Many landlords and property managers have concerns about their tenants owning pets, and chances are, you've come across some strict pet policies in your time as a renter. But what if your four-legged friend is more than a pet, and also serves as your emotional support animal?
Under the Fair Housing Act, your landlord must (at minimum) consider all reasonable requests for assistance animals to avoid being penalized for discriminatory behavior. But first, you have to understand if your animal qualifies.
The language surrounding assistance animals can be confusing, and terms are often used interchangeably: Emotional support animal, service animal, assistance animal, guide animal, comfort animal, psychiatric service animal, etc.
Typically, assistance animals are broken into the following two categories.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a true service animal is trained to provide assistance to an owner who has a disability. The tasks or services performed by the animal must be directly related to the owner's disability. Examples include a dog trained to alert a diabetic owner when their blood sugar is low or a dog trained to detect the onset of a seizure in a person with epilepsy.
Emotional support animals or therapy animals are both terms used to describe companion animals that alleviate symptoms and provide comfort to owners with conditions like anxiety, depression, autism or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The key difference between the two is the training and certification that service animals receive, which companion animals typically do not. Service animals are trained by experts and have a reputation for being generally well behaved and unlikely to cause damage or disruption. These expert certifications may help put landlords who would otherwise not allow pets at ease.
Because companion animals have not usually been professionally trained or certified, they don't qualify as service animals under the ADA. Therefore, they may not be given the same consideration by landlords, just as they aren't given the same opportunities to be with their owners in public places where pets are prohibited.
Understanding whether or not your companion animal or emotional support animal qualifies as a service animal is the first step towards understanding your rights — and your animal's rights — as a renter.
Although the ADA views companion animals differently than service animals, Federal Fair Housing laws treat the two similarly. Tenants with emotional support animals do have rights to reasonable accommodations under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), as enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
You may qualify for reasonable accommodations for a disability if the following conditions outlined by the FHA and ADA are present:
If a landlord or property manager prohibits pets at a property, as a renter with a disability, you may request reasonable accommodations in order for your emotional support animal to live with you. This means you'll ask your landlord to change or make an exception to an existing rule or policy to create an equal opportunity for you to live in the unit. Turn to HUD for further guidance on reasonable accommodation claims for emotional support animals.
Tenant requests for emotional support animals are legally enforceable if the renter qualifies for reasonable accommodation. An emotional support animal is not just a pet, and therefore landlords may not look at them as such.
Numerous laws have been put in place to protect the privacy of renters with disabilities while ensuring they receive fair housing opportunities. Rules and regulations vary from state to state, so be sure to research your state's specific laws.