A Helpful Housing Guide to Emotional Support Animals

A Helpful Housing Guide to Emotional Support Animals

A study by the World Health Organization found that people who had diabetes, angina, asthma, or arthritis were more likely to suffer from depression than people without these conditions.

Every day, we encounter clients that struggle with anxiety, stress, and a multitude of other emotional and physical disabilities.

As the COVID-19 disease swept across the globe, many individuals who might not have previously felt a need for mental health services are now finding themselves unsure of how to emotionally deal with this pandemic. It’s common to feel anxious, stressed, or depressed during this time. Social distancing doesn’t have to mean we have to do everything alone.

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

All too often, landlords working for a housing provider believe that unless you are blind or deaf, your reasonable accommodation request is fraudulent.

The American’s with Disability Act (ADA) defines an individual’s disability as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.” Major life activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Caring for oneself
  • Performing manual tasks
  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Eating
  • Sleeping
  • Walking
  • Standing
  • Lifting
  • Bending
  • Speaking
  • Breathing
  • Learning
  • Reading
  • Concentrating
  • Thinking
  • Communicating
  • Working

Service animals versus Emotional Support Animals.

Legal problems can sometimes bubble up when dealing with the nuanced differences between service and support animals.

Service animals, which are traditionally dogs and horses, are highly trained to perform a particular skill, for example detecting a seizure, pulling a wheelchair, and guidance for the visually challenged.

Animals commonly kept in households.

Comparatively, Emotional Support Animals require no specialized training (FHEO Notice: FHEO-2013-01, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).

If the animal is a dog, cat, small bird, rabbit, hamster, gerbil, other rodent, fish, turtle, or other small, domesticated animal that is traditionally kept in the home for pleasure rather than for commercial purposes, then the reasonable accommodation should be granted because the requestor has provided information confirming that there is a disability-related need for the animal.

All other animals.

Reptiles (other than turtles), barnyard animals, monkeys, kangaroos, and other non-domesticated animals are not considered common household animals.

Individuals requesting to keep a unique type of animal that is not commonly kept in households has a substantial burden of demonstrating a disability-related therapeutic need for the specific animal or the specific type of animal.

Specific Protections: Emotional Support Animal Laws.

Emotional support animals, like service animals, are protected by Federal. Though, support animals do not enjoy the same public places protection.

Emotional Support Animal Housing Laws

Federal Law requires landlord to allow tenants to live with their psychiatric service dogs and Emotional Support Animals. In practice, this means renters cannot be charged a pet deposit, nor evicted (excluding certain rare exceptions).

Landlords can require documentation supporting the need for a service or support animal. However, as no training is required for a support animal, there’s no need for any time of “animal” certification.

Exceptions to Emotional Support Animal Law

Emotional support animals are not granted unlimited legal protection. Only service animals, and not support animals, are offered unfettered access to a public place.

Landlords also have the very limited ability to deny support animals, if the animal poses a threat to the safety or health others or would cause substantial property damage.

This exception is not based on breed or size; the threat to property or safety must be specific to the animal in question.

On the other hand, the amount of damage done by an animal need not be substantial if it is unreasonable. (See, e.g., Woodside Village v. Hertzmark, FH-FL Rptr. ¶ 18,129 (Conn. Sup. Ct. 1993), where failing to clean up or walk the dog in designated areas resulted in a proper eviction).