In early 2020, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued new rules for emotional support animals on fair housing. These rules address major issues like what accounts for the service animal and special forms that airlines require that confirm the animal’s health and behavior. These new guidelines hint at a major development for ESA owners since the last update issued in 2013.
Refer to these new rules issued in January 2020, that replace the 2013 rules. This article aims to help you understand an individual’s right to be accompanied by an emotional support animal.
Before heading towards the rules, here is a quick overview for those new to the Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in housing based on religion, color, race, or nationality. It is not legal for housing providers to refuse accommodation for a person with a disability. Individuals with mental health conditions like depression, PTSD, and social anxiety disorder have emotional support animals that provide therapeutic benefits. In order to qualify for an ESA, its owner must have an emotional support animal letter from a licensed mental health professional.
Owners with an ESA letter have the following rights under the fair housing act.
The department of housing sets the best rules for ESA accommodations. HUD points out that this was because of an increasing number of complaints by tenants. In response to those complaints, HUD issued new guidelines for ESA accommodations.
The new guidelines confirm previous rules and also provide some additional protections for ESA owners. HUD’s new rules also answer some of the most common questions which were not addressed previously. Here are some facts regarding the new housing rules that all ESA owners should know.
1. HUD confirms that landlords cannot impose restrictions on the breed, size, and weight of an ESA.
In the new rules, HUD confirms the previous rules that do not apply to emotional support animals. This rule means that landlords cannot restrict the breed, size, and weight of animals used as ESAs. Landlords cannot deny an ESA unless there is a valid reason. For example, if an ESA can be a threat to others.
Under new HUD rules, landlords are also not allowed to charge extra fees or deposits. Even if the building charges on a monthly basis for normal pets, ESAs owners do not have to pay such costs. HUD clarified that landlords cannot charge any fee in connection with the ESA. However, a landlord can charge in case of any damage caused by the tenants or their ESAs.
2. Landlords should respond to a tenant’s ESA request in 10 days.
According to HUD, landlords should respond within 10 days of receiving the accommodation request. Landlords cannot deny the ESA accommodation request unless an ESA is at safety risk to others.
3. Landlords cannot ask for a special form or demand something unreasonable from the health care professional.
One common issue that tenants face is that landlords ask for special forms in addition to the ESA letter. Landlords also ask for special requirements from the health care professional.
HUD stated that landlords cannot ask a healthcare professional to use a specific form to provide documents or make specific statements about the person’s mental health. If your landlord is asking you to provide additional forms or insensitive details about your health, here is good news for you. Tenants are now protected under the housing law however if the landlord asks the health care professional to provide the additional forms or information, he is denying the fair housing rules.
HUD clarified that it is the responsibility of the health care professional to provide accurate information. And landlords should rely on the information provided by the health professional and if it fulfills the standards of the ESA letter, landlords cannot ask for additional information.
4. Landlords are NOT allowed to ask personal questions that violate the rights of tenants.
It has been observed that the landlords ask for personal information during the accommodation process. HUD clarified that landlords are not allowed to ask for specific details about the tenant’s condition.
Landlords also cannot ask for medical documents or insist on medical examination before accepting the accommodation request. HUD stated that the landlords are not allowed to know the diagnosis of the tenant and specific details about the tenant’s health condition.
5. HUD clarified how to submit your ESA request to the landlord.
Many ESA owners ask about when and how to submit the ESA accommodation request to the landlord. HUD clarified that you can submit your request either in spoken or written form. The request can also be made by someone else on behalf of the ESA owner.
There is no need to include words like ‘reasonable accommodation’, ‘support animal’, or any other specific word in the written request. You just need to let the landlord know that you request to live with your ESA and submit your ESA letter.
6. A person may request accommodation either before or after acquiring the ESA.
Another confusion among ESA owners is whether they can make an accommodation request before or after acquiring the ESA. HUD stated that a person with any disability can make an accommodation request at any time. It is the responsibility of the landlord to consider the request no matter if you made the request after bringing your ESA to their home.
