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Are emotional support animals permitted in a “no pets allowed” property?

by Kathryn Simpson on

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 (HUD), 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. 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.

Review important fair housing resources.


Service animal Emotional support animals
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Lawrence Dellegrotto

Great informative article. I believe from my discussions with agents throughout Pennsylvania that the issue that is confusing to Pennsylvania real estate agents and landlords is the difference between the definition of a “Service Animal” per the ADA and the definition of a “Support Animal” under Pennsylvania’s Human Relation Act. Thank you for addressing this issue and the very informative links.


If ada supercedes state law then its irrelevant how the state reads it.

Sherry Kromer

This was exactly what I learned at Triple Play in December. Thank you for sharing on Facebook.

Melinda W

For All Landlords, Property Management and Realtors: 1.) Please make sure the Prescription Letter for an ESA is Prescribed and Written by a Tenant’s LOCAL Physician/Psychiatrist with a patient/Physician/Psychiatrist “history” relationship. The ESA letter will Not state the person’s disability, (HIPAA) only the need as part of one’s treatment plan. This letter is to be shown to you for accommodation. 2.) Do NOT use ESA Prescription Letters from on-line or web for proof. They do NOT provide requirements re: 15 minute consult or questionnaire, no “history” and UNLIKE legitimate ESA letters from one’s LOCAL Physician/Psychiatrist, these ESA letters do NOT show Local Letterhead and LOCAL State Medical License Number. This is an easy way to determine if they are legitimate ESA letters and potential tenants can be DENIED. Current Tenants can be DENIED, as well, and can be EVICTED using these on-line, web ESA letters. In addition, Per HUD, The Fair Housing Act, if the tenant is renting a home, an ESA is ONLY allowed if a Realtor is renting out the home, not owners of the home. Pls REFER to Federal Laws, these are not per State. ADA (Service Dogs – trained for specific tasks) HUD, The Fair Housing Act, (ESA’s). Thank You.

Maringer, Alan

Please keep in mind that there are people who relocate to PA, and therefore don’t have a local physician to write the ESA. The simple fact that the physician isn’t local cannot, in an of itself, prevent a landlord from considering it a legitimate letter. I recently had a couple go through this exact scenario while moving to Philadelphia from across the country, and the landlord was more than willing to provide for the accommodation based on the letter written from their non-local physician. It’s definitely good guidance to watch out for fraudulent ESA’s, and I appreciate your pointing that out, but with your repeated CAPS, it begins to seem as though you’re guiding people to never trust a non-local physician. Aside from that, I’m sure you’re doing good work with the Facebook group, although it maybe it would reach even more people if it were available to the public.

Melinda W

1.) In addition, Per The Department of Justice, they do NOT recognize or require any types of “Certification” or “Registration” for Service Dogs or Emotional Support Animals. These are ALSO found on Facebook sites/on-line or websites selling invalid ESA prescription letters as aforementioned. This is another “clue” they are NOT legitimate. 2.) IF the breed of the dog is “deemed a bully breed”, IF and only IF it costs the insurance premiums to increase because of such “bully breed”, per HUD, The Fair Housing Act, landlord and/or management company has to contact HUD on a case by case basis and landlord/management company has to show proof it has caused increased insurance expenses. I do have a legitimate Facebook Private Group for ESA’s. We do NOT sell or promote any items in our group. We cite and post ONLY VALID Federal Laws directly from the Government. Thank You.

JP Shaw

The article states “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.” But what if the landlord’s insurance policy does not cover certain breed types such as pit bulls, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, etc.? Can an insurance company deny coverage if the landlord provides housing to to a tenant with an ESA of one of the restricted breeds?