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HUD Emotional Support Animal Guidelines: What You Need to Know

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the government body that created legislation on emotional support animals being allowed in housing. The Fair Housing Act protects individuals who have emotional support animals, allowing them to live with their animal in private housing, regardless of no-pet policies, and exempt from pet fees.

April Brightman
March 25, 2024
November 21, 2023
5 minute read
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November 21, 2023
August 18, 2021
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The Department of Housing and Urban Development outlines the rules for emotional support animals in the Fair Housing Act. Here’s everything you need to know about their guidelines.

Emotional support animals provide unmatched comfort to people with disabilities. There are federal guidelines in place to protect the rights of individuals who are seeking rental housing with an emotional support animal in the United States.

HUD & Emotional Support Animals

the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines state that individuals with emotional support animals may request reasonable accommodations under the Fair Housing Act. Housing providers must consider requests and make exceptions to pet policies if the animal is deemed necessary for a person's emotional well-being.

What is The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) exists primarily to manage programs related to housing needs in America. The purpose of this agency is to work to improve and develop housing within communities and enforce laws related to fair housing.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a set of laws that fall under HUD protecting the rights of individuals seeking rental housing, housing assistance, home mortgages, or buying a home. It prevents discrimination for housing opportunities based on race, religion, orientation, gender identity, and disability. 

How Does HUD Define an Emotional Support Animal?

According to the HUD guidelines, both emotional support animals and service animals fall under the definition of “assistance animals.” By definition, assistance animals do work, provide assistance, perform tasks, or provide emotional support to individuals with disabilities or mental health conditions. An assistance animal is different from a pet, and when it comes to housing, is exempt from pet restrictions and fees.

HUD Guidance on Emotional Support Animals

The Office of Housing and Urban Development provides the following guidelines related to emotional support animals:

Notice FHEO 2020-01

Under the Fair Housing Act, notice FHEO 2020-01 outlines the obligations of housing providers regarding assistance animals. It offers specific guidelines for meeting reasonable requests for accommodations when it comes to housing with emotional support animals and service animals and dictates the limited circumstances under which housing providers can deny such requests.

Reasonable Accommodation Requests

Reasonable accommodation requests made by individuals with disabilities using an assistance animal can take different forms. A reasonable accommodation is a request to modify or change a current environment (like a home or apartment). An example of this might be installing a visual fire alarm for someone who is deaf.

When it comes to people with disabilities who use an assistance animal, seeking housing in a place that doesn’t typically allow pets, has breed or size restrictions, or imposes fees for pets requires a reasonable accommodation request to live there with their assistance animal.

Housing Providers Assessing Accommodation Requests

Under the same notice, HUD provides the following guidelines for housing providers to assess whether or not to grant a reasonable accommodation request. This helps provide some clarity on what falls within the realm of “reasonable” and “unreasonable” based on the law. Housing providers should use the following questions to evaluate reasonable accommodation requests:

  • Does the person have an observable disability, or does the housing provider already have information giving them reason to believe that the person has a disability?   
  • Has the person requesting the accommodation provided information that reasonably supports that the person seeking the accommodation has a disability?
  • Has the person requesting the accommodation provided information that reasonably supports that the animal does work, performs tasks, provides assistance, and/or provides therapeutic emotional support concerning the individual’s disability?
  • Is the animal commonly kept in households? 

Landlords and rental housing agencies may only deny a reasonable request for accommodation if the animal’s presence or behavior will impact the health and safety of other tenants, or pose a risk to the property.

Observable vs Non-Observable Disabilities

Not all disabilities are immediately obvious when you look at a person living with one. Notice FHEO 2020-0 notes that whether disabilities are observable or non-observable, they are still considered legitimate.

According to HUD, “Observable impairments generally tend to be obvious and would not be reasonably attributable to non-medical causes by a lay person.” Observable disabilities include conditions like mobility challenges and other impairments that can be identified through observable symptoms resulting from such conditions.

Nonobservable disabilities are those that may not be apparent, especially those that might use an emotional support animal. Examples of nonobservable disabilities could be mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or cognitive conditions like hearing, vision, and speech impairments. 

Proof of a Disability

There are guidelines on which information members of any business or agency are allowed to ask for regarding proof of a disability. They can’t ask about your specific diagnosis or your symptoms, but there are a few things they can ask for, including:

  • A determination of a disability from a state, local, or government agency
  • Receipt of disability benefits or services 
  • Eligibility determinations for housing assistance or vouchers received because of a disability
  • Information confirming a disability from a healthcare professional, like an emotional support animal letter from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP).

Emotional Support Animal Documentation from the Internet

There are some websites out there that sell certificates or claim to ‘register’ service animals and emotional support animals, but these documents don’t have any legal standing when it comes to proof of an assistance animal. Notice FHEO 2020-0 states that HUD cannot reliably accept these documents as sufficient proof of a disability.

Some providers offer legitimate counseling and consultations for people with disabilities who need a service animal or emotional support animal. These licensed professionals — like those who work with Pettable — provide documentation in the form of a legal, legitimate emotional support animal letter.

How to Make Sure Your Documentation is Compliant

Getting a legitimate emotional support animal letter (ESA letter) is the only legally recognized way to prove your need for an assistance animal. To do so, you’ll need to:

  1. Have a qualifying disability 
  2. Receive a diagnosis from a licensed health professional
  3. Get an ESA letter on official letterhead with the provider’s license number

Other Disability Laws to Be Aware Of

Aside from the Fair Housing Act (FHA) under the Office of Housing and Urban Development, there are a few more federal laws in place that exist to protect specific rights for individuals with disabilities and their assistance animals.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) protects the rights of individuals with disabilities to travel without fear of discrimination, including those who use a service dog. Airlines operating flights to, from, and within the United States must make reasonable accommodations to transport service animals. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) exists to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities when it comes to public access, public services, housing, and employment. It provides clarity and definitions for things like qualifying disabilities, requirements for service animals, and guidelines for individuals who use them.

Meet the author:
April Brightman

April Brightman is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for traveling and hiking with her rescue pup, Marley. She's written for pet-centered sites like Outward Hound, as well as outdoorsy adventure brands like BearVault, Hipcamp, and Explorer Chick.

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