Assistance animals in housing

Disability rights information for service animals and emotional support animals in housing

Service animals and emotional support animals are not pets. They are assistance animals needed by a person with a disability. On this page the Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD) provides information about the laws that apply to assistance animals in housing and tips to help an assistance animal owner and a housing provider navigate the reasonable accommodation process. We also list answers to frequently asked questions.

MOD provides neutral information to all sides of these situations.

Table of Contents

Basic rights and obligations

service animal is a dog, or in rare cases a miniature horse, that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that is providing emotional support to a person with a disability, just by its presence. For more detail read Definitions: disability and types of animal.

Both emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals meet the definition of an assistance animal under the Fair Housing Act. If an individual has a disability-related need for an assistance animal, they can ask their housing provider for a reasonable accommodation to exempt their assistance animal from any animal restrictions, policies or fees that would otherwise pose a barrier to their equal enjoyment of their housing. The housing provider may ask limited questions to determine if the animal is a service animal. For an emotional support animal, the housing provider can ask for supporting documentation from a medical provider who treats the individual to verify that they are a person with a disability and have a disability-related need for the animal. 

Housing providers must not discriminate against applicants or residents on the basis of disability. Fair housing laws apply in most housing situations, including private housing and condominiums. However, owner-occupied two-family houses may not have to allow assistance animals.

The resident has obligations to keep their animal under control and follow all applicable laws, regulations and policies, such as dog licensing, rabies vaccines, leash hours, picking up after their animal, and noise disturbances. If a resident's assistance animal is demonstrably a threat to other people or property, the housing provider can deny or revoke permission for the resident to keep the animal. 

The guidance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gives a step-by-step process for how housing providers should handle requests about assistance animals. As HUD enforces the Fair Housing Act, we consider its guidance the best reference for both residents and housing providers.

For information about general disability rights in housing, including the federal and state laws that apply, read Disability rights in housing.

Identifying the type of animal

There are different steps and rights depending on whether an animal is a service animal, an emotional support animal (ESA) or a pet, so it is important to start by evaluating what sort of animal is involved.

Is it a dog?

Only dogs and miniature horses can be service animals. So if the animal is not a dog (or, in rare cases, a miniature horse), it can only be an emotional support animal or a pet.

Is the dog a service animal?

To find out whether a dog is a service animal, there are two standard questions someone can ask the animal owner to gather information without being too intrusive:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

If the answers indicate that the dog performs actions that help mitigate the symptoms or limitations of a disability, then it is considered a service animal.

Note that staff should ask no more questions than needed to get the required information:

  • If it is obvious that the dog is a service dog (such as a guide dog), the housing provider should not be asking about it.
  • If the person has an obvious disability but it is not obvious whether the dog is a pet or a service animal, staff can still ask the two questions.
  • An individual with a disability accompanied by a service animal may not be asked to:

    • Provide documentation of a disability,
    • Answer questions regarding their disability, or
    • Have the service animal demonstrate its work

The law requires staff to take the individual at their word. If the answers do not provide enough detail for staff to determine if the animal meets the definition of a service animal, they may ask questions to clarify. For example, if the animal owner answered "My dog helps me with anxiety," that could be an emotional support animal or a service animal, so staff could ask clarifying questions. Once an adequate answer has been given, further questions might be seen as harassing and should be avoided. The process is easier if service animal owners provide enough detail to indicate that their animal takes specific disability-related actions in response to a command/signal. 

Is it an emotional support animal or a pet?

If the animal is not a dog, or it is a dog but does not take specific actions to mitigate the symptoms/limitations of a disability, then it is not a service animal.

If there is a disability-related need for the animal to provide comfort and support, then it is an emotional support animal. See Letter of support for ESA from a medical provider for the documentation a housing provider can request.

If the individual does not have a disability (note many disabilities are not obvious) or does not have a disability-related need for the animal, then the animal can usually be considered a pet.


Assistance animal owners in Massachusetts are not required to possess any certification or identification. 

In recent years there has been a proliferation of websites offering service animal and ESA certification, registration or identification cards/vests. However the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considers these insufficient documentation to support a reasonable accommodation request. There is not currently any recognized official registry or certification program for service animals or emotional support animals.

