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Emotional Support Animals and the Fair Housing Act

A photo of an emotional support animal

Our members often ask questions about emotional support animals and service/assistance animals. They wonder if they can deny a tenant a unit if they have one or disallow an animal based upon an existing pet policy. The RPOA investigated the most up to date information about assistance animals. There is a risk of being in violation of federal fair housing regulations by not following the rules. Here’s the scoop.

Liz Keegan of the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan states that “the Fair Housing Act does not place any limits on what may be considered an assistance animal. They also do not have to be trained or otherwise certified.”

What is an Assistance Animal?

An assistance animal is not a pet. It is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. Assistance animals perform many disability-related functions, including but not limited to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, providing protection or rescue assistance, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, alerting persons to impending seizures, or providing emotional support to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support. For purposes of reasonable accommodation requests, neither the Fair Housing Act nor Section 504 requires an assistance animal to be individually trained or certified. While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals.

A tenant may supply a landlord or property manager with a letter from their healthcare provider stating why they require the assistance of a service and/or emotional support animal. You can find a sample letter here.

Do I Have to Accept Emotional Support and Service Animals?

In all cases regarding persons with disabilities, landlords are required under law to make reasonable accommodations unless there is an undue financial burden. Keegan also stated that, for example, “if a housing provider would lose their current insurance and cannot secure comparable insurance (with evidence of seeking said insurance such as multiple quotes, etc.) because of the type of animal, then it would not be reasonable for the housing provider to allow the accommodation because it would be an undue burden on the provider. However, we recommend that the housing provider research their own insurance policy as well as other options, and document their efforts so that they may be able to defend why the accommodation wasn’t reasonable for them if they were to be challenged.”

Also, according to HUD, breed, size, and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal. Conditions and restrictions that housing providers apply to pets may not be applied to assistance animals (such as pet deposits or fees). HUD issued new regulations concerning service animals in 2013.

The RPOA recommends that landlords follow the process outlined by HUD that is detailed here. These steps should be followed to ensure that your rental process is in compliance. It’s important to keep in mind that a landlord can’t ask if a person is handicapped or disabled. They can, however, ask if the animal is needed due to a physical or mental disability.


Disclosure: This Knowledge Base article is accurate as of the last update. Laws and policies are subject to change. If you have any questions, please call the office. Click here for contact information.