It can be a familiar prohibition in condominium complexes and rental properties: NO PETS ALLOWED. Does that include an emotional support animal?
The federal Fair Housing Act enlarges the definition of assistance animal to include “emotional support animals,” which it considers to be a reasonable accommodation. An emotional support animal is a type of assistance animal for a person with a disability under the Fair Housing Act.
An emotional support animal is not a pet, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and can be animals other than dogs, like cats or other species.
There is no all-encompassing list of possible disabilities for which an assistance animal as defined by the FHA could be used. Rather, HUD says the functions include “providing emotional support to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support.” Under the FHA, emotional support animals can serve those with severe depression, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and many other emotional and psychiatric disabilities and do not require special training to be classified as assistance animals.
The process for a homebuyer or renter who needs an emotional support animal and who wants to live in a “no pets allowed” community is relatively simple. The first step is to make the request to the housing provider or housing board. Reliable documentation of the disability and disability-related need for the assistance animal is required if the disability is not known or not readily-apparent. This documentation is usually a letter from a medical doctor or treating therapist who can establish the disability and need for the assistance animal. The housing provider may not ask for access to medical records or unreasonably delay the request.
Requests for an assistance animal should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis without general assumptions about certain species or breeds. Housing providers who have been asked to provide a reasonable accommodation should consider whether the person seeking to use and live with the animal has a disability and whether the animal provides assistance or emotional support that alleviates symptoms or effects of a person’s disability?
If the answer is “yes” to both questions, then HUD states the FHA requires an exception to a “no pets” rule. Housing providers “are required to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space according to the FHA. Housing providers cannot refuse an accommodation based on a state law or a local ordinance that prohibits certain types of animals or breeds from a community or area as the FHA preempts state and local law.
Further general guidance can be obtained through HUD or through this excellent publication from the National Apartment Association. Stay tuned tomorrow for a follow-up article on the recently passed Act 118 of 2018 known as the Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act.