Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Companion Animals

The Fair Housing Act is a federal act that is intended to protect somebody who buys or rents a living space from unlawful discrimination. Therefore, the landlord cannot refuse to sell, rent, or negotiate with any person due to a person’s protected class. This would mean that there is an equal opportunity for all people to be able to rent any given space.

Emotional Support Animals and FHA

In 1988, the Fair Housing Act received amendments which expanded the number of protected classed to include people with disabilities. According to this classification, people with disabilities had physical or mental impairments which intruded and limited a person’s abilities.  Under the act, if a renter or seller puts up their listing as restricting the keeping of animals, the person who acts as landlord must make “reasonable accommodation” to allow animals who perform a service or support their owners, whether it is a seeing-eye dog or an emotional support rabbit. The reason for this is because animals that offer assistance retain a separate legal classification than normal pets, which also includes waived fees in some places.

In order to demonstrate to a landlord that the animal that you have is indeed an emotional support animal, it is wise to keep on hand a letter from the licensed medical professional or therapist which explains the disability that you have. Along this official designation, you may also want to have a letter that explains how the animal in your possession helps you combat the symptoms from your disability. Since there is no official training or certifications that you can obtain, having these documents should allow you to request reasonable accommodation to keep your pet and find a living situation.

Reasonable Accommodations – What does that mean?

Reasonable accommodation takes on many forms in the expanded Fair Housing Act. Strictly for people with disabilities and emotional support animals who help with those disabilities, the owner or landlord of a complex must allow for the animal to reside in the presence of the owner. If somebody denies the opportunity for reasonable accommodation, then you can request an investigation with the government to claim discrimination. These complaints would be directed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which could be reached by mail or online.

As presented in other articles, emotional support animals can encompass many different species which come in all shapes and sizes. Under the Fair Housing Act, the landlord is not able to restrict the animal you choose based on breed or size. (With that being said, it may not be the best idea to have a horse if you live in a one bedroom apartment on the top floor.) As long as you are able to take care of your pet, there should not be any discrimination against your pet.

Sometimes landlords and owners refer to the only animals allowed as service animals. There is a very clear distinction when people try to explain service animals and emotional support animals. Service animals, usually dogs, are animals that provide a service for a disability. These animals are highly trained to perform a specific service. The owner would need that service animal for the ability to function through daily chores. On the other hand, emotional support animals do not perform a specific function for activity, but rather help to combat emotional or psychological symptoms that the owner is suffering. In the case of trying to live with the animal, both animals classify under “service animal”, so there is no need to fret if the landlord tries to make a certain distinction.

Am I going to be be charged an extra fee for my animal?

Also, the landlord cannot charge an extra fee since the animal is not functioning as a pet, it is serving a purpose.   But the owner or landlord of the complex do have some ground. They may require a deposit or later payment for damages that might occur when the tenant lives there. If the service animal becomes too unruly, then the landlord has the right to request removal of the tenant and the animal through legal proceedings.

The Fair Housing Act makes it viable to live with your emotional support animal without discrimination. If you need more information on obtaining an emotionally supportive companion, or want more general information, check out our FAQ page.