Emotional Support Animals And The Fair Housing Act | How It Protects You

The Fair Housing Act

In this country not too long ago, being disabled meant dealing with discrimination and some places being completely inaccessible. While some major advancements have been made to provide inclusion and understanding to persons with a disability, the use of service and emotional support animals can still be a misunderstood resource for those needing extra help. One area where this issue can rear its head is in finding and maintaining housing. Some landlords or buildings have no pet policies in place, but these rules may not apply to service or support animals. Fortunately, there are protections in place for people who face issues in their situation.

While prior to 1968 it was much easier for landlords and various institutions to discriminate against a person and deny them the right to housing, the Fair Housing Act ensured everyone was protected and able to fairly pursue housing wherever they desire, regardless of any impairments or disabilities the person may have. It can be helpful to have a complete understanding as to what exactly the Fair Housing Act is and what is protected under it in order to make an informed decision when it comes to searching for the right housing situation.

More specifically, understanding what emotional support animals are and how they are protected under the Fair Housing Act can help you find the right place to live while maintaining your mental health and ensuring your ESA is able to live with you. The following is everything to know about the Fair Housing Act and how it ensures a prospective tenant or homeowner is not denied due to having an emotional support animal.

What is The Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law focused on eliminating discrimination during the sale, rental, or financing of a dwelling. Race, nationality, and religion are all protected under this law, and it also protects those with children and those with disabilities. The FHA helps many people find appropriate housing even if their ideal market is limited due to accessibility issues or price.

The reason for the Fair Housing Act is because there are some property owners who may choose not to rent to specific person due to discriminatory factors, which can be a range of factors(see below). Through the FHA, people can choose where they want to live without fearing they are being denied due to unjust considerations. While certain factors can still be considered and the property owner may be able to deny renting out their housing to a prospective tenant for reasons such as criminal history or a lack of income, other factors such as gender, race and family status should not be considered.

The Fair Housing Act protects those looking to rent or purchase from discrimination from any housing provider, including the following:

  • Building lot owners
  • Real estate agents
  • Leasing agents
  • Rental managers
  • Financial institutions
  • Individuals selling their home
  • Contractors and developers

In other words, the FHA protects those looking to rent or purchase from discrimination, and it prohibits real estate, construction, financial and other forms of housing institutions from denying a financially capable prospect from purchasing or renting a home, misleading them about the availability of the dwelling and not allowing them to get a loan – among other discriminatory acts.  

What The Fair Housing Act Protects

The Fair Housing Act goes into detail about what exactly is considered discrimination in housing and it can be helpful to know your rights when it comes to searching for your next place of residence. While the protected classes are much more extensive and there are many more, the following are some of the more common forms of discrimination that are protected under the Fair Housing Act:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Disability
  • Family status

The civil rights movement spanned from approximately 1954 to 1968, and it helped pave the way for the Fair Housing Act in terms of protecting minorities from not being able to rent or purchase housing due to their race or skin color. Many view this as a necessary step into ensuring equality among everyone, giving each and every prospective tenant the chance to housing of their choice. However, the Fair Housing Act is about much more than protecting minority groups, and it also expanded into ensuring a person’s religion, gender or family status did not play a role in whether or not they were accepted. Also, the FHA also protects those with both mental and physical disabilities – including those who require a service animal or ESA – from being denied housing because of their condition.

While some factors such as race and religion are fairly self-explanatory and the line between discrimination and fair opportunity is rather simple, the issue of service animals and emotional support animals is much more complex(see below). However, it is important to note that both service animals and emotional support animals are protected under the FHA, and a prospective tenant cannot be denied the right to housing because of their ESA or service animal, regardless of the pet policy held by the landlord, complex or institution.

The Fair Housing Act and Service Animals

As mentioned previously, the Fair Housing Act protects people with service animals, and it is this law that assures people who require service animals can find appropriate housing for their needs.

So what is a service animal exactly? A service animal is a type of animal – most commonly a dog – that is trained to provide assistance for a person with a physical or mental disability. A service animal can be used for anything from helping a legally blind person walk to understanding and recognizing the warning signs of an upcoming seizure in an owner with epilepsy. Regardless of the exact task and assistance the service animal performs, they are to in every instance be accepted and denying housing to a person because of their service animal, or not allowing the service animal to live with them in the residence, is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act.

