How an Emotional Support Animal Certificate can help you keep your pet. 

Getting an Emotional Support Animal Certificate may help secure affordable housing in northern Nevada and keep families together! Read on to learn more about what it takes to obtain a certificate.

The Housing Crisis and Pet Surrenders

The recent housing crisis has affected thousands of residents in northern Nevada. In the Reno-Sparks region alone, the cost of housing has drastically increased over the last few years, with median rent prices up nearly 35% in some areas since 2019 (RGJ.com; May, 2022). This is due to a number of factors. The bottom line, however, is that affordable housing (i.e. housing in which the occupant is paying no more than 30% of gross income for housing costs, including utilities) has become more and more difficult to find. And for individuals with pets, this is creating more than just a financial hardship–it is forcing them to consider surrendering their beloved pets.

With a major supply and demand issue happening throughout the housing market, landlords are able to be more restrictive with tenant requirements. Legally, a property owner is not required to accommodate pets, and some even charge more for tenants with pets. 

So what if you find yourself needing to make the painful choice between affordable housing or your pet? The answer is complicated and never easy. But depending on your circumstances, an Emotional Support Animal certificate may be a valid option for your pet. 

 According to U.S. Service Animals, “as long as the disabled person provides proper documentation, they cannot be denied housing due to their emotional support animal.”

What is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

An ESA is not specially trained to perform physical tasks for persons with disabilities; therefore, it is not federally recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a trained Service Animal. Accordingly , an ESA is not allowed to accompany a person into a restaurant, movie theater, store, etc. But,  ESA and ADA Service Animals are federally allowed to accompany their handler on commercial airline flights, and both certifications allow the animal to stay with their handler in housing that may otherwise have a “no pets” policy. Which brings us to our next question…

Does my pet qualify as an Emotional Service Animal?

For many of us, our pets are family! They are our best friends, our companions, our co-pilots in life! What would we do without them, right? You may even be thinking, “Aren’t all pets emotional support for their guardians?” Our pets definitely do offer emotional connection and we understand how one might believe all pets are ESAs. To legally qualify for an ESA certification, however, the pet needs to be “prescribed” by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a diagnosed mental disorder that is specified in DSM-5. Disorders that qualify include general anxiety, social anxiety, clinical and postpartum depression, phobias, bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and other similar mental health disorders.

According to the CDC, over the past few years the number of adults experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder has significantly increased. This is due to a number of factors, including continued conversations around and destigmatizing mental health. We encourage you to consult with a licensed mental health care provider to determine whether  their pet is an appropriate candidate for an ESA certification.

Does my landlord need to accommodate my ESA?

The Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) states that no individual can be denied housing based on race, gender, color, or heritage. In 1988, the act was amended to include individuals with disabilities. According to usserviceanimals.org, this means that “as long as the disabled person provides proper documentation, they cannot be denied housing due to their emotional support animal.” Under this act, both private and public housing and apartment communities that would normally limit or disallow pets are required to make reasonable accommodations for ESAs. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also requires public universities to accommodate students with ESAs in college housing or dorms, and students cannot be charged a pet fee if the proper documentation is provided.

I think I qualify. What now?

If you believe an ESA is right for you, schedule an appointment with a licensed mental health professional. If you qualify, you will be able to request reasonable accommodations for your emotional support animal according to Fair Housing rules.

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