Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals

Can you keep a pet in your rental apartment, even if there is a “no-pets” policy, by calling it an “emotional support animal”?  People with disabilities are allowed to keep “service animals”, such as dogs that help the blind, deaf, mobility impaired, or even those with a mental impairment; but “emotional support animals” do not fit into this category.  “Service animals” are trained for specific tasks that aid the disabled, while “emotional support animals” are not.  Nevertheless, the law states that people who have disabilities must be allowed to have an emotional support animal, if there is psychiatric documentation to show that the animal helps ameliorate the disability.  This is considered "reasonable accomodation."  Massachusetts court cases are following this trend.  

A landlord in Brighton, Massachusetts was fined by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) in 2011 for banning a man's emotional support dog.  In that case, the man had AIDS and related illnesses, as well as depression.  You can read about that here.

Effective March 15, 2011, only a dog can be a service animal. (28 CFR 36.104) An animal of any species can be an emotional support animal, as mentioned in the Massachusetts Attorney General's webpage on Service Animals: “Other laws, including fair housing and employment discrimination laws, allow animals other than dogs and miniature horses and animals that do not have training, such as “emotional support animals” if it is a reasonable accommodation for a disability.”
Laws that govern the right to keep an "emotional support animal" as a part of "reasonable acommodation" include the regulations under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHAct) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is codified as 29 US Code 701 et seq.  (See especially sections 701 & 794.)
The Massachusetts law that similarly prohibits discrimination in housing and employment, and was used in the Brighton case to uphold the right to keep an "emotional support animal", is Massachusetts General Law ch.151B s.4 . [For housing, see especially s.4(6) & s.4(7A).]
The Massachusetts Trial Court law Libraries has a web page on the law about Service Animals, as well as one on Discrimination.

Service Dog Central website has a great web page onEmotional Service Animals”.     In addition, its “Frequently Asked Questions” section answers several questions about Emotional Support Animals, including the differences between a service dog, emotional support animal (ESA), a therapy dog; the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an ESA; how to request accommodation for an ESA; and “How can I convince my landlord to allow me to keep my ESA in ‘no pets’ housing?”