Emotional Support Animals and Your Housing Rights

A veteran with PTSD considers living in a van in New Hampshire with his wife, two small children, and two large dogs. He can’t find housing that will accept the dogs he can’t live without. A peer specialist fails to get a homeless woman with a psychiatric disability into a shelter because she won’t be separated from her cat. A woman with bipolar disorder pays hundreds of dollars each year in illegal fees to keep the cat who helps her sleep. These people are real. Their needless suffering and expense occurred because few people understand our rights under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

People with Psychiatric Disabilities are Entitled to Emotional Support Animals

The FHA requires emotional support animals (untrained pets) be allowed for adults and children with psychiatric disabilities without deposits or fees and without species or size limitations. All condos, all coops, all apartment complexes are covered and both renters and owners are protected. Exceptions are made for 2-, 3-, and 4-family buildings, but only if the owner lives in one of the units. Many single-family homes are covered. Homeless and emergency shelters as well as hotels/motels that serve as residences are covered. Best of all, you don’t need a lawyer to assert these rights, and if they are violated filing a complaint is free, easy, and can be done over the phone.

Why are emotional support animals given special status? They cut down on medical costs and services needed. As my service dog said in her advocacy graduation speech:

Animals interact with no drugs, can’t cause metabolic syndrome or diabetes, never overwhelm kidneys or liver, are approved for pediatric use, and improve both mental and physical health — EVEN OVER THE COURSE OF A LIFETIME OF USE. Rather than a few 6-week clinical trials, thousands of years of experience demonstrate our safety and effectiveness. [from Maeve's Manifesto]

Speaking of service dogs, we have little-known rights under the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act too. Psychiatric Service Dogs, unlike Emotional Support Animals, must be dogs and must not provide only emotional support. They must be trained to do tasks or work directly related to our disabilities and they need extensive training to make them comfortable and unobtrusive in all the un-dog-friendly environments where we might go. Not every dog can do this, but those that do may go with us virtually everywhere the general public is allowed, including restaurants, doctor’s offices, museums, theaters, etc.

For more information and links to government websites confirming these rights, download my free pdf booklet at Feel free to ask questions and please help us get the word out by sharing this information!

This article was written by:

Joanne Shortell and¬†Maeve (her psychiatric service poodle) travel as volunteers all over the U.S. helping people with psychiatric disabilities discover their rights to emotional support animals in no-pets housing without pet deposits or pet fees and their rights to service dogs. We’d love to speak to you or your group at no charge.

To be a guest author on the Your Mental Health Blog, go here.

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18 Responses to Emotional Support Animals and Your Housing Rights

  1. dogwatcher says:

    i have a psychiatric disability and would like to get a dog ESA. but my landlord already said no. they have a no pets policy. my sister and i don’t have a written lease. we live in a house with another apartment with the same landlord. my sister and i have applied to low cost housing because she is going to retire in a few years. they allow pets. is there any way i could get an ESA in the apartment i’m in now? thanks, jen

  2. Clara Koblosh says:

    Hey Joanne I am so proud of what you are doing with Maeve. It’s going to help many people. You and Maeve are awesome together.

  3. Gabe says:

    The rules state that you may be required to provide proof (i.e. a letter) from your physician stating the animal provides emotional support, etc. The Veterans Administration does not recognize Service Dogs at this time (an ongoing study regarding the benefits of service dogs) and their physicians may not be willing to provide the necessary documentation. Just sayin…

  4. JShortell says:

    Gabe, one needs a letter from a doctor not for service dogs, but for emotional support animals, as part of the process of requesting a reasonable accommodation from your landlord, owners’ association, etc. under the Fair Housing Act. Service dogs are different. No doctor’s note is required for a service dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

  5. JShortell says:

    @dogwatcher, if the person who owns your building has his residence in your building and the building has 4 or fewer apartments, he’s within his rights to refuse an accommodation under federal law. You can, however, ask what his concerns are and then find a way to allay those concerns. Even if someone isn’t legally required to permit you to have a pet, he/she might be persuaded to do so.

    Some states have made their own laws that do NOT allow owner/residents to refuse assistance animals. Google “fair housing” and your state’s name to find a Fair Housing council or agency in your state. Give them a call and see if your state is one of these.

