Emotional support animals (ESAs) are increasingly being used by people with a variety of conditions. The term encompasses any companion animal, whether trained or untrained, that provides emotional support to the owner. The law recognizes this broad definition, and in most states, a person only needs to have a formal diagnosis of a mental disability in order to qualify for an ESA license.
Some people require their emotional support animal to accompany them at all times. A person may even feel happier when around their emotional support animal. It’s understandable, then, why some people wonder if it’s possible to bypass certain housing policies so they can still have their emotional support animal living with them.
What Counts as an ESA?
An emotional support animal does not have to be a dog or cat. There are a number of other animals that can qualify as an ESA, including: cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, hedgehogs, and ferrets. The ESA must also be acknowledged by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP).
ESAs are more commonly used by people with mental health conditions than those with physical disabilities. This can include those who suffer PTSD and severe anxiety. They should not be confused with a service animal. Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. ESAs are not trained to perform any tasks for their owners.
Benefits of the Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that protects individuals with disabilities. The FHA protects people with disabilities from being discriminated against in housing. This means that landlords cannot refuse to rent to a person with a disability or charge a higher rent for the same unit because of their disability.
This means that even units with a strict no-pet policy may be obliged to allow ESAs to live with their owners. If you feel like you may be discriminated against in housing, or if you want to make sure your emotional support animal is allowed in your unit, you can consult an attorney or advisor of your choice. You may be entitled to damages for your emotional distress and emotional support animal related expenses.
Things to Keep in Mind
Although your landlord is not allowed to discriminate against you and your ESA based solely on your disability, this doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to the rule. If your animal has proven to cause a substantial disruption in the life of other tenants, it may be considered a nuisance. This can include such things as howling, urine marking, or constant barking.
Landlords are therefore allowed to exclude emotional support animals from their rental units if they are a danger to the health and safety of others or the animal itself. If your ESA has bitten someone, that’s reason enough to keep it out of your unit.
Finally, you need to have an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) in order to qualify for an ESA license. An LMHP is required to evaluate the patient, determine if they have a mental disability, and provide the necessary documentation to prove that an emotional support animal can help with this condition.