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Emotional Support Animals and Your Housing Rights

People with psychiatric disabilities are legally entitled to emotional support animals under federal housing laws without paying extra fees. Learn your 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 www.servicepoodle.com. 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.

Cat photo by Jonas Vincent on Unsplash

19 thoughts on “Emotional Support Animals and Your Housing Rights”

  1. 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.

  2. 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 ?

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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. (Esaregistration.org) 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?

  6. 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?

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