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Understanding Service & Emotional Support Animal Housing Laws

By Jarrod Heil

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Although your emotional support animal may run into problems in public areas, private places can present just as many challenges.

One private place that seems to cause the most trouble is a rental home. Whether it’s an apartment, condo or house, strict animal regulations are put in place by landlords and housing providers to ensure the risk of damages and extra liability concerns are reduced.

Some of the most notable pet restrictions ingrained in the world of home leasing are weight limits and excluded dog breeds. Some landlords even cut the risk entirely by disallowing pets altogether.

Protection Under the Fair Housing Act

Fortunately for owners of emotional support animals and service animals, the Fair Housing Act provides you and your animal additional rights against restrictions. It’s a federal law that protects tenants with service animals from being denied reasonable housing accommodations.

Under the Fair Housing Act emotional support animal and service animal law, a person must have a physical or mental impairment that significantly hinders major life activities to classify their animal in the assistance category. They also must be able to provide documentation from a doctor or psychiatrist to support their claim.

Assistance animals are often referred to as service animals or emotional support animals. They’re trained to complete tasks for their owner, such as guiding the blind or providing a heightened sense of hearing, or to help with coping and quality-of-life improvement, such as alleviating depression and anxiety or reducing stress-induced pain.

Since assistance animals are not classified by law as pets, breed and weight restrictions don’t apply.

Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal?

Although many landlords and housing providers must provide reasonable accommodation for assistance animals, there are some exclusions to the law that could allow them to deny your emotional support animal or service animal.

Private owners who don’t use real estate brokers and don’t own more than three single-family homes, as well as landlords who own, rent out and live in the same building with four or fewer units are excluded from the FHA law. In addition, reasonable accommodation that constitutes an undue burden or fundamental alteration of a property are excluded from the law as well.

If your landlord doesn’t fall under one those categories and your assistance animal doesn’t exceed a reasonable accommodation request, you cannot legally be denied housing due to your assistance animal.

What Can I Do If a Landlord Denies My Assistance Animal?

If the housing property falls under a protected category and you show the landlord or housing provider proper documentation, you should have no problems signing a lease. However, there are a few key players you can contact if you run into trouble.

You can file a complaint against the housing provider by contacting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. If that doesn’t work, contact a lawyer and have them write a letter to your landlord advising them to allow your assistance animal. The final step you can take is contacting an Emotional Support Animal Rights activist to see if there are any immediate steps they can help you with.

Although assistance animals are not considered a pet under emotional support animal housing laws, insurance companies still treat dog bites and damage caused by animals the same way. Renters insurance with a good deal of liability coverage is still recommended.