Emotional Support Animals and the Fair Housing Act

Emotional Support Animals and the Fair Housing Act

Emotional support animals, rental housing issues and the Fair Housing Act create more questions than just about any other topic we see. Here is some help with the issues and remember this is not legal advice so check with your attorney on specifics.

By The Fair Housing Institute

Emotional support animals can come in all shapes and sizes, making it difficult to know how to properly handle accommodation requests and avoid possible fair-housing complaints. This article will discuss the proper verification process for emotional support animals based on the Fair Housing Act and how to manage some common situations that may arise.

Emotional Support Animals – Proper Verification

How do you handle an applicant who states they have an emotional support animal and presents you with an ESA letter? This can be tricky, as many of these letters can be obtained from the Internet without much of a professional relationship between the resident and the verifier.

To help with these situations, you should have a verification process in place based on the Fair Housing Act that includes the following:

Questions to ask the resident:

  • Did you contact the verifier for the sole purpose of obtaining an ESA letter?
  • Have you had more than one or two brief contacts with the verifier for the purpose of providing a verification?
  • Does the verifier have personal knowledge of your disability and need for an animal?
  • Has the verifier provided you with medical or mental health services?

Questions to ask the verifier:

  • Did the resident contact you for the purpose of obtaining a verification?
  • Other than providing a verification for an assistance animal, do you have an ongoing professional relationship with the resident by providing medical or mental health services beyond providing a verification?
  • Do you have adequate personal knowledge of the resident to be able to make a diagnosis of a disability? Please note: We are not requesting that you provide the diagnosis.

Emotional Support Animals and the Fair Housing Act

As you can see, the above questions will establish whether or not the resident has an ongoing relationship with the verifier and meets the criteria of having a disability that requires the aid of the animal.

Breed and Size Restrictions

Can you restrict an ESA (emotional support animal) based on breed or size? The short answer is no. If the need for the animal has been verified, the Fair Housing Act states that accommodations must be made. Your job is to now welcome Muffy the 100-pound Rottweiler, or Wilbur the pot-bellied pig, to the family.

Undisclosed or Multiple Emotional Support Animals

You just received a notification from a maintenance staff member that a resident has multiple animals. Further investigation shows that the pets were not disclosed on their rental application. The resident states that they are all emotional support animals. What now?

Whether it’s one or multiple animals, you need to follow the same verification procedures. The only difference here is that each animal would have to provide a different service. If each animal can be verified, then accommodations need to be made.

In conclusion, we can see that the Fair Housing Act protects the need for emotional support animals under certain circumstances. A verification process along with fair housing training will ensure everyone’s needs and rights are met.

About the author:

In 2005, The Fair Housing Institute was founded as a company with one goal: to provide educational and entertaining fair housing compliance training at an affordable price, all at the click of a button.

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