For people with emotional support animals, the Fair Housing Act is the federal law that helps ensure their ESA can live with them. In a rapidly evolving pandemic, you’ll likely have some questions as to how or if the rules surrounding ESAs have changed. Here’s what you need to know about the Fair Housing Act and coronavirus, and recent changes that may impact you and your ESA.
What Is The Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that bans discrimination against people with disabilities when it comes to housing. Under the Fair Housing Act, disabilities are defined as mental or physical impairments that limit one or more major life activities.
If you’re applying to live somewhere with a “no pets” policy or a restriction on the pets you can have, landlords must make what is referred to as a “reasonable accommodation” for your pet, including service animals and emotional support animals.
It’s important to note that while the Fair Housing Act may be on your side when it comes to reasonable accommodations with housing, a service animal and ESA are not the same thing and are treated differently under the law.
The Difference Between Service Animals And ESAs
Animals that are trained to perform a specific task for their owner are recognized as service animals. Perhaps the most common example of a service animal is a guide dog for someone who is blind. Service animals have different rights in public spaces due to the tasks they perform for their owners and their owner’s need for those tasks.
Emotional support animals can be many different types of animals, but the biggest difference is that they are not specially trained to perform a task or service for their owner. Their benefit to the owner is an emotional one, but for many people, having their ESA live with them in their home is just as crucial a requirement. That’s why it’s protected under the Fair Housing Act.
COVID-19 FHA Rights: Changes To The Fair Housing Act
In January of 2020, a few changes were made to the Fair Housing Act by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, specifically targeting ESAs.
A few important things to note about ESAs and the Fair Housing Act include:
- No breed or weight restrictions on ESAs, and a landlord cannot ask you for additional fees or deposits for your ESA: While there are limited circumstances under which an ESA can be denied by a landlord (such as it posing a threat to others), landlords must generally accommodate ESAs, and continue to do so during COVID-19.
- Landlords must respond to your request for an ESA within 10 days: Once you provide documentation for your ESA, the owner of the property has 10 days to respond.
- No additional forms are necessary: In the past, tenants seeking ESA accommodations often ran into problems with landlords requesting additional forms to be completed by health care professionals. This is no longer allowed; an ESA letter should be all that is needed.
- The property owner cannot request information about your diagnosis: Under the law, landlords may not ask for additional details about a tenant’s diagnosis in order to provide the accommodation for an ESA. They cannot ask for medical records or a medical exam to be performed.
- ESAs are now defined: It most common to find cats and dogs as ESAs, but there are many types of companion animals that can fill the role. However, the government has now clarified that an ESA must be a small, domesticated animal that is normally found in a home for pleasure. That means cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, rabbits, turtles, and fish (and animals like them) fall into this category, but not non-domesticated animals. If you have a unique ESA, this may present an issue.
Can You Still Get An ESA Letter Online?
Perhaps one of the biggest questions people have right now is: is it still possible to get an ESA letter online? The answer to that question is yes!
Housing and Urban Development reiterated in their recent changes that ESA letters can come from therapists online. As long as the letter is from a licensed health care professional, such as a psychologist, nurse practitioner, psychiatrist, physician’s assistant, social worker, or other mental health professional, that’s all you need to ensure a legitimate ESA letter. Your landlord cannot insist that the letter comes from a physician.
Coronavirus And Emotional Support Animals
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for many people. Now more than ever, ESAs are valuable companions as you work to deal with the stress and strain placed on you by the pandemic. Luckily, the process for obtaining an ESA letter for housing has not changed. You can still obtain the letter you need, and your landlord must still accept it and attempt reasonable accommodations if you meet all the criteria.
If you have questions about getting an ESA letter, Moosh can help! Our online resources are all you need to ensure that your animal companion can stay with you no matter where you move.