Emotional Support Animal

There was a lot of debate surrounding the changes to the ADA in defining a service animal and one of the things that was (and still is) bandied about is the potential for abuse in terms of fake service animals. It’s an issue, though, it’s posts like this one on Tumblr that remind me it’s less of a problem than the more loosely defined emotional support animals (ESA):

5. Dogs make apartment searching hard. Pay $65 and you can register your dog as an “Emotional Support Animal.” No landlord can refuse you.

ESAs are certainly not my area of expertise, but sadly it does seem just as simple as the Tumblr post states to have a pet registered as one. In fact, provided you claim having a disability requiring the use of one you can do so online in a matter of minutes.

However, the facts straight from HUD:

The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating based on disability, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, and familial status. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and state and local government activities.  Both laws contain provisions which address the use of service or assistance animals by people with disabilities.  While the Fair Housing Act covers nearly all types of housing, some types of housing, such as public housing, are covered by both laws

Specifically, the “Notice on Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs” states:

An assistance animal is not a pet. It is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. Assistance animals perform many disability-related functions, including but not limited to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, providing protection or rescue assistance, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, alerting persons to impending seizures, or providing emotional support to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support. For purposes of reasonable accommodation requests, neither the FHAct nor Section 504 requires an assistance animal to be individually trained or certified. While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals.

It further stipulates that in regard to a reasonable accommodation the following must be considered:

(1) Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability — i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?

(2) Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

If the answer to either of those is “no” then a “no pets” policy does not need to be changed.

Public access and fair housing are legitimate issues for assistance dog partners and service animal handlers. Cheating the law to your advantage to aid in your apartment search or avoid a pet deposit is not only reprehensible, it also serves to prove the entire reason it is so hard to find accommodating landlords: the majority of pet owners are irresponsible.