All dogs, whether pets or assistance animals, need to be registered with their town/city, but there is no official registry of assistance animals.

Reasonable accommodation process for permission to keep an assistance animal

If a person with a disability wishes to have an assistance animal in a property with animal restrictions, they need to request a reasonable accommodation from their housing provider, which can be done verbally or in writing. There are three main steps to this process:


The resident must make the request to their housing provider. The housing provider may have forms they ask residents to use. It can be helpful for the resident to:

  1. Make the request in writing and keep a copy as a record to refer back to if there are future questions or problems
  2. Identify themself as a person with a disability
  3. State whether it is a service animal or emotional support animal
  4. Explain the disability-related need for the animal:
    • If it is service animal, this is the disability-related tasks that the dog performs in response to a command or signal
    • If it is an emotional support animal, this is usually the mitigation of mental health symptoms
  5. Clearly identify the policies/fees that they are asking for an exception to
  6. (For emotional support animals) Provide supporting documentation from a medical professional who is familiar with their disability (see next section) 
  7. Ask for a response by a date that gives the housing provider a reasonable amount of time
  8. The resident can also choose to make any assurances they feel comfortable making to mitigate concerns they think the housing provider might have around hygiene, liability, property damage, noise, or threatening behavior.
  9. If the housing provider might not be familiar with how to evaluate assistance animal requests, it may be helpful to share a link to the HUD guidance.

Interactive process

The housing provider asks any clarifying questions and, if necessary, requests supporting documentation to provide them with the information they need to properly evaluate the request. If the housing provider thinks there may be a reason they cannot approve the request, they should discuss the issue with the resident and make good faith efforts to try to find a solution.


The housing provider gives a decision to grant or deny the request. If the request is denied, the housing provider should explain the reason for the denial. Sometimes a denial is not the end of the process. For example, if the resident has not properly explained their disability-related need for the animal, a denial may prompt them to provide a clearer explanation and then the housing provider can re-evaluate the request. (See Denial or revocation of permission to keep an assistance animal.)


Both the housing provider and resident may find it useful to keep a copy of both the request and the decision to approve/deny it.

Housing providers can refer to the HUD guidance to make sure they handle assistance animal requests appropriately.

For further information and tips about reasonable accommodation requests in housing read our Disability rights in housing page.

Letter of support for ESA from a medical provider

The HUD guidance says housing providers should not request supporting documentation for service animals.

For emotional support animals, the HUD guidance indicates (on pages 11-12 and 16-17) what sort of documentation the housing provider can expect an ESA owner to provide from a medical professional. The most important elements of supporting documentation are that the letter establishes: 

  • An ongoing treatment relationship between the medical professional and patient,
  • The individual meets the definition of disability: they have significant limitations in one or more major life activities, and
  • A connection between the emotional support animal and the patient's disability symptoms/limitations to clearly show there is a disability-related need for the animal. Typically, this involves a statement that in the person’s professional opinion one or more effects of the disability that significantly impact the person’s life will be substantially mitigated by the presence of the emotional support animal.

It is never required to disclose a medical diagnosis: the relevant detail is a description of the limitations/symptoms of the disability that the ESA will address.

The letter should use the medical professional’s letterhead. It is a good idea to also specify the type of animal involved (e.g. cat, dog, hamster), because unusual animals need specific justification.

Housing providers cannot insist a medical professional make statements under penalty of perjury, but it is important for the medical professional to understand that the housing provider is relying on their professional knowledge and judgement to verify that the resident meets the disability definition and that the assistance animal is needed to alleviate symptoms or effects of the disability.

It is up to the resident to decide whether an assistance animal is a good choice for them. Having an animal often involves significant expense, effort, and commitment associated with keeping an animal well cared for throughout its life. The discussion with the medical provider can be a good opportunity for the resident to evaluate whether an emotional support animal is an appropriate treatment choice and potentially also whether the responsibilities are realistic.

