For people living with disabilities, the most important factor in maintaining their overall well-being is access to a stable and secure place to live. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was put in place to protect renters from discrimination, which means that landlords are prohibited from refusing to rent to anyone based on their religion, age, gender, race or whether they suffer from a disability. The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 was introduced to give further protections to those with disabilities and ensure that people with special needs, restrictions or assistive aids (which includes emotional support animals) are protected from discrimination. This means that property owners are required to make reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities, including those who are accompanied by a service animal or emotional support animal.
What Is An Emotional Support Animal?
Emotional support animals are tools used in the therapy of individuals suffering from a wide range of mental, psychological and minor physical conditions. They offer a sense of stability and companionship to their owners and have helped countless individuals regain a sense of peace and normalcy in their lives.
Emotional support animals should not be confused with service animals, which are highly trained to aid those suffering from debilitating mental or physical conditions such as blindness or cerebral palsy. ESAs don’t require any such formal training as their main function is to simply offer emotional support to help relieve patients of feelings of anxiety and depression. As such, ESAs are able to offer assistance to a far greater range of illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, autism, attention deficit disorders, panic and personality disorders, learning difficulties, and phobias.
How Do You Get an Emotional Support Animal?
To qualify for an emotional support animal, you’ll first need to seek treatment from a licensed mental health professional. If you provide evidence of your condition along with your medical history and why you think access to an ESA would benefit you, then your doctor will issue you with a recommendation letter (if they believe that you do indeed qualify). With this letter, you can register your ESA online and receive an ID card for your pet and any additional forms you may need for housing or travel purposes.
You can use your personal doctor if you prefer, or, if you’re looking to save on time, you can use an online service such as Moosh and simply have a quick Skype with one of their registered doctors instead.
What Protection Does The Fair Housing Act Offer for ESA Owners?
The Fair Housing Act means that individuals who suffer from a mental, psychological or physical disability cannot be denied housing based on their diagnosis. However, it is important for individuals seeking accommodation with an emotional support animal to be in possession of all the necessary documentation. This relates to your ESA recommendation letter that verifies the need for an ESA by a licensed physician, your ESAs identification card and any other additional forms that relate to housing authorities.
Because mental and emotional illnesses are not as easily recognizable, this can potentially lead to confusion and uncertainty when beginning to look for suitable housing. It is important to remember that both service animals and emotional support animals are protected by the Fair housing Act and that, with the appropriate documentation, you are well within your rights to demand appropriate accommodation.
How Does the Fair Housing Act Impose Such Protections?
Landlords with restrictions on breed, size or species of animal are required to make reasonable adjustments to such policies to allow individuals with a verified diagnosis and an ESA letter to reside with their chosen ESA. For example, even if a property owner’s policy is to generally only allows cats, they still cannot deny an ESA owner housing just because their chosen emotional support animal is a dog.
Although it’s a good idea to keep your ESA’s identification card with you at all times, a landlord cannot demand that an emotional support animal wears such identification or that the owner is required to post identification materials in their home.
Landlords cannot demand any details of the nature of an individual’s illness, only that they are provided with evidence of an ESA letter and a verification of diagnosis from a licensed physician.
Any additional fees that are usually incurred with pet ownership must be waived for ESAs as they are not classified as a pet under the Fair Housing Act. Rather, they are considered assistive aids. However, if any damage is caused to the property by the ESA, then they can withhold money from the deposit or demand that the damage is paid for upon leaving.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Protections?
Properties in which the owner resides are exempt from such protections as are single units, buildings with fewer than four units and any housing that is listed privately and without the use of a real estate agent.
Hotels, motels and hostels are all classified as public spaces and are under no obligation to allow ESAs onto the premises.
If an emotional support animal is excessively loud, threatening or disruptive to other tenants, then landlords are within their rights to evict both the ESA and their owner.