Emotional Support Animals: Is Your Pet Legal?

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Emotional Support Animals: Is Your Pet Legal? February 15th, 2017

Emotional Support Animals: Is Your Pet Legal?

If a person is emotionally impaired and is therapeutically dependent on his or her pet for emotional support, the individual is entitled to enlist the animal as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). The 1988 Fair Housing Amendments Act requires the property manager/landlord to adjust their housing policies when dealing with a tenant who has an ESA. This includes breed, weight, and species policies.

What this means is if the landlord has an “only cats” policy and you have a dog as an ESA, they must adjust their policy and allow your dog. Similarly, if the weight policy is 30 pounds while your emotional support dog weighs 60, changes must be made to the rules to accommodate your needs. However, landlords and property managers are by no means required to make adjustments to their policies under the Fair Housing Act for emotional support animals in the following cases:

  • Apartment buildings with four or less units, one of which is occupied by the owner.
  • Single family housing rented or properties sold without a real estate agent
  • Private clubs
  • Motels and hotels are considered public accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and not dwellings under the Fair Housing Act.

Is Your Pet Legal?

Pets Care.Young woman holding cat homeFirst off, you are only eligible to register your pet as an emotional support if you meet the following conditions:

  • You have a mental or physical impairment that significantly affects one or more key daily life activities.
  • You have a disability-related need for an emotional support animal, which means if the animal works, performs tasks and provides assistance or service to you in any way, or offers mental support that reduces one or more of the identified effects or symptoms of your present disability.

If you don’t meet either of the two conditions mentioned above, a property owner is not obligated to make adjustments for you, as per the HUD. However, if the answer to both conditions is “yes”, the Fair Housing Act allows exceptions to the “no pets” rule under the HUD.

Documents Required

To qualify for an ESA, you require a licensed letter from a mental health professional (psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist) verifying that the individual is in his/her care, is psychiatrically or emotionally disabled, and prescribes an emotional support animal for the person since it is expected to bring him/her emotional benefits. In absence of a prescription letter, your pet is not legally deemed an emotional support animal, and if you present your pet as an ESA, you will have violated the federal law. This is an offense punishable by imprisonment and fine, if convicted.

In case you do not have the luxury of a therapist or your therapist is unwilling to write you a letter of prescription for an emotional support animal, you can seek the help of any other doctor or therapist (not someone from the family), or even online services. A recommended source for getting your ESA letter is Chilhowie Psychological Services, which requires you to go through a disability test to assess your eligibility.

These laws permit a property owner to accept a letter explaining the tenant’s mental health from their mental health professional, but they may also ask for a confirmation to be completed by another licensed mental health professional or doctor, verifying the tenant’s emotional/ psychiatric/ physical disability. Regardless of if your property manager may not wish to make certain amendments to their “pets” policy, they are required by federal law to be reasonable. If they fail, they are in violation of federal law.