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If it seems as if animals are roaming fresh territory nowadays, they are.

As more folks with mental and physical disabilities become alert to their rights, they are trying to bring emotional support and service animals wherever they roam. However, a confusing patchwork of state and federal laws governs where they have to be permitted. Various rules and definitions apply to such animals in employment, housing, public places, and aircraft.

Property and business owners who ask the incorrect questions or unlawfully deny accessibility to a service or support animal risk discrimination suits. Confused or unaware of the regulations, some landlords, employers, businesses, and airlines simply will say “yes” to any requests when they could state “no” — or even vice versa.

ESA Rules for HousingFHA laws for ESAs

Fair Housing Act: Federal FHA applies to pretty much all private and public housing providers, which include landlords, property owners, and condominium associations. It’ll prohibit discrimination on the basis of different protected classes, which include disability. HUD enforces this act.

HUD requires housing providers to appropriately accommodate someone who has a mental or physical impairment which significantly restricts one or more life activities unless doing that might cause an undue administrative or financial burden upon the providers or fundamentally would alter their service. The department has a summary of its rules here.

Put plainly, if the landlord has a policy about no pets, and the prospective or existing tenant requests to have an assistance pet, the landlord may ask a couple of questions: Does he or she have a disability which significantly restricts a life activity, and will the animal offer emotional support or assistance for the disability?

If the answer to either question is no, the landlord doesn’t have to permit the pet.

If the answer is yes to both questions, the landlord has to permit the pet — unless that pet might pose a threat to the safety of other people or cause significant damage to other people’s property.

If the individual’s disability isn’t obvious, the landlord cannot demand specifics, yet may request evidence of the disability and necessity for the animal that could derive from a social worker, psychiatrist, physician, or additional mental health expert. The landlord cannot demand a diagnosis or ask what the disability is.

According to Ken Carroll, HUD’S director, if there’s a connection between the animal and the disability, they must allow it.

The landlord can’t charge a deposit for the assistance pet. HUD doesn’t make any distinction between physical or mental disabilities or various kinds of animals. The animal does not need to be trained or licensed.

Kish’s department has never issued rules that interpret the housing section of the act. However, recently it proposed regulations which addressed the usage of assistance animals, which include support animals, in housing.

Realtors recently spearheaded an Assembly bill which clarified underneath what conditions landlords have to accept ESAs. However, the bill, AB2760, was pulled amid harsh opposition from disability and animal rights groups, who stated that it conflicted with federal law and discriminated against those who have mental illnesses.

Carroll stated that around 40 percent of the complaints the department receives are concerning disability discrimination, the majority of tenants saying their landlord does not accommodate them reasonably.

ESA Rules for Public Places

ADA prohibits discrimination

Americans with Disabilities Act in public places: ADA applies to employers, local and state governments as well as public places — yet not in the same way.

The regulations narrowly define service animals as any canine which is trained to perform work or do activities for someone who has a mental or physical disability. According to Alden Parker, a lawyer with Fisher and Phillips who represents employers, under the ADA, ESAs don’t qualify as service animals.

Local and state governments, nonprofits, and businesses usually have to permit service canines to accompany those who have disabilities in any area of a facility that is open to the public, unless doing it interferes with any legitimate safety requirements, or the canine is out of control. A different provision provides trained miniature horses the exact same privileges. The act doesn’t say which services the horse or dog has to perform, that “leaves a ton of leeway,” according to Parker.

If the individual’s disability isn’t obvious, a business owner may request whether the pet is required due to a disability, and which task or work it was trained to do. The owner can’t require any evidence that the pet has been trained or ask what the disability is.

Parker added that they pretty much have to take the individual at face value. Unless the individual trips up and states that ‘it’s a comforting pet’, or ‘it’s just my dog,’ business cannot exclude them.

Americans with Disabilities Act at Work

It is different in the workplace. Employers have an obligation underneath state and federal law to accommodate physical and mental disabilities. Thereby, an ESA — of almost any kind — might be a “reasonable accommodation,” according to Parker. But, an employer has more latitude to decide if it’s legitimately a service or support animal.

Unless the necessity is obvious, the employer might request verification from a medical provider that an employee possesses a disability and the pet may assist with that condition, according to Ann Menasche, a senior lawyer with Disability Rights. She says that she doesn’t believe you have a right to go into details (about your condition) unless there’s a good reason.

American Carrier Access Act

Airlines and Travel with an Emotional Support Animal

Underneath the Americans with Disabilities Act, airports are considered a public place. However, on an airplane, the Air Carriers Access Act is going to apply. It states that airlines have to permit individuals who have physical disabilities to board with their service dog. If the passenger that has a mental disability requests to bring a support animal, that airline has to permit it if the person offers a note — under a year old — from a professional who verifies the disability and needs for the pet.

