Saturday, October 10, 2020 is National Mental Health Day. This presents the perfect opportunity to share information about fair housing for individuals with disabilities.
The Federal Fair Housing Act passed in 1968 and amended in 1988 increases equal housing opportunities by making it illegal to discriminate against people based on their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or because they have children. Additionally, in rental housing, landlords are required to allow reasonable modifications and accommodations to make their units accessible to people with disabilities.
Some of these needed modifications are more obvious. We all know that for a person who relies on a wheelchair to occupy an apartment, the unit would need to have a ramp or an elevator in place of, or in addition to stairs. If you or someone you know is hard of hearing, you may have seen doorbells that flash rather than ring so that the tenant can rely on their sense of sight to know when someone is at the door. The need for these types of modifications is often apparent when meeting with a tenant who needs them.
Unfortunately, many properties are also still not up to par when it comes to accessibility for tenants with disabilities. In fact, when LaFHAC examined local multi-family properties in 2009 for its Housing Accessibility Investigation, not one, of the twenty-two apartment complexes investigated, met all of the accessibility requirements of the Federal Fair Housing Act.
Furthermore, there are many disabilities that are not visible. We often cannot tell by looking at someone if they live with a mental health condition. Every day, tenants with anxiety, depression, mood disorders, or psychosis seek housing. Because these types of disabilities may be less noticeable, landlords may be more hesitant to allow accommodations. It is important to know that you are still protected under fair housing laws.
Many tenants with invisible disabilities also rely on accommodations. A common accommodation for individuals with mental health conditions is waiving no-pets policies so they are able to have service animals or emotional support animals. Service animals are animals that have been trained to perform specific tasks related to their owner’s disability. This could include noticing changes in blood sugar or identifying the signs of an impending seizure. Emotional support animals are typically not trained to perform specific tasks, but still serve a real medical purpose for their owners, such as helping them to feel safe or calming them during an anxiety attack.
According to a recent investigation by LaFHAC, only one in five of the sixty landlords tested would accept an emotional support animal in accordance with fair housing laws. When it comes to documentation for emotional support animals, landlords may ask for documentation, such as a letter from a doctor, but they are not entitled to confidential medical information. Landlords generally must accept assistance animals as long as the animal is necessary and there is no evidence that the animal is a threat to health, safety, or property. Housing providers do not have the right to enforce size or breed restrictions on assistance animals. Emotional support animals and service animals should not result in any additional charges or deposits.
If you or someone you know has experienced housing discrimination based on a disability or has been denied their right to assistance animals in accordance with fair housing law, please reach out to us at (887)445-2100, (504)596-2100, or visit lafairhousing.org.
You can also view our Emotional Support Animal Audit here: