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Emotional Support Animals in University Housing Settlement

  • Published: 2016-01-11 (Revised/Updated 2016-11-06) : U.S. Department of Justice (www.justice.gov).
  • Synopsis: Justice Department reaches settlement with Kent State University to resolve allegations of discrimination in university-operated student housing.
Emotional Support Animals

An emotional support animal (ESA) is defined as a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit, such as alleviating or mitigating some symptoms of the disability, to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. Emotional support animals are typically dogs and cats, but may include other animals. In the U.S., federal protection against housing discrimination is afforded to mentally disabled persons under two federal statutes: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA). Since emotional support animals are typically not trained for an individual's specific disability and since emotional support animals might not be dogs, they do not receive the protections of the ADA. A public place can therefore deny an emotional support animal admission.

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Quote: ""Providers of on-campus housing have the same obligation to comply with the Fair Housing Act as other housing providers," said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity."

The Justice Department announced that Kent State University (KSU) has agreed to pay $145,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit alleging that the university had maintained a policy of not allowing students with psychological disabilities to keep emotional support animals in university-operated student housing. Under the settlement agreement, which must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, KSU will:

"This settlement shows the department's continued and strong commitment to ensuring that students in university housing are afforded the protections of the Fair Housing Act," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. "Those protections include accommodations for students with disabilities who need assistance animals in order to have an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits of university housing."

"Kent State University is to be commended for reaching an agreement that will benefit its students," said U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio. "This agreement will help many people who are working hard to earn their fair share of the American dream."

The proposed settlement would resolve a lawsuit filed by the department in 2014. In that lawsuit, the department alleged that KSU violated