals.” Assistance animals live with people with disabilities.

This differs from the Americans with Disabilities Act for public access rights, where “service animals” must be a dog or mini horse, and must be specifically trained for a particular person’s disability. Check out our blog on the federal ADA service dog laws for public access rights.

The Fair Housing Act in the U.S. prohibits discrimination by direct providers of housing, including landlords and real estate companies, municipalities, banks, other lending institutions, and homeowners insurance companies based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • National origin
  • Familial status
  • Disability

Different service animal definitions

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines service animals as either dogs or miniature horses that are trained to do work or tasks for someone’s disability. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, service animals must also be only a dog. However, under the Fair Housing Act, emotional support animals are included in their definition of “Assistance animals.”

Fair Housing Act Definition of Assistance Animal

An assistance animal is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability. An assistance animal is not a pet.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Fair housing act emotional support animals
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What is a disability under the FHA?

Under the Fair Housing Act, a disability is defined as:

a physical or mental impairment which significantly limits a person’s major life activities.

The term mental or physical impairment may include conditions such as:

  • Blindness
  • Hearing impairment
  • Mobility impairment
  • HIV infection
  • Mental retardation
  • Alcoholism
  • Drug addiction
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Learning disability
  • Head injury
  • Mental illness

The term major life activity may include:

  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Walking
  • Breathing
  • Performing manual tasks
  • Caring for one’s self
  • Learning
  • Speaking
  • Working

The Fair Housing Act also protects people if they have a record of an impairment, or if they are regarded as having such an impairment.

Who is not considered disabled under the Fair Housing Act?

  • Current users of illegal controlled substances
  • People convicted for illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance
  • Sex offenders
  • Juvenile offenders

Reasonable accommodations required

Even if a lease or agreement has a “no pets” restriction, landlords are required to make “reasonable accommodations,” which means they must allow certain animals and pets who serve as assistance animals, including emotional support animals.

Assistance animals are not pets

Legally speaking, assistance animals – including emotional support animals – are in a different classification than pets. That is why pet restrictions and pet fees are waived for them.

Assistance animals are animals that work and provide assistance and/or perform tasks for the benefit of someone who lives with a disability. Or, an animal that provides emotional support that improves the symptoms of someone’s disability.

Assistance animal certification

There is no legitimate, official training and/or certification for assistance animals. They can assist people in a wide number of different ways.

Breed and weight restrictions

Breed and weight restrictions do not apply to assistance or service animals.

Pet fees & other fees for assistance animals

Fair housing act assistance animals, including emotional support animals, are not technically pets. Owners of these animals do not have to pay pet fees.

The landlord can charge:

  • A security deposit
  • If there is any damage caused by the animal to the home

If there is a nuisance issue the landlord has the right to try and remove the assistance animal by utilizing legal proceedings.

Types of animals that can be assistance animals under the Fair Housing Act

An assistance animal can be a dog, cat, emotional support animal, or another kind of companion animal. The physical and/or emotional (or both) benefits from having the animal living in a home with someone are what qualify the animal to be an assistance animal. A letter from a therapist or medical doctor is all that is required to classify the animal as an assistance animal.

Some examples of real assistance animals

  • A cat can alleviate a person’s anxiety or depression
  • A dog can bring medication and a water bottle in the case of a panic attack
  • A cat can reduce someone’s stress-induced pain
  • A bird can alert their hard-of-hearing human companion when someone has knocked on the door or called their name
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Asking for a reasonable accommodation

  • Provide your landlord or housing provider with a letter from your doctor or therapist. This letter needs to state that you have a disability. Explain how your emotional support animal is needed to help you cope with this disability and/or helps to improve its symptoms
  • Attach a brief personal statement explaining that you are asking for “a reasonable accommodation to keep your emotional support animal who functions as an assistance animal.”

If your landlord refuses

Landlords and other housing providers must agree to a reasonable accommodation request as long as the disability claim is true. Also, as long as the request doesn’t create a hardship for the landlord or the other tenants.

If your request for reasonable accommodation is denied by the landlord, you can request that a government agency looks into your claim that the landlord is discriminating.

Options for filing a complaint

  • Electronically file a discrimination complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)Opens in a new tab..
  • You could print a HUD Discrimination Form and mail it to the appropriate HUD office
  • Check with your state to see if it has a government agency that investigates discrimination claims

What kind of housing is covered under the Fair Housing Act for emotional support animals (assistance animals)?

Virtually all and any type of housing are included in the Fair Housing Act, and this includes public housing. There are several exceptions:

  • Rental dwellings of four or fewer units, where one unit is occupied by the owner of the property (sometimes the owner will deny the assistance animals because of an allergy to animals)
  • Single-family homes that are sold or rented by the owner (without the use of a broker)
  • If the housing is owned by religious organizations or private clubs that restrict occupancy in housing units to their members

Sam Nelson

Sam is an experienced writer, advocate for people with disabilities and mental health, dog lover, artist, philosopher, and generally complicated human being.

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