While the letter of support does not need to disclose a diagnosis, more detail can make the need for an assistance animal clearer, and therefore make approval simpler. Be aware that many housing providers are suspicious that people may be trying to pass a pet off as an ESA, and so if the resident is comfortable with their provider providing specifics about the limitations/challenges that the ESA will help with, this can help to reassure the housing provider that the situation is legitimate. The resident may wish to discuss with their medical provider how they would like the symptoms of their disability described in the letter. This can help the medical provider write a compelling letter without divulging more information than the resident is comfortable with.

Note that HUD does not consider a letter or certificate bought from a website after a short interview to be sufficient documentation to support a reasonable accommodation request. There is not currently any recognized official registry or certification program for service animals or emotional support animals.

Residents usually want to keep a copy/original of the letter of support – this may be useful, for example, if they move.

Common concerns and animal owner responsibilities

The animal owner needs to follow all regulations that normally apply to their animal, such as licensing and vaccination requirements and off-leash areas/times in their town.

They should follow the rules in their housing complex (as outlined in the lease or condo documents), clean up after their animal, and keep it under control when in public or common areas.

Safety and liability

Assistance animals are permitted to accompany their owners into common areas of housing property (except into pools), however they need to be kept under control and not be a threat to the safety of other people, animals, or property. Most animals other than dogs stay within a unit, so questions of behavior and control usually involve dogs. An animal under control generally means:

  • On a leash
  • Staying off furniture
  • Not jumping up on, licking, tripping, or threatening people
  • Not causing damage or nuisance

The assistance animal owner is responsible for choosing, training, and supervising their animal so that they can keep it under control.

A dog owner is generally liable if their dog attacks someone.

An assistance animal can be denied if it is a direct threat to the health or safety of others. This determination cannot be based on the housing provider’s assumptions about an animal due to its breed or size. Instead, this determination has to be based on the behavior or history of behavior of the animal itself, and whether there are ways to mitigate the threat, such as a dog wearing a muzzle. If there is any question whether the animal is a threat to safety, it is a good idea for the resident to actively demonstrate that they take this concern seriously. 

The courts have supported the removal of assistance animals from housing in situations where the owner has repeatedly failed to keep the animal under control around other residents, for example, if a dog was off leash when it should not be, not cleaned up after, jumping up on people, tripping them or attacking other animals. 


Containment and disposal of animal waste are necessary for good hygiene. Waste can damage property and smells can cause offense. It can be a good idea for the resident and housing provider to discuss how and where the resident will contain animal waste so that there are clear expectations (for example, a rabbit's waste will be contained by them staying in their cage, a dog might be toileted in a certain section of the property).

Usually if the property has outdoor space, there will be some suitable area for toileting a dog on the property or on a nearby grass curb. If there is space for an animal to toilet on the property, generally it is not reasonable for a housing provider to require the resident to toilet their animal off property or at considerable distance, particularly if the individual has mobility limitations. The housing provider can place a trash receptacle nearby to facilitate hygienic disposal of waste.

Property damage

Residents are responsible for property damage caused by their assistance animals to the same extent that they are responsible for any property damage they cause themselves. This means a general security deposit can also be used to pay for damage caused by an assistance animal (note that housing providers should not charge a pet fee for assistance animals).

It is often acceptable for a housing provider to ask a resident to toilet their dog in a particular area, to prevent damage to landscaping.


Residents have expectations of quiet enjoyment in their housing. A housing provider is expected to address any noise disturbances that go beyond the usual background noise, particularly if the noise is lengthy or during quiet hours. Therefore, a housing provider can ask an owner of an assistance animal to keep it from disturbing other residents. This might involve the resident providing stimulation to keep an animal from being bored or lonely while they are out at work, or training and control to keep them from barking at night.

Allergies or phobia

If another resident has an allergy or phobia is generally not enough reason to deny an assistance animal request. The housing provider has an obligation to try to accommodate the resident with the assistance animal and the resident with the phobia/allergy. Usually it is possible to meet both residents’ needs, although this may require the residents to agree to some effort or restriction, for example in the case of a dog:

  • The dog owner uses one corridor/exit and the resident with the phobia uses another, or
  • The dog owner keeps their dog a certain distance from a resident with allergies

The housing provider is expected to engage in an interactive dialogue to explore options and find a solution.

