While many people are familiar with service dogs trained to perform very specific medical assistance functions, emotional support animals (ESA) are a different breed altogether. However, they're still assigned similar value when it comes to protection under US law. You may be able to move into an apartment or rental home that has a no pets policy with your ESA regardless of the landlord's objections, as long as you have the right documentation.
Fair Housing Act
A person's right to fair housing regardless of physical or mental condition was established by the Fair Housing Act in 1968. While it covers many different provisions for groups like families with children and people of varying religious affiliations, it also specifically designates that disabled tenants have the right to accommodations that fits their needs. This means that service animals, including emotional support animals, are protected by law as assistance tools rather than personal pets. They shouldn't be considered pets by landlords and therefore should be allowed to reside in a rental unit regardless of the established leasing policy regarding animals. This includes both blanket bans of pets and specific breed or size limitations.
Types of Support
The term service animal is generally applied only to highly trained dogs and occasionally cats with specific purposes, such as detecting seizures, fetching medication, or guiding the sight impaired. However, emotional support animals come in a wider array of forms and provide many different types of support, including the following:
- Stress reduction to combat chronic mental and physical conditions
- Mood stabilization for patients with conditions like bipolar disorder and depression
- Pain control through the natural calming effects of petting and spending time with an animal.
An ESA may not have the same training as a service animal, so it is up to the owner to make sure it can handle life in a rental situation without causing damage to the property. A very small apartment is a difficult environment for a very large and active dog, so seeking pet-friendly accommodations is not always a bad idea.
Documentation from Doctor
It's considered legal for your landlord or property management company to request documentation of your need for an ESA, but you don't have to disclose the information during the leasing process or answer questions about it before signing a lease thanks to the Fair Housing Act. If you do receive a request for documentation or complaint from your landlord, don't panic. Talk to the doctor or therapist who recommended you get a therapy or support animal and ask them to write you a letter or formal prescription. The letter should state that you have a disability, but it doesn't necessarily need to go into detail because you have a right to privacy regarding your own health. Don't overstate your case or get emotional. If you are still facing problems or resistance from your landlord, talk to a citizen's legal support service or hire a lawyer experienced in the world of tenant law.
Arguing Your Case
Do you think that you are getting turned down for rental opportunities or having your leases not returned because you are bringing along an emotional support animal? You don't necessarily have to go to court to fight the battle alone. Any time you suspect your rights under the Fair Housing Act are being violated, you can make a complaint to the Department of Housing and Urban Development through the mail or online. Most states also have similar Housing Authority offices with investigators who are empowered to charge a rental company or property owner with violating the housing rights of a tenant with a protected animal. Keep in mind that a few type of rental properties are excluded from this protection, including private single family unit rentals with no brokerage.