However, we recommend ESA owners be honest with their landlords when it comes to their ESA. If you are obtaining an ESA, it is better to let the landlord know in advance. It may create a problem if you bring home your ESA without informing your landlord and he discovers it later. Never hide your ESA or lie about your ESA to the landlord and submit a request as soon as you qualify for an ESA.
7. HUD clarified what kind of animals can qualify as emotional support animals.
Dogs and cats are mostly used as emotional support animals. But there are many types of animals that can be used for emotional support. HUD clarified that any small domesticated animal can be used to provide comfort and companionship to individuals with mental disorders. Dogs, Cats, Rabbits, Birds, Hedgehogs, Rats, Mini Pigs, and Fish are some common examples of animals that can be used as ESAs.
This does not mean that other unique animals cannot be used for emotional support. Some unique animals such as Turkeys, Roosters, Kangaroos, Squirrels, Peacocks are also spotted on planes. HUD stated that it would be a bit difficult for tenants to get accommodation with a unique or weird emotional support animal. Owners of such unique emotional support animals might face difficulty in demonstrating the need for such animals. In such cases, the health care professional will have to describe the situations in which the ESA owner might need a particular animal.
8. Landlords must communicate with their tenants about the accommodation request.
Sometimes tenants face situations where the landlord does not consider their ESA accommodation request or deny the request without giving any reason. HUD’s new rules stated that before denying the accommodation request, the landlord must engage in dialogue with the tenant and provide an explanation for not accepting the request.
The landlord should let the tenants know why the ESA accommodation request cannot be accepted.
9. HOAs and Co-Ops cannot deny the housing rules.
HUD clarified that accommodation for an ESA must include reasonable accommodation according to the fair housing laws.
10. Tenants are responsible for the clean-up or care of their emotional support animal.
HUD stated that the ESA owner is responsible for feeding, care, and overall monitoring of the ESA. HUD also clarified that the tenants can do this on their own or with the help of their family members. They can get help from third-party service providers in order to take care of their animals from time to time.
11. ESA registration papers are NOT recognized by landlords and airlines.
The ONLY way to qualify for an ESA is to get a legitimate ESA letter from a licensed health care professional. Websites that claim to provide registration for a fee are those you need to stay away from.
ESAs do not require any registration or license. These documents do not provide any right to the ESA owner. HUD stated that the documents purchased online are not sufficient to confirm that the owner is suffering from any mental condition and in need of an ESA. We recommend people not to get involved in these sites because registrations provided by them are invalid. Always contact a qualified health care professional if you want to get a legitimate ESA letter.
12. HUD clarified that you can get an ESA letter online.
We have mentioned plenty of times that an ESA letter should come from a qualified health professional. HUD also confirms that in the new guidelines and stated that the letter must come from a qualified and licensed health care professional. The professionals you can get ESA letters from are psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, optometrists, physician’s assistants, nurses, and other health professionals.
There are many legitimate websites online like RealESALetter.com that can connect you with licensed professionals. The professionals who work with us make recommendations based on their individual judgment.
HUD stated that legitimate and licensed health care professionals can provide ESA services remotely or over the internet. This statement has made it easy for people who are unable to see a health professional in person. Other reasons for not seeing the therapist in person may be financial or invaluable resources.
In the 2020 guideline, HUD discusses the key role that the ESAs have in the lives of their owners. Here are some examples that clearly show how emotional support animals help people with mental conditions.
Emotional support animals relieve the symptoms of a mental or psychological disorder.
During an anxiety attack, they take action to calm a person with PTSD.
They help the person deal with the pain and stress that comes with any disability.
They help the person in leaving the isolation, going outside, and interacting with others.
If you are already an ESA owner or want to qualify for one, you need to understand the fair housing laws. HUD’s new guidelines clear many confusions regarding the ESA request under the fair housing act. Please note that HUD clarified that people should not use services that sell certifications, registrations, and licenses to qualify for ESA. Remember, only licensed health care professionals can provide a legitimate ESA letter.
If you are suffering from any mental condition and believe that ESA can help you in lowering the symptoms, we recommend you get help from a qualified mental health professional. If you don’t know how to access a licensed mental health professional or facing difficulty finding one, we at RealESALetter.com can help you evaluate if you qualify for an ESA.