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What landlords need to know about the Fair Housing Act and emotional support animals

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law designed to prevent discrimination in the renting and selling of houses. There are seven protected classes under the Fair Housing Act, and specific states also offer additional tenant protections. Emotional support animals are a legal classification and landlords cannot deny legitimate emotional support animals.

An emotional support animal is an animal that helps a person with a disability. Under the FHA a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment, which significantly limits a person’s major life activities. As such, even if you stipulate clearly in your lease that no animals are allowed, or you otherwise restrict the type, size, or number of animals, landlords are legally required to make a “reasonable accommodation” to allow animals that serve as emotional support animals or assistance animals.

What is an emotional support animal? 

An emotional support animal is a category of assistance animal. Assistance animals are not pets and as such restrictions and fees that might be applicable to pets are waived. These animals assist and will perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability. Not allowing an assistance animal could be seen as discriminating against a person with a disability.

There is an important differentiation between emotional support animals and service animals. Emotional support animals do not have to be certified service animals – but for an animal to be a service animal, it must be trained and certified for its role.

Generally speaking, emotional support animals provide mental and emotional benefits to their owners. Service animals on the other hand provide a physical benefit. For example, a service animal would include a guide dog that helps a blind person get around or a seizure alert dog that is specifically trained to react when its companion is having a seizure.

Service animals are normally dogs, but emotional support animals are a broader category and can include dogs cats, birds, fish, lizards, or other animals.

A tenant might have an emotional support animal to assist in a disability, provide comfort or help ease the pain associated with their disability. One example is a comfort dog that can help those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Emotional support animal housing laws 

In most scenarios, a landlord must make reasonable accommodations for an emotional support animal, but there are a few scenarios where this may not be the case. Below are several examples where accommodations do not need to be made:

  • If the building has four or fewer units and the landlord occupies one of the units.
  • Both hotels and motels do not fall under the Fair Housing Act for emotional support animals. They are considered public places and fall under the American Disability Act and are only required by law to accept service animals.
  • Private Clubs.
  • Single-family housing sold or rented without a real estate broker.

On the other hand, when dealing with an emotional support animal, there are a few things that landlords absolutely cannot do, this includes the following:

  • They can’t require that the emotional support animal performs a certain task like a service animal.
  • They can’t require a pet deposit or fee for accommodating the emotional support animal, even when the landlord or manager requires other tenants to pay a pet deposit.
  • Inquire about the extent of the person’s disability, or ask for a detailed medical record.
  • The landlord or manager cannot refuse to accommodate your animal because their insurance policy won’t allow a species, breed, or weight limit of the emotional support animal.

What to do if a tenant requests to allow an emotional support animal

If a tenant requests or informs you that they have an emotional support animal you are allowed to verify their need for and the function of this animal. For example, you can request that a doctor, therapist, or healthcare professional verifies that the tenant has the disability that they state and the emotional support animal helps alleviate the symptoms of their disability. 

Here are three questions that you should ask yourself to quantify if you need to accept an emotional support animal.

  1. Does the tenant have a disability? Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 describes a disability as either a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities. You can ask for proof of a tenant’s disability, however, the tenant does not have to disclose their disability if they don’t want to.
  2. Does the animal alleviate or assist with this disability? You can ask a medical professional to confirm that the emotional support animal is necessary for the individual. This is to determine whether the animal performs physical or mental assistance that allows the individual to perform necessary life functions.
  3. Is the request reasonable? If the tenant meets the two above criteria and the request for an emotional support animal does not cause you financial hardship, then it is a reasonable accommodation.

What if the animal is disruptive? 

A tenant’s animal whether it’s an emotional support animal or not, cannot interfere with another tenant’s quiet enjoyment of the premises. If an animal does become disruptive, you have the right to request the animal gets additional training or obedience lessons. You may also be able to ban the animal from certain common areas of the residence.

If the bad behaviour continues this may even be grounds to start eviction proceedings. If the animal causes damage to the unit, the tenant is responsible for paying to repair these damages. These are a few of the actions you can pursue if an emotional support animal becomes disruptive. You cannot, however, ask a tenant to get rid of a legitimate emotional support animal even if it is disruptive.

fair housing actlandlord laws

Ben Luxon

Ben is the editor and lead writer for Landlord Studio. He has worked with real estate professionals all over the world and written educational articles on tech, real estate, and financial growth for sites such as Forbes, TechBullion, and Business Magazine.

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