Fair Housing Act FAQs

Most of our questions in 2018 address Emotional Support Animal accommodations, pit bull and aggressive breed bans, fake emotional support animal ESA Letters, and disability discrimination by property managers - this is a growing trend.

What is an Assistance Animal as defined by the U.S. Department of HUD?

An “Assistance Animal” is the recent term HUD adopted to refer to an Emotional Support Animal or a Service Animal in the housing accommodations process:

“An assistance animal is not a pet. It is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.”

In other words, there should be no difference in treatment between ESAs and Service Animals- they are both equals and neither should be treated with preference. Unfortunately, many housing providers think ESAs must undergo difference scrutiny to be granted a housing accommodation- this is untrue!

Do Service Animals have priority over Emotional Support Animals during the housing accommodations process?

No! This is a huge misunderstanding carried over from public accommodations which should not be applied to housing accommodations. According to HUD there is no difference between a Service Animal or an Emotional Support Animal for the purposes of housing and reasonable accommodations. In fact, both ESAs and Service Animals are considered “Assistance Animals” for the purposes of fair housing and neither are to be treated preferentially.

Does the ADA or the Fair Housing Act apply when I am requesting a housing accommodation for my assistance animal?

When it comes to the review of a housing accommodation for an emotional support animal or service animal all housing providers must meet their fair housing obligations. All housing providers, including the Public Housing Authorities which provide federally funded subsidized housing, “may not use the ADA definition [of “service animal”] as a justification for reducing their FHAct obligations.” [75 Fed. Reg. at 56166, 56240 (Sept. 15, 2010)] Remember that both Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals are assistance animals under the FHAct, and therefore both should be subjected to the same review process outlined by HUD. If your landlord is treating ESAs differently than Service Animals, your landlord might be violating the FHAct.

Can Pit Bull, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, or Doberman Pinscher dogs be banned from housing because of their breed and size?

No! Breed, size, and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal.

If I live in a city or town which bans my assistance animal because of its breed, are my housing rights protected by the Fair Housing Act?

Again, No! Though a town or city may impose a breed ban upon pets, the same cannot be applied to any service animal or emotional support animal. The city could be held liable for violating the Fair Housing Act if they in fact subjected the disabled resident’s assistance animal to their breed ban. Many cities and towns mistakenly believe they are subjected to ADA laws only.

Can a property require medical documentation, or require a letter from a “doctor only” to prove my disability?

A property cannot require detailed medical information, nor can a property require the documentation come only from a doctor or physician. According to HUD, If the disability is “not readily apparent” or known by the housing provider, like PTSD, Autism, or TBI, the housing provider may ask for “reliable documentation” to verify the disability. According to HUD, a reliable source could be “a doctor or other medical professional, a peer support group, a non-medical service agency, or a reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual’s disability.” So, a property cannot require the reliable source be a doctor, however, a doctor could be a reliable source.

Can my housing provider prohibit me from taking my Emotional Support Animal or Service Animal to the common areas and the amenities on the property? Can I take my animal to the pool area?

If you are disabled and require an assistance animal, you would be able to take your animal anywhere on the property you would normally go- this would include the club house, the pool area, and any social event.

Can a housing provider deny my assistance animal because their insurance policy prohibits my dog’s breed? Can I be required to pay for additional coverage for my assistance animal?

Your assistance animal is not a pet, and therefore it cannot be subjected to pet rules, nor should you be required to pay any additional fees because you require an assistance animal.

Would the housing provider know that I filed a fair housing complaint? I am afraid of the landlord retaliating or threatening me- am I protected?

When you file a fair housing complaint and it is submitted to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the housing provider would never know the complaint was filed- it is kept secret at first. If HUD believes you have a great case, they will require you to sign a finalized fair housing complaint about your approval.

At that point, HUD, backed by the Department of Justice, will serve your housing provider with official documents alleging violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act and require the housing provider respond to a number of questions and document requests within 10 days.

No housing provider wants to be served by a Federal agency alleging violations of federal law!

Along with the official notification, the housing provider is notified that there is a very serious “Anti Retaliation, Threatening, and Intimidation” law which prohibits them from interacting with you in any threatening way.