Addressing housing provider concerns

Housing providers are only allowed to deny a reasonable assistance animal request under limited circumstances (see Denial). Nevertheless, it is common for a housing provider to have concerns about having animals on the premises if animals are not otherwise permitted.  Since it is always in the best interest of both parties to communicate and to maintain a good working relationship, a resident might find it helpful to consider what their housing provider’s concerns might be – noise, safety, property damage, other tenants asking if they can get animals – and offer whatever reassurances they feel confident making. These reassurances are optional, but they can help to show the housing provider that the resident is a responsible animal-owner and help smooth the process. Some of these reassurances may be around:

  • The animal’s positive behavior, history of training and the owner's approach to vaccination
  • The resident’s understanding of their obligations around safety, hygiene, damage, noise
  • Whether the resident would be willing for the housing provider to discuss their animal with other residents, and the wording they are comfortable being used.

The most common concern of housing providers when it comes to non-obvious disabilities is whether the animal is in fact needed because of a disability. The resident does have an obligation to address this and can do so by writing a clearly worded request and, if appropriate, a well written letter of support from a medical professional (see sections above for detailed tips).

Denial or revocation of permission to keep an assistance animal

Situations a housing provider may deny or revoke a request

A housing provider can deny or revoke a request to keep an assistance animal if:

  • The housing situation does not require the housing provider to provide reasonable accommodations under the fair housing laws, 
  • There is no established disability-related need for the animal,
  • The animal is a direct threat to the safety of others or property, 
  • Allowing the animal would require a fundamental alteration to operations or be an undue burden (financial or administrative) to the housing provider, or
  • The resident is violating the terms of their contract by keeping the animal (the housing provider may have other recourse options, depending on what terms are being violated)

Housing situation does not require reasonable accommodations under fair housing laws

The vast majority of long-term housing situations require the housing provider to follow the reasonable accommodation obligations of the fair housing laws. This includes housing providers such as landlords, condo or home-owners associations, real estate companies, and municipalities. The main situations where reasonable accommodations do not have to be provided are: 

  • An owner-occupied two-family home
  • Short term lodgings, such as hotels (these still have obligations under the ADA, but those only cover service animals)

Disability-related need

A housing provider may deny a request:

  • If the individual requesting the accommodation does not have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (note that disability is interpreted broadly)
  • If the individual has not explained their disability-related need for the animal and the need is not obvious
  • If a person requesting an ESA has not provided reliable, adequate supporting documentation. The resident should be given an opportunity to provide more information before being denied for this reason

Direct threat to health and safety

A housing provider may deny (or revoke) a request to keep an assistance animal if the specific animal would constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals or result in substantial physical property damage.

Fundamental alteration or undue burden

A housing provider may deny a request to keep an assistance animal if granting the request would impose a fundamental alteration to the nature of the provider’s operations or impose undue financial or administrative burden. These scenarios are very unlikely.

Violating terms of contract

If the animal is the cause of a resident violating the terms of their lease or condo rules, the housing provider may require them to remove the animal in some circumstances. Note that the reasonable accommodation request only exempts the resident from policies and contract terms that it mentions, such as a "no dogs" rule. The resident must still follow all other policies and contract terms, such as quiet hours. If they do not, the housing provider may impose consequences in the same way they would for a non-disability related violation of the contract, which can include warnings, restrictions, fines, and eviction. 

Addressing issues before denial/revocation

If the housing provider feels unable to grant the reasonable accommodation request or wishes to revoke it, they are still expected to engage in an interactive process to try to reach a solution. For example, if an owner has not been picking up their assistance animal’s waste or their animal has been making disruptive noise, the housing provider should notify the owner of the issue and offer them a reasonable opportunity to address it. If the owner does not make reasonable attempts to address the issue, the housing provider can ask for the assistance animal to be removed from the housing.

If an issue arises, the housing provider should generally approach it in the same way they would a non-disability matter, so that it can be addressed in a non-discriminatory manner. For example a landlord would handle a complaint about a barking service dog the same way they would a loud music complaint. The resident will need to be given more time to address the issue if it requires training the animal.

