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Fair Housing and Emotional Support Animals

Posted on 09. Feb, 2017 by

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to deny someone housing because they have a disability. The Fair Housing Act also says that everyone has the right to “fully use and enjoy” their home. People with disabilities are entitled to any necessary, reasonable modifications or accommodations they might need in order to fully use and enjoy their home.
A modification is a physical change to the structure of the property, like installing a ramp or grab bars in a bathroom. An accommodation is a change to a rule or policy, like allowing a tenant to have an assistance animal even if there is a no pets policy.

There are different categories of assistance animals. Most people know that service animals – like seeing eye-dogs – have to be allowed if a tenant needs them. There tends to be a lot of confusion, however, about emotional support animals.

Emotional support animals, unlike service animals, don’t have to be certified or trained to perform a particular task. They can qualify as assistance animals as long as their presence is necessary for a person with a disability; for example: a support animal may reduce symptoms of a disability, like anxiety or depression. While dogs are one of the most common types of support animals, cats, rabbits, ferrets, birds, and sometimes even small horses can also qualify.

Another important difference between emotional support animals and service animals is that while emotional support animals are always allowed in housing, they may not be allowed in public spaces such as stores and restaurants like service animals are.

If you request that your landlord allow you to have an emotional support animal because of a disability, you may be asked to provide documentation from a medical provider or someone familiar with your disability and your need for a support animal. You do not have to provide confidential medical information, but you must provide enough information that the housing provider is able to determine that the support animal is necessary and directly related to a disability. A landlord may not charge a pet deposit for a service or support animal; they also may not restrict the breed or size of the animal, as long as it is reasonable.

These protections only apply to people with disabilities. Claiming that you need an emotional support animal when you don’t really need one in order to get around a landlord’s no pet policy makes things more difficult for people who truly need this support.

If you have any questions about emotional support animals or service animals, feel free to call The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 504-596-2100 or visit our website www.gnofairhousing.org.

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