Pro-tip: Your clinician must have "personal knowledge" of your disability and is engaged in an "ongoing treating relationship."
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that prevents discrimination against tenants in their homes.
Under the Fair Housing Act, a disability is defined as a mental or physical mental impairment which significantly limits a person’s major life activities. Even if a lease says "no pets allowed" or restricts pets, housing providers are required to make what is called a “reasonable accommodation.” A reasonable accommodation allows pets to serve as assistance animals (include animals who provide emotional support).
Assistance animals are not pets; therefore pet restrictions and fees do not apply. These are animals that perform a task, render services for the benefit of a disabled person, or provide emotional support that improves the symptoms of a disability.
From HUD's FHEO 2020 Guidance, "As of the date of the issuance of this guidance, FHA complaints concerning denial of reasonable accommodations and disability access comprise almost 60% of all FHA complaints and those involving requests for reasonable accommodations for assistance animals are significantly increasing. In fact, such complaints are one of the most common types of fair housing complaints that HUD receives. In addition, most HUD charges of discrimination against a housing provider following a full investigation involve the denial of a reasonable accommodation to a person who has a physical or mental disability that the housing provider cannot readily observe."
Training and certification.
Assistance animals do not require training or certification, can assist in a wide variety of ways, and are not restricted by breed, size, or weight.
Typically, service animals are dogs, with the most common example being that of a guide dog. Service dogs have a right to all public accommodations.
Emotional support animals are typically cats or dogs, and unlike a service dog, they are not trained to perform a service.
Classified as an assistance animal by a medical doctor or licensed mental health care provider, these animals provide emotional and/or physical benefits by merely living or traveling with their handler.
What happens if a landlord refuses to accommodate?
Under federal law, landlords must comply with a reasonable accommodation request if the disability claim is true and if the request does not create a hardship on the landlord or other tenants.Those who have been denied their request for a reasonable accommodation have the right to request that a government agency investigate your claim.
You have several options for filing a complaint:
- You can file a discrimination complaint electronically with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
- Many states have a government agency that investigates discrimination claims.
- You can also file a complaint directly with your state’s agency.
Housing covered by the Fair Housing Act.
All types of housing, including public housing, are covered by the FHA except:
- Rental dwellings of four or less units, where one unit is occupied by the owner;
- Single-family homes rented or sold by the owner without the use of a broker;
- Housing owned by religious organizations or private clubs that restrict occupancy in housing units to their members.
Need More Information?
An emotional support animal is a type of assistance animal that is recognized as a “reasonable accommodation” for a person with a disability under the federal Fair Housing Act.
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An emotional support animal is a type of assistance animal that is recognized as a “reasonable accommodation” for a person with a disability under the federal Fair Housing Act. An emotional support animal is not a pet. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability.
New HUD Guidelines.
HUD's new rules are an update to the Fair Housing Act (FHA) that sought to equalize the ability of people with disabilities to enjoy housing. Under the law, housing providers had to exempt those with disabilities from “no pet” rules and pet fees. But some of the gaps in the rules have been abused by those simply trying to bypass pet rules and fees. Others who are providing the letters have exploited uneducated consumers To comply, Housing Pro 2020 provides multiple clinical sessions between client and an in-state licensed provider.
Therapeutic Relationship Required.
Documentation submitted in support of an assistance animal request must come from a person who has a “therapeutic relationship” with the resident seeking the accommodation. A therapeutic relationship is “the provision of medical care, program care, or personal care services, in good faith, for and with actual knowledge of, an individual’s disability and that individual's disability-related need for an assistance animal by:
- a physician or other medical professional;
- a mental health service provider; or
- a non-medical service agency or reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual's disability.”
Because a therapeutic relationship requires that care services be provided, in good faith, for an individual’s disability, documentation submitted on the basis of a single visit to a health care provider solely to obtain a “doctor’s note” will generally not be legally sufficient.
Emotional support animal letter for travel.
An emotional support animal provides comfort to support a customer’s diagnosed mental or emotional disorder. Emotional support animals need not have specific training for that function. All must be trained to behave appropriately in a public setting. Acceptable ESAD Int'l emotional support animals are limited to dogs and cats. Your animal must behave appropriately in a public environment. If your 10-pound Chihuahua acts like Cujo, running around the airport on attack mode, the "best ESA letter in the world" won't matter. To qualify, an individual must have a health professional verify:
- A mental health-related disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (DSM IV).
- A need for the emotional support or psychiatric service animal to remedy the disability’s effects during air travel and activity at your destination
The passenger/client must be currently under the care and treatment of a licensed professional. To comply, Travel Pro 2020 provides a clinical session between client and an in-state licensed provider. Read: ESAD Int'l's service dog fraud policy.
Learn more about qualifying for an assistance animal.
Chaz Stevens is an entrepreneur, former journalist, and well-known activist who has appeared on the front pages of Time, Miami Herald, Guardian, Slate, and the Huffington Post. He’s also appeared on The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and Fox News.
Chaz lives in South Florida with his two rescue dogs. Before launching ESAD International, he could be found working on IT for IBM, Microsoft, and The Walt Disney World Company. But his favorite job is the one he’s now doing full time — helping people get to a better place.