Fact checked

Fair Housing Act & Emotional Support Animals: What's Protected?

Emotional support animals are protected under the Fair Housing Act, a federal law that is applicable across all states. This law enables emotional support animal owners to live with their assistance animal in their rental housing, even if that housing has a no-pet policy. To certify your emotional support animal, all you need is a note from a licensed mental health professional, often called an ESA letter.

Matt Fleming
January 12, 2024
December 11, 2023
7 minute read
Updated By
Expert Reviewed By:
December 11, 2023
August 29, 2023
7 minute read
Updated By
The Fair Housing Act is an important law that protects emotional support animal owners' rights allowing them to keep their animal with them. Protect your rights with an ESA letter.

For many Americans living with mental health struggles, an assistance animal can make a world of difference, and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) is one of the most significant laws protecting these individuals and their animals. Whether it’s a physical or psychological service dog or an emotional support animal, the FHA is just one of the federal laws that offer protection for individuals with disabilities. Let’s take a closer look at the Fair Housing Act and emotional support animals.

What is the Fair Housing Act (FHA)?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is one of several federal laws that protect disabled individuals from discrimination in their daily lives. As opposed to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which specifically protects disabled individuals in almost every aspect of their lives, the FHA focuses on living situations. The law protects people from being discriminated against for their:

  • race or color
  • religion
  • sex
  • national origin
  • familial status
  • disability

What Does the Fair Housing Act Protect?

As a federal law, the FHA protects Americans across the country from discrimination by housing providers when purchasing or renting. This includes landlords and real estate companies as well as other entities, such as municipalities, banks or other lending institutions, and homeowners insurance companies. It ensures that individuals and families can live in their homes without fear of unfair treatment or wrongful eviction, and it protects them during every stage of the mortgage process. It also protects disabled individuals with service dogs or emotional support animals. 

An emotional support animal owner at home with her emotional support dog

The Fair Housing Act and Emotional Support Animals

When it comes to assistance animals, emotional support animals (ESAs) have fewer federal protections than service dogs (or miniature horses). However, the FHA stands up for disabled individuals and their ESAs, making it easier for them to live together in rental housing situations. It prohibits any discrimination on the part of landlords and housing managers toward disabled tenants or potential tenants, even if the ESA is not a common pet. Even under the FHA, renters and their ESAs still need to follow some basic rules.

How Does the Fair Housing Act Protect Emotional Support Animals?

The FHA protects individuals and their ESAs from application to lease and throughout their rental period. It prohibits discrimination from landlords or housing managers against disabled persons and their support animals, even if they don’t commonly allow pets or a specific type of ESA. As long as the animal is not oversized for the home, any domesticated animal can live with its owner as an ESA. The law also prevents landlords from charging pet fees, pet rent, or deposits. 

What Does the Fair Housing Act Require of Emotional Support Animal Owners?

Just because the FHA protects support animals, it doesn’t give you or your ESA carte blanche in rental housing. You are required to keep your assistance animal under your control at all times to ensure it doesn’t threaten, intimidate, or attack other residents or tenants. A housing provider can deny rental or evict a tenant if the ESA poses a threat to others or the property, or if it causes any property damage. When considering bringing an ESA into your home, you should consider what type of animal is most suited for your living situation rather than inviting drama with your landlord.

Rules For Landlords Regarding Emotional Support Animals

As the landlord or manager of rental properties, you have some rules to follow to ensure you comply with the FHA with regard to ESAs. For starters, you are only allowed to ask two specific questions to the potential renter with a disability: 

  • Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

If a person’s disability is not apparent or obvious, a landlord may not inquire about the disability or its details. As far as the ESA itself is concerned, a housing provider can’t apply size, weight, or breed restrictions (within reason and following state and local laws), nor may they speculate on their behavior. Housing providers can only deny or evict if there is clear evidence of threatening behavior or apparent damage. 

A dog sniffing the autumn leaves on a walk with its owner

What is an Emotional Support Animal According to the Fair Housing Act?

According to the FHA, an emotional support animal (ESA) is a domesticated animal 

that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability. An ESA can be any type of domesticated animal, whether common pets like dogs and cats, smaller animals like hamsters and guinea pigs, or cold-blooded creatures like snakes and lizards. 

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal

To ensure that you have no issues bringing your emotional support animal along with you at your new or current home, just follow a few steps and get an ESA letter. This official document verifies your condition and need for an ESA so your landlord has no excuse to deny you.

Fair Housing Act Guidelines

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) imposes no specific guidelines or restrictions for ESAs, other than requiring them to behave and remain under their owners’ control. It protects animals of all types as emotional support animals, even unconventional ones like snakes or turtles. However, to stay in line with the law, you should consider getting an ESA that fits your setting.

Getting an ESA Letter

Getting an ESA letter is easier than you may think — especially with the help of the pros from Pettable. All it takes is a quick questionnaire and a virtual visitation with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). We offer a money-back guarantee that your ESA letter will succeed in helping you acquire housing, so there’s no risk, all reward!

Who Can Write an ESA Letter?

Any licensed mental health professional (LMHP), such as a psychiatrist or licensed therapist, can write an ESA letter, as can most general practitioners and nurse practitioners. However, the LMHP must be actively licensed, ideally in your home state; some states require this, so Pettable ensures all local and state laws are followed. Other local laws sometimes require a 30-day relationship between the individual and the LMHP, so you should consider getting your ESA letter well in advance of applying for housing.

Meet the author:
Matt Fleming

Matt is a Midwestern-based writer and devoted dog dad, living with a sweet mixed-breed pup named Robin. A life-long dog lover, he had the pleasure of growing up with several German Shepherds, a Cocker Spaniel, and a Black Labrador. He is a full-time editor, as well as a musician and poet, who loves basketball, birdwatching and listening to The Cure and Nick Cave.

See Archive