  6. John Edward Royal says:

    Having Una makes all the difference in the world with my PTSD. I have been fighting a system that demands to exploit the needs of the disabled for profit. There are support services and Town and City governments that do so as well unless you let them know what your rights are. They all want to alter and regulate with special legislations the rights you as a disabled were given with the National ADA. I have hopefully set precedents in NH that you can follow. Contact your Doctors and require that they write a special circumstances letter for you medical and psychiatric well being. Push back You have a right not to accept medicines that jeopardize your health and well being when there are alternatives available. The Disability Rights Center on Low St. Concord is your best advocate among others available in NH. I am Questioning why Veterans housing isn’t doing their job and seeing that you have proper advocacy. You should Not be forced into living in a van with children or have your family broken up to put a roof over your head. I used to work at the Emergency Family shelter and watched as the requirements to have the shelter got politicized and made cost prohibitive with special insurance and city regs to serve the business community and religious interests rather then serving the families that need those services. Currently Concord NH our great Capitol City is carrying out an agenda to banish the homeless from the city with Harassment, Incarceration and fines. In my opinion Punishing people for being Disabled , Poor or homeless is a Criminal act and these people are victims of other Crimes committed By Banks Wall Street Landlords and many more inclusive of Corporate Agendas. Don’t ever give up I have days I get so tired and broke down I think of giving in, so I take short breaks and catch some wind and the view. I understand the frustration and disappointment. then it is time to rattle the Cage a bit louder. I won’t be one who accepts the status quo. If I don’t fight what is wrong and demand better of myself and my Country and my neighbors then I would be less then I am. If you live in Concord NH area You could try Eagles Buff off of Airport road They allow Companion and Service dogs in housing. They accept housing Vouchers. Note you must be a responsible owner and Clean up after your dog and keep a leash on them and in you control at all times outside of the residence, You can’t just tie them out. They have limited housing available for wheelchair accessibility but you can get on the waiting list. Maggie is a good manager

  7. JShortell says:

    @Clara, thank you!


    Thank you for the great work you are doing. I am a Kenyan mental Health survivor and still live in Kenya. I would like just want to know, could a cat be considered as an emotional support animal? I do love cats though I don’t have one.

  9. Natalie Rise says:

    Would my two disabled children qualify for an Emotional Support Dog, if we get a prescription from their Doctor? Or are there different rules for children than adults?

  10. Ventnor Lhad says:

    …and for that garbage family with 4 kids all from different marriages,that can’t bear to be without their “theraputic” pitbull, and want to move in to a tiny condo that doesn’t allow pets (absentee owner could care less) … there’s a doctor out there who for $100 or so will be glad to write up an excuse that one of your brats has “asthma”, and lo and behold you can now have that mutt on a formerly-quiet property.

    90% of you “oooh I a service animal” whiners are just pukes looking for a loophole to force a landlord to allow you to have a pet. You people make me sick and make folks who REALLY need a service animal have a harder time.

  11. christine Hamilton says:

    We live in a 10 unit condo building. One of the units has a relative staying there with an emotional support dog. Must we allow them to stay if the dog is a constant barker when no one is home?

  12. shadow says:

    None of this is answering my question. I recently adopted a 5 month old maine coon kitten for my fiance and I have it registered as an ESA through ESA registration of americas database. ( and got a doctors note from her doctor and the landlord still keeps trying to find wats or make excuses asking for proof of other things to discredit our right to keep him. Is what he is doing legal?

  13. Lisa says:

    Hi my name is Lisa and I was wondering if somebody could help direct me in the right way I will be homeless as of Tuesday I have spent all of my money on moving Feed Storage for my belongings I am mentally ill I have schizophrenia and now I’m facing being homeless with my dog I do have nowhere to go and I don’t know which way to turn she is my emotional support animal I need her what should I do

  14. Tracy says:

    * Please* does anyone know of a similar program in Canada or more specifically Ontario?

  15. I have 2 emotional support animals but we recently moved into a place that I explained to him they have registry papers that they are emotional support dogs that have been brought to us due to my daughter mental illness and my brother that suffer a massive stroke last year. he charge me 200 dollars but they are 3 and 4 pounds and are very aware of the emotional needs of their family. they are not pets they are doing a job. how can I get my money returned

  16. Melissa says:

    My daughter (17) was diagnosised w generilized anxiety and severe panic disorder. I believe she would benefit having an emotional support dog. She has nightmares, bad dreams, panics when she has to be alone. She just spent 9 days in a behavior management program. I want to help her and think this would help. Thoughts ?

  17. jeff garnaas says:

    I had a crippling injury to my hand and i am homeless.Can a doctor statement help get me into expedited housing as i will lose the use of my predominant right hand if not treated asap and allowed to heal.

  18. Mia Pisell says:

    Hi everyone, I live in a transitional living program. It’s an apartment for homeless youth where we get help to be better at supporting ourselves so we can transition into our own home. They have a very strict no pet policy, and only service dogs are allowed. I fought and fought to tell them my dog is a registered ESA. They refuse and say it has to be a service dog or I can’t have the dog at all. I have debilitating depression and anxiety, I don’t like putting potentially harmful medication in my body. Can they do this to me or is this illegal??

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