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Source: CSA San Diego
Photo by Helena Lopes via Pexel
June 15, 2024 (San Diego) -- Imagine coming home after a long day, greeted by your loyal companion, who offers you comfort and joy. For many, this scenario involves a beloved pet. But for others, this comes from an emotional support animal (ESA). While pets and ESAs might seem similar at first glance, they play very different roles according to fair housing laws. Understanding this difference is crucial for ensuring equal housing opportunities for all.

Pets are animals kept primarily for companionship and enjoyment. They include dogs, cats, birds, fish, and more exotic creatures. Pets are subject to the rules and policies set by landlords and housing providers. Landlords can impose breed restrictions, size limits, and pet fees or deposits. These policies help manage the risks and responsibilities associated with pet ownership in shared living environments. Essentially, while pets bring immense joy, they also come with a set of conditions that both pet owners and landlords must navigate. The rules surrounding pets are usually straightforward and outlined in a rental agreement.
Emotional support animals, or ESAs, are more than just companions. They provide therapeutic benefits to individuals with mental or emotional disabilities, helping to alleviate symptoms and improve well-being. Unlike service animals, which are specially trained to perform tasks for individuals with disabilities, ESAs do not require specific training. Their mere presence provides comfort and support.
Here's where fair housing comes into play. Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), individuals with disabilities have the right to request reasonable accommodations for their ESAs. This means that even if a housing provider has a "no pets" policy, they must allow an ESA if the individual provides appropriate documentation from a licensed healthcare professional. 
Understanding the distinction between pets and ESAs is crucial for both tenants and housing providers. ESAs are not considered pets under the FHA. This means landlords cannot impose pet fees, breed restrictions, or other pet-related policies on ESAs. Denying a reasonable accommodation request for an ESA can lead to legal consequences for housing providers. To qualify for an ESA, tenants must provide documentation from a healthcare professional that confirms their disability and the need for the ESA. Housing providers can request this documentation but cannot ask for extensive medical records or detailed information about the disability.
Fair Housing Compliance: Housing providers must handle ESA requests on a case-by-case basis and avoid blanket policies that could inadvertently discriminate against individuals with disabilities. Ensuring compliance with fair housing laws helps create inclusive communities with equal access to housing.
If you or anyone you know has any questions on emotional support animals, please reach out to CSA San Diego. CSA is a nonprofit organization built on emphasizing fair housing laws through programs, advocacy, and providing services that actively work against discrimination in housing. Visit to find out more or call at (619) 444-5700.

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The clarification regarding these Fair Housing laws is important because many landlords do indeed attempt to exclude emotional support animals. Some continue to charge pet deposits, try to raise the rent, or attempt to deny the applicant and prospective tenant, even a current resident. Onsite apartment mangers aren't much better. I've witnessed the bullying tactics personally. I firmly believe that property owners and managers should be required to take a comprehensive real estate course in how to legally run an apartment complex, because in my experience, some are clueless regarding the laws and tenant rights. Then some apartment managers push the boundaries of Fair Housing laws and tenant rights despite being semi-skilled. I've seen tenants being bullied many times, as I have been. As a renter, I find it very stressful dealing with toxic managers, and searching for advocates to help me. Next step - an attorney skilled in housing laws, followed by a lawsuit.