Going through life with an emotional or mental disability can be difficult enough. But when you are trying to find a place to live with your ESA, things can get even trickier. Some landlords are not welcoming to pets, even when they play such a vital role in their owner's lives. Thankfully, people with emotional support animals have legal rights to fair housing. Keep reading below to learn everything you need to know about the Fair Housing Act, and how it can impact you and your ESA during your home search.
Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals
There are two types of service pets that are impacted by the Fair Housing Act: certified service animals, and emotional support animals. Certified service animals are dogs that are trained to perform a particular task for someone with a disability, like helping them navigate a public area or notifying them of an approaching seizure. Emotional support animals do not require specialized training; their only job is to provide comfort and emotional support to their owners. ESAs can be dogs, cats, birds, horses, lizards, or any other type of animal.
The Fair Housing Act
Also known as the FHA, the Fair Housing Act is a federal law. According to this law, anyone with a mental or physical disability cannot be turned away from housing because of their emotional support animal or certified service dog. This law applies to most apartments and buildings, even those that have a "no pets" policy. Apartment managers and landlords must make "reasonable accommodations" for ESAs and service dogs.
Though the FHA does guarantee your rights, there are a few situations when it does not apply. Landlords are not required to comply with the law if the animal is too large for the apartment, like with a horse or llama. The same is true if the unit is in a building with four or fewer apartments and the landlord lives in one of them. Additionally, there are no guarantees to housing if you are trying to rent a single-family home without a real estate agent.
According to the Fair Housing Act, landlords have the right to ask you for certain documentation to prove that you need your ESA dog. This is simply a letter from a mental health professional, like a psychologist, psychiatrist, or licensed therapist. The ESA letter must be printed on official letterhead and signed by the mental health professional. The apartment manager may also request an additional form that must be completed by your therapist.
What Landlords Cannot Ask For
The FHA lays out very clear guidelines about what a landlord cannot ask of you. This is designed to protect your rights during your home search. According to the FHA, landlords cannot:
- Ask about your disability
- Require you to pay additional rent or a deposit for your ESA
- Force you to register your support animal
- Require the ESA to have special training
- Refuse to provide housing because their insurance doesn't cover support animals
Keep in mind, however, that a landlord can ask you to pay for any damages that your support animal may cause. They also have the right to evict you if your ESA displays wild and uncontrollable behavior. If the landlord does not comply with the FHA, you have the right to sue them for discrimination.
Reach out to us at the National Service Animal Registry to learn more about the Fair Housing Act, service animals, and registering your pet as an emotional support animal.