How to address a problem in the reasonable accommodation process

If you feel the other party is not following the process correctly, it can help to:

  • Check through the HUD guidance to make sure that you are following it correctly, and have a record of doing so
  • If the other party has raised concerns or you suspect they have particular concerns, do your best to acknowledge those and offer realistic reassurances. This is essential if any complaints against an animal have been made and important if there has been a breakdown in trust.
  • Make sure that the other party is aware of what they should be doing (sharing the HUD guidance can be helpful, perhaps politely pointing out any specifics that need addressing), and explain you are doing your best to handle this correctly and are simply asking them to do their part.
  • Specify a date by which you expect an answer and be clear what action you are asking the other party to take, including any information you need from them.

You are welcome to contact us to discuss your situation. You can also give our website ( or contact information to the other party — we provide the same information to both sides of these situations. We will not share information you disclosed to us, unless given permission to do so. 


If the request is denied, the housing provider should explain the reason for the denial. 

If a request for reasonable accommodation is denied, the recourse is for the resident to file a complaint at one of the enforcement agencies: for details see Enforcement and recourse in housing

Filing a complaint usually takes months and considerable effort, so before taking this step, it is often worthwhile for a resident to evaluate whether they are in fact at an impasse with their housing provider, or whether there might be opportunities to resolve the matter. The reason given for the denial or a discussion with the housing provider can indicate what issues need addressing.

Finding and applying for housing with an assistance animal

Although pet-friendly housing can be harder to find, our experience is that in pet-friendly housing people have a much easier time getting approval for assistance animals and their housing provider and neighbors tend to be more welcoming. In pet-friendly housing, a resident might request a reasonable accommodation to not pay any pet-fees or deposits for an assistance animal, or for an exception to weight/breed restrictions.

Some assistance animal owners start by looking for pet-friendly housing first and only if that search is fruitless do they consider housing with pet restrictions.

It is important for applicants to not lie on applications. A lease is a contract. If it says no animals, and you move in with an animal, you are in breach of the contract if you have not requested a reasonable accommodation to allow you to keep an animal. So, it is important to know what the terms of your lease are.

However, we are aware that some housing providers (including real estate agents) have used screening or application questions to discriminate. We suggest that if housing providers wish to screen for animals without discriminating, they can ask whether a prospective resident has pets: the applicant may honestly answer no if they have an assistance animal, as this is not a pet. If a housing provider asks whether the applicant has a dog or an animal, then the applicant would be forced to disclose a service dog or emotional support animal. However, housing providers should be aware there is potential for an applicant to argue that such a question was discriminatory.

There is not a simple answer about how best to navigate the housing application process with an assistance animal. If an applicant does not disclose an existing assistance animal, this can damage trust in the relationship with the housing provider. However, we hear many ESA owners report that as soon as they mention their animal, their application stops. It can be hard to prove discrimination during the application process. If you think a housing provider may be discriminating, MassLegalHelp suggests immediately contacting a testing agency.

Many ESA owners wait to disclose their animal until they have been offered the unit or have signed a lease. It can help repair trust to explain the reasons for delaying mentioning the animal.

Question: When can the request be made?

While people with disabilities are permitted to request a reasonable accommodation from their housing provider before or after acquiring an assistance animal, they should be aware that making the request only after issues with the animal have been raised by the housing provider, may undermine the appearance of good faith.

We strongly recommend that residents are proactive in notifying their housing provider of any assistance animal living with them. Any wait can make it look like the resident is trying to hide the animal and the subsequent request to keep an assistance animal is often interpreted as the resident trying to pass off a pet as an assistance animal. This makes the process harder, damages trust between the resident and housing provider, and damages the reputation of assistance animals, making life harder for other people with disabilities.

Question: Do breed/weight limits and pet deposit apply?

Assistance animals are not considered pets, so housing providers cannot impose breed/weight restrictions or pet-fees/deposits/insurance requirements for assistance animals.  

If an individual is deciding what breed of animal to choose as an assistance animal, be aware that breeds considered dangerous may make the process of getting approval harder and may face a colder welcome by housing providers and other residents.

Question: What can a housing provider ask?

Before a resident/applicant asks for a reasonable accommodation, the housing provider should not force an individual to disclose whether they have a disability. They can ask if the resident/applicant has any pets (which assistance animals are not).

