Emotional Support Animals under Fair Housing Act

Overall Context

Many Condominium Associations and some Homeowner Associations impose restrictions on or prohibit pets within their community. However, the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), which prohibits discrimination against certain classes of persons in the housing context, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the rental or purchase of property. The FHA requires that an Association make a “reasonable accommodation” for persons with certain disabilities to allow an emotional support animal.

What is an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal, also called an assistance animal, is not deemed a pet. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. An emotional support animal is not necessarily a dog, but can be other kinds of animals.

Does an emotional support animal need specialized training?

No, emotional support animals do not need to be individually trained or certified.

What does an association consider when a request for an emotional support animal is made?

There are only two questions that an association should consider upon receipt of a request for an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation:

  1. Does the person making the request have a disability — i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities? The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a verifiable disability (the reason cannot just be a need for companionship).
  2. Does the emotional support animal provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of the applicant’s existing disability?

A “no” answer to either of the questions means that a housing provider is not obligated to make a reasonable accommodation and can continue to enforce their pet restrictions.

What documentation should be provided to have an emotional support animal?

The applicant should provide the association with a letter from the applicant’s doctor, psychiatrist, social worker or other mental health professional stating that the applicant has an existing disability and explaining how the emotional support animal is needed to help them cope with this disability and/or improve its symptoms. The applicant should also attach a brief personal statement explaining to the association that they are asking for “a reasonable accommodation to keep their pet who functions as an emotional support animal.” The Association may NOT ask for personal medical details or access to medical records.

Can an association delay granting a request for an emotional support animal?

There is no specific time period given in which a request must be granted, but a lengthy delay may be construed as a denial. In one case, a condo association requested detailed information and submitted continuous inquiries into the applicant’s medical history over the course of many months. The court found that the delay resulted in a constructive denial of the disability accommodation request for his assistance animal, subjecting the association to liability for violation of the FHA.

Can the association charge a pet deposit for an emotional support animal?

No, a housing provider may not charge a “pet fee” for an emotional support animal. These animals are not pets and cannot be subject to pet fees.

Can an association ban an emotional support animal based on breed?

No, breed, size, and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal. However, an association may determine if the specific assistance animal in question poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. This determination must be based on objective evidence about the specific animal’s actual conduct. It may not be based on fears about a certain type of animal or evidence from damage done by previous animals of the same type. Even if the breed is illegal by local ordinance.
An issue may arise where a condo association’s insurance company has restrictions on breeds of dogs in the insured’s policy. An accommodation is considered unreasonable if it imposes an undue financial and administrative burden on a housing provider’s operations. If a housing provider’s insurance carrier would cancel, substantially increase the costs of the insurance policy, or adversely change the policy terms because of the presence of a certain breed of dog or a certain animal, the assistance animal imposes an undue financial and administrative burden on the association. However, if the insurance company has a policy that does not have an exception for an assistance animal, an investigation may be launched against the insurance company for potential disability discrimination.

Once granted, does the Association have to allow the emotional assistance animal forever?

No. The Association may request updated documentation on a reasonable periodic basis (i.e., annually).

What if the request is denied or unreasonably delayed?

A person with a disability who believes the request was improperly denied may file a complaint with HUD.

For additional information on emotional support animals, check out the following resources:
FAQs on Emotional Support Animals
Florida Statute 413.08(9)
Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals
The Fair Housing Act and Assistance Animals—You and your assistance animal have rights