Fair Housing Act Protects Home Buyers and Renters with ESAs

When you’re looking for a place to live and you have an emotional service animal, you may run into sellers or landlords who try to turn you away with, “No pets allowed.” That’s why it’s important to know your rights under the Fair Housing Act.

Under the jurisdiction of the Housing and Urban Development, the federal Fair Housing Act (different from the Federal Housing Administration, which has to do with mortgages) generally protects a home buyer or renter from discrimination by a seller or landlord. People with ESAs are included in these protections, even in places with a “no pets” restriction.

A landlord must decide if granting a request to allow an ESA is a “reasonable accommodation.” The landlord can legally assess only two items of information:

Does the applicant have a disability that limits a major life activity?
Does the applicant need an assistance animal?

Having an emotional support animal letter of certification will help answer both of those questions. Rebecca F. Wisch of the College of Law at Michigan State University shares that when challenged in court, landlords tend to lose cases where an animal’s ability to reduce the symptoms of its owner’s disability is readily evident.

The Fair Housing Act applies to single-family homes, condos and apartments. The act does allow exceptions, however; for instance, it excludes private owners who don’t use real estate agents and own three or fewer qualifying homes.

As with any interaction, being courteous and staying calm is your best bet for getting someone to cooperate with you, as long as you have a properly executed emotional support animal letter or your pet is part of the service animal registry. You may need to firmly, but politely remind a landlord that he or she cannot legally ask questions about your disability or demand to see copies of medical records. Most of them already know the law.