Once a resident/applicant asks for a reasonable accommodation, such as keeping an assistance animal, the housing provider can insist a resident provide the following information to properly evaluate the request:

  • Whether or not they have a disability (if their disability is not obvious)
  • What their disability-related need for the animal is (if this is not obvious)
  • If it is an ESA, a letter from a medical professional who is treating the resident, verifying they have a disability-related need for the animal
  • If the animal has any record of dangerous behavior or property damage, and if so, how that has been addressed

A housing provider should not insist on the resident:

  • Disclosing a diagnosis or giving more detail about their disability than necessary to evaluate their disability-related need for the animal
  • Using a specific form to make a reasonable accommodation request, if the resident has already provided all the necessary information

There are a number of other topics that a housing provider may want to discuss with a resident with an assistance animal. Discussion of practicalities and setting expectations can actually be a good way to ensure the assistance animal's presence is smoothly integrated, e.g. where the animal will be toileted, keeping it on leash in public areas, and noise expectations.

The housing provider should treat information related to the resident's disability as private and should only share this information on a need-to-know basis (see Question: What can a housing provider tell other residents and staff?)

Questions about supporting documentation

Can a housing provider insist on particular forms or information?

Some housing providers have forms for reasonable accommodation requests or supporting documentation from a medical provider. If well structured, these forms help the housing provider collect all the relevant information they need to evaluate a request and may help them follow a consistent process. Housing providers can ask residents to use their forms, but they cannot require it. For example, if a resident makes a reasonable accommodation request verbally, the housing provider still needs to treat that as a request that has been made.

Sometimes forms ask questions that are unnecessary or are overly intrusive. The resident cannot be required to disclose a diagnosis or provide information that is not necessary for the evaluation of the request. The housing provider can deny a request where the resident has not provided information indicating:

  • They meet the broad definition of having a disability
  • What their disability-related need for the assistance animal is
  • If it is an ESA, verification of the above from a medical provider familiar with their disability

Who should write the letter of support?

The letter of support needs to be written by a licensed health care professional. It is most compelling if written by someone who has expertise to diagnose and treat the disability or mental health symptoms the individual is treating using the ESA. Often this is a therapist, psychiatrist, social worker, or primary care physician who has been treating the individual for some time and has discussed the impact of their symptoms on their life and the suitability of available treatment options, including an emotional support animal.

Is an out-of-state therapist allowed to write a letter of support?

The supporting documentation for an ESA request can be written by an out-of-state medical professional. So while this can be a hint that the letter might have been bought online, it is not in itself a problem: the value of having a good fit and relationship with a therapist means that people may keep seeing their therapist when they move to a new state. If your therapist is out-of-state, it may smooth matters to address the reason for this and make clear the ongoing treatment relationship.

Can a letter bought from a website be used?

On page 11 of the guidance, HUD is clear that letters bought online after a short interview are not considered sufficient and that housing providers can expect the supporting documentation to indicate personal knowledge of the individual. 

Question: Is my housing covered under federal or state law?

Most long-term housing situations require the housing provider to follow the reasonable accommodation obligations of the fair housing laws. This includes housing providers such as landlords, condo or home-owners associations, real estate companies, and municipalities. The main entities that do not have to provide reasonable accommodations under the fair housing laws are: 

  • Short term lodgings, such as hotels (these still have obligations under the ADA, but those only cover service animals)
  • An owner-occupied two-family home
  • A single-family home rented without an agent or any public offering (this is rare)

Federal and state fair housing laws have very similar coverage: usually both laws apply to a situation. However owner-occupied homes with 3 or 4 units are only covered by Massachusetts fair housing law, not the federal FHA.

The Massachusetts fair housing law is very similar to the federal housing law, so for housing that only has to provide reasonable accommodations under the state fair housing law, such as 3-4 family owner-occupied housing, the HUD guidance remains a valuable reference.

Question: What can a housing provider tell other residents or staff?

A housing provider should not be sharing any information related to a person’s disability unless necessary. If they need to pass on a request to their lawyer or inform members of a team that someone has been approved to keep an assistance animal, they may do so, but may not provide more detail than necessary. Any records relating to the disability should be treated as private information and stored securely. It is not good practice for a housing provider to discuss a resident’s private information in a public location where other residents or staff may overhear.