As service animals are not pets, apartments and housing developments – even those with no pet policies – cannot discriminate against or charge additional deposits or fees as a means to discourage tenants with service animals from living there. However, damages caused by the animal while living in the dwelling may potentially be the responsibility of the tenant to cover. It is important to work these details out with the landlord or leasing office before agreeing to the lease. Anyone who is denied housing because of their service animal should first inform them of the Fair Housing Act, and they may be able to take legal action if discrimination occurs.

The Fair Housing Act and Emotional Support Animals

The Fair Housing Act also protects those who own emotional support animals – otherwise referred to as an ESA. An emotional support animal is an animal that helps patients with a mental health condition cope and reduces their symptoms, allowing them to live a more comfortable and stress-free life.

It is important to note that an emotional support animal is different than a service animal, although they are both protected against discrimination by the Fair Housing Act. The main difference between an ESA and a service animal is that an ESA deals specifically with mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, whereas a service animal may be used to help with one of a number of possible conditions, including both physical and mental health disorders.

One of the common misconceptions is that emotional support animals are not covered by the Fair Housing Act, but this could not be farther from the truth. Any animal that provides a health benefit and is recommended and prescribed by a licensed medical professional is covered by the Fair Housing Act, which means no one with an ESA can be denied housing because of their animal unless the animal is too big to reasonably live inside the residence.

It is also important to note the difference between an ESA and what is known as a therapy animal. A therapy animal is an animal(most often a dog) that is trained and used to provide comfort to a person, similarly to that of an emotional support animal. However, therapy animals do not require a doctor’s recommendation and are not covered under the Fair Housing Act in the same manner emotional support animals are.

How to Choose Between ESA and Service Animal

A difficult task for many with a disability is choosing whether or not they are in need of an emotional support animal or a service animal. Although they are both similar, there are certain differences between the two that make one more appropriate than the other depending on the person. It is crucial to know what makes each type of support animal unique and understand when to seek either an ESA or service animal.

An emotional support animal is an animal that is there to provide emotional support and comfort to their owner. An ESA can be any type of animal, including dogs, cats, horses parrots, lizards and much more  If the animal brings comfort to a person with mental health concerns, then it likely qualifies as a potential emotional support animal.

On the other hand, a service animal is often much more trained for a specific task, such as helping the patient walk safely in public places. A service animal in almost every instance is a dog, which is different than an ESA that can be almost any type of animal. To become a service animal, the dog must be incredibly smart and undergo extensive training to ensure they are capable of what is often an incredibly important task.

So how do you choose which one is best? It mostly depends on the person’s exact needs. Let’s start with physical disabilities. Almost anyone who needs an animal to assist them with day-to-day tasks is better suited with a service animal as an emotional support animal is not trained to assist with physical difficulties. It is also best to go with a service animal if the condition – whether it is physical or mental – is serious or potentially life-threatening, such as epilepsy. In these instances, the service dog can help prevent and ensure prompt treatment for a medical emergency in ways an ESA would not necessarily be trained to do. An emotional support animal should be chosen(see below) when daily love, comfort and companionship is needed, and the person’s long-term health is not in jeopardy due to uncontrollable factors that are unpredictable.

Who Needs an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal is less trained than a service animal, but they are still more trained and are used to treat a more specific health concern than therapy dogs. It is important not to confuse emotional support animals with therapy dogs as they are very different, and an ESA is covered under the Fair Housing Act, whereas therapy dogs are not. On the other hand – and as mentioned previously – emotional support animals are not as highly trained and are oftentimes less crucial than a service dog, which can be vital to one’s long-term health.

So who needs or can benefit from an emotional support animal? As mentioned an ESA – unlike a therapy dog – is used to treat a specific condition, and it requires a specific license for an animal to be considered an ESA. Reasons to consider getting an emotional support animal include but are not limited to the following occasions:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Behavior disorders
  • Learning complications
  • Post-traumatic stress

One of the most common reasons an ESA is recommended comes with people who have issues with anxiety. A minor level of anxiety is normal and can be dealt with through proper rest, a healthy lifestyle and a positive outlook on life, but there are many who find it difficult to deal with the stresses of life, which leads them to significantly alter the way they live their life in a daily manner. Everyone should be able to perform to the best of their ability and not let stress hold them back from doing the things they love to do, and an emotional support animal has helped many treat their anxiety disorder.

Depression is often linked with anxiety, but they are actually quite different. Depression put simply is a feeling of sadness and perhaps a lack of motivation, which leads one to live a less productive and happy life. For many with depression, having an emotional support animal helps them have a more positive outlook on life and feel better about the prospect of waking up each day. Other reasons to consider an emotional support animal include treatment for learning disabilities, attention-deficit disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal

In order to get an emotional support animal, a licensed mental health professional must provide an emotional support animal recommendation letter that includes the mental health professional’s information, an outline as to why the ESA is needed and the date the letter is issued. It must also be written on the mental health professional’s letterhead to be accepted and covered through the Fair Housing Act(see more below). For those who are in need of an emotional support animal, obtaining one or having your pet become one can be done through the following process:

  • Call U.S. Service Animals
  • Provide details of the animal
  • Consult with a medical professional
  • Receive your doctor letter

The process is simple and can be completed rather quickly. All that is required for the first step in the process is to pick up the phone and give us a call, and we can guide you through the rest of the process. The first thing that we are likely to do when you call is to set up a time to find out whether or not you qualify for an emotional support animal – which is done through an over-the-phone consultation with a mental health professional.

In addition, we will also have you fill out the information about the animal you hope to become an emotional support animal. While the qualifications to be an ESA are not as extensive as a service dog, it is important for the animal to meet certain criteria, such as not being aggressive. However, almost every animal is acceptable as an ESA and the information you fill out is merely for documentation and used to craft the recommendation letter that can be shown to landlords, airlines, etc.

After your consultation with a medical professional and their recommendation for you to receive an ESA, the letter can be crafted and sent to you quickly through email. The letter allows you to not be denied housing at places where there is a no pet policy or your type of pet is restricted. The letter also allows you to fly with your animal, assuming it is well-trained and not too large for the flight.

What is Required for Landlords to Accept Your ESA?

All that is needed for a landlord to accept your ESA is the letter provided to you by U.S. Service Animals. Each one of our letters is provided by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist. The letter outlines exactly why the ESA is needed, which gives the landlord a chance to see the concern is legitimate and important for the prospective tenant.

It is important for those with an emotional support animal to understand their rights as it pertains to what is covered under the Fair Housing Act and first let the landlord know about the FHA if anyone with an ESA is denied the ability to rent due to reasons such as their disability in particular, a no pet policy, etc.

Many who are less informed do not understand that an emotional support animal is not just a pet – which means it is not subject to a pet policy. Instead, an emotional support animal is a form of treatment for those dealing with a mental health complication. In many cases when a landlord violates the Fair Housing Act and discriminates against a potential tenant due to their emotional support animal it is due to negligence over the law, and simply informing them of the act up front and presenting them with the ESA letter is enough to avoid any discrimination from taking place.

If a landlord does deny a person with an ESA letter access to housing due to their condition or the need for the pet to live with them, legal action can likely be taken.

The Fair Housing Act And Your Landlord

If you are suffering from mental health complications and want or already have a pet you would like to register as an emotional support animal, then consult with us and find out how we can help you get the housing and air travel accommodations you need. The Fair Housing Act helps potential tenants with emotional support animals get approved for housing without fearing discrimination from landlords due to their emotional support animal and a pet policy the landlord may have.

Honest and transparent communication between the tenant and the landlord is the best way to ensure a smooth living situation for all. Providing documentation and/or certification of your service animal to your landlord can help validate that your animal is more than just a pet. Another option is to register your animal with a reputable organization for service animals such as usspportanimals.org.  Although not required, registering will help others see your service or emotional support animal as the resource you need.

The FHA was meant to provide protection from discrimination for all people when it comes to finding an acceptable home.  This includes those with disabilities that may require emotional support animals. Knowing your rights when it comes to this often overlooked aspect can make finding your next home a much more simple and sane process.  The best way to do this is to know what the Fair Housing Act says about your rights as a person with a disability.