One of the major benefits of emotional support animals (or ESAs for short) is that you can take them anywhere. In fact, to call it a benefit is slightly misleading; it’s actually a right bestowed by law and guaranteed by an emotional support letter given to you by a medical professional.
ESAs are rapidly becoming a popular way to treat a variety of mental illnesses. They work in much the same way as therapy dogs but don’t receive or require any formal training. They can be a previously owned pet or a newly acquired furry friend and can be any species of animal you like. The only requirement is that they provide some form of support for the ESA owner.
Emotional support animals are a relatively new form of emotional treatment, and people are still learning the rules and regulations. Essentially, as long as you carry around your emotional support letter with you wherever you go and remain calm and clear about your rights, your chosen ESA is, by law, allowed to accompany you wherever you may go.
One example is air travel. Pets are not usually allowed to accompany their owners onto planes, but due to the Air Carrier Access Act, which protects people with disabilities, ESAs are allowed that right of way. However, things get a little tougher when it comes to housing.
The Fair Housing Act
One of the thorniest aspects of owning an ESA is bringing it into rented accommodation because landlords come in a variety of shapes, sizes and temperaments. Usually, pets are forbidden in rented dwellings due to noise, mess and unpredictability. Fair enough. When it comes to pets, you can understand the landlord’s point of view.
When it comes to emotional support animals, however, the rights of people with mental disabilities need to be respected. This is where the Fair Housing Act (FHA) comes into play. Essentially, the FHA prohibits landlords from discriminating against anyone based on race, religion, age or any other factor, such as disability. You could argue that when it comes to people with mental disabilities, one of their most basic needs is a stable place to live. If their treatment includes the prescription of an ESA, then it’s not fair to discriminate against them.
In fact, it’s not only unfair; it’s against the law. The FHA contains specific information regarding support animals to make sure their rights are upheld. The problems that ESA owners can run into with landlords has to do with how recent the concept of ESAs is. Most of them are not aware of the legal requirements when it comes to emotional support animals. Although the majority are aware of the FHA, emotional support animals are a relatively new phenomenon.
Potential Issues with Landlords
The best way to approach the potential issue of an ESA co-habiting with you is to remain calm and to request a sit-down with your landlord so you can explain your treatment path and legal rights in person. Hopefully, this will work in most cases because it is crucial for landlords to stay on the right side of the law to avoid losing their position. The majority won’t want to risk some sort of litigation, especially if they’re aware they’re in the wrong and are just putting up a front or being stubborn.
If you get some backlash during the initial conversation, you can point out specific clauses in the Fair Housing Act and, hopefully, convince them of your correct and lawful position. You can also assuage any fears they might have by promising to keep your animal in line and quiet so as not to disturb other tenants, which is usually a landlord’s biggest objection. Using the example of a guide dog might help your landlord see things from your point of view.
If this approach fails, there are further steps you can take. You can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice or, if things really degenerate, sue a property owner for discrimination. In most cases, things shouldn’t need to get that far. Even the threat of these proceedings should be enough to make landlords see clearly.
All this can certainly seem like a lot of stress and can cause anxiety in people already suffering from mental disorders. Unfortunately, because ESAs are a new, progressive form of treatment, it’s sometimes necessary and fair to sit down and explain your rights to your current or potential landlord.