If another resident asks why someone is allowed to keep an animal if there are no pet rules, the housing provider could say: “This animal has been approved but this is a private matter. If you and I discussed something about your life that affected your housing, you would expect me to keep that confidential and not discuss it with other residents, so I ask you to respect the other resident’s privacy around this matter. You can rest assured that the matter has been properly assessed.”

If the person with a disability has given you permission to say more, you may do so, but you might want to capture for your records exactly what they have given you permission to say so that you do not accidentally divulge more than they were comfortable with.

Question: Can a housing provider deny an ESA because of insurance?

Insurance companies are allowed to charge different premiums depending on what animals live in the residence, and sometimes the presence of a particular animal will cause a change in insurance. Housing providers are not supposed to pass on any increased costs to residents with disabilities as this would mean placing an additional burden that is not placed on people without disabilities such a cost can be seen as part of the costs of doing business. In theory, if the cost increase resulted in undue hardship, the housing provider could use this as a reason to deny a request to keep an assistance animal. However, housing providers are expected to shop around for insurance if they face a drop in coverage or a premium increase that they are not content with. If a housing provider denied a request on the basis of undue financial burden, the resident could file a disability discrimination complaint and the housing provider would need to demonstrate their efforts to find suitable insurance.   

Question: Can a person have more than one service animal or ESA?

There is no official limit saying a person can only have one assistance animal. The basic requirements for a reasonable accommodation would still be the same: the individual would have to explain the disability-related need for each and every animal.

There are situations where an individual may have two service animals — this is usually because the first service animal is not well suited to do all of the assistance tasks required.

Often if an individual has a service animal, that animal can also provide emotional support.

The need for a single emotional support animal can be straightforward to explain if it is providing significant relief to mental health symptoms. It is considerably harder to justify for a second. If one animal is needed because it provides valuable emotional support, there may well be questions about why a second animal is required. Some people may have one primary emotional support animal plus a number of pets that also provide a level of emotional support. Just because an animal provides emotional support, does not mean it is needed because of a disability.

Multiple emotional support animals or an emotional support animal in addition to a service animal are scenarios that often make housing providers suspicious that people are trying to get around pet restrictions. If you are making a reasonable accommodation request, this is worth discussing with your medical provider before they write their letter of support. If the medical provider sees you have a separate disability-related need for each animal and can explain that adequately in the letter, that will be valuable support for your request.

Question: Do service animals in training need to be allowed?

Housing is not specifically referenced in the MA Service Animal in Training law. The argument for disability-related need for a SA in training is probably not going to be as clear as it would be for a trained SA or ESA. However, a resident can still use the RA process if they wish to argue they have a disability-related need to keep a service animal in training.

It may help to offer the housing provider an idea of the length of time the training will likely take, the likelihood of the training being successful and some assurance about what their plan is if the dog cannot be successfully trained as a service animal.

Note that an animal is considered a service animal as soon as it has been trained to perform at least one task needed because of a disability. The animal may continue to be trained for additional tasks.

Question: The law allows me an ESA so why ask permission?

If your housing contract says no animals are allowed, and you have an animal, you’re violating the terms of the contract. So if you need your animal because of a disability, it is important to ask for a reasonable accommodation to exempt you from the no animal rule. If you wait to make the request until the housing provider finds out from someone else that you have an animal, it may look as though you were hiding it. This is likely to make them more suspicious of whether it is actually needed because of a disability, so you may have a harder task getting your request approved and it is likely to damage the trust in your relationship with your housing provider going forward.

Question: If my pet comforts me, can I just say it is an ESA?

The law is there to protect people with disabilities and allows reasonable requests for assistance animals if needed because of their disability. If you:

  • Are a person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • Need the animal to help with symptoms or limitations caused by your disability,

then you can go ahead and make a request to keep the animal as an emotional support animal.

However, if you do not need the animal because of a disability, then your animal is a pet, not an emotional support animal. Please consider the consequences of your actions on people with disabilities who need their assistance animals and often face an uphill battle getting approved to keep their animals because their housing providers are suspicious of fake assistance animals.

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