If you have an emotional/mental disability and a pet who is an aid and want to stop facing discrimination, make an appointment at our San Francisco clinic today. We are open 7 days a week from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm and are prepared to help.


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For those who own any type of pet, you likely already know the difficulties and challenges that come with finding a practical home to lease or rent. This is because many landlords forbid the ownership of an animal in their home, for an array of reasons ranging from potential damages that they may cause, or perhaps because they simply do not like animals. This can become a real obstacle when looking for a place to live, especially if you already own a dog, cat, or any other type of pet, as many landlords may refuse you immediately after learning of your companion.

Fortunately, however, pet owners have a strong ally in their favor when it comes to these situations, and that ally takes shape in the form of an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) letter. These certifications provide justification to the landlord that your animal is for the purposes of well-being and happiness in your life, and grants legitimacy to the ownership of one. When presented with an ESA letter, most landlords are legally required to accept it regardless of their personal feelings, although a few exemptions still apply in which the landlord has the right to refuse it. When it comes to attaining and presenting an ESA letter for housing, there are certain things to consider in order to ensure that the process goes smoothly and without roadblocks. Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking to attain the certification.

The Fair Housing Act

Emotional Support Animal Landlord Rights and Fair housing act

In 1968, Congress passed a law entitled the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which forbade landowners from discriminating against potential renters on an array of grounds. This included a bias toward people based on their gender, race, color, religion or the country in which they originated. The bill holds an array of other specifics about what cannot be discriminated against, and one of these includes that of those who have pets and have justification from a medical professional for owning these animals.

In this regard, most pets become legal in most domiciles, however, there are still certain guidelines in which the landlord holds authority. These include a building with 4 or less units wherein the landlord is one of the occupants of the building; single-family homes in which the home buyer does not enlist a real estate agent in the purchase or renting of the home; as well as housing areas that are owned by organizations and groups that are used for the sole purpose of their members. If you own a pet and are looking to move into a location, make sure that the FHA covers your animal, in order to ensure that the landlord is unable to discriminate.

Attaining an ESA Letter for Housing

This is one of the most important aspects, as many people have little understanding of where to get the certification, and where to steer clear from. With the onset of ESA animals becoming so popular, many online services have sprung up that claim they provide legitimate letters. However, many of these are outright scams, and their certifications hold no legal backing. For animal owners looking to obtain these housing letters, the best option is often to find a legitimate therapist and ask these individuals for the letter.

Only in circumstances where letters are attained from medical professionals is it credible to use, and without such, can cause many headaches and obstacles along the way. When doing your research, make sure that you do not get caught up with these scams, and that you take the time to go in-person, to meet with a medical professional and get the documentation needed for your pet.

Benefits of having an ESA Letter for Housing

Aside from the apparent fact that you cannot be discriminated against by landlords for owning an animal, the ESA letter for housing can also help you save money when renting a home at the same time that you own a pet. One of the great benefits that come with the letter is that you become exempt from any pet deposits that the landlord may be trying to impose on you.

Often times, in situations where landlords allow pets, to begin with, they require that a deposit is put down on top of the security deposit, which is aimed to ensure the property in case of any damages or issues that the animal may cause in the time that you live there. However, having a legitimate ESA certification makes you exempt from having to pay this amount of money, and any attempt by the landlord to receive these funds from you is considered illegal under the legal framework.

Informing Your Landlord of an ESA Letter

ESA Letters and Landlord Rights

Whether you are already living in the specific apartment or home, or if you are just starting to get the paperwork going with the landlord, informing them about your pet and the ESA may be a bit confusing in terms of when and how to present the letter. The ESA can be given to the landlord either before or after the signing of the lease, and it is not necessarily required of you to inform the landlord prior to signing that you own an animal. If you already live in the given apartment, the Fair Housing Act protects you from being wrongfully evicted on the account of the animal, especially when the landlord is averse to pets, to begin with. Understanding this process is crucial to ensuring a smooth and positive relationship upon moving in, and going forward, with the landlord of the property.

When it comes to attaining and presenting an ESA letter to your landlord, it is clear that the process may be confusing and daunting for some. However, arming yourself with the proper amount of information and knowledge that will reduce this confusion is vital to getting the right treatment, and reducing the anxiety that may come with the ESA letter presentation. Consider learning more about the process as a whole, researching more insight into the FHA, and other similar measures, that will ultimately lead you to understand exactly what your rights are, and so no landlord can take advantage of the ESA certification.

Get Your Emotional Support Letter Online or in-person call to schedule your Housing ESA letter appointment at (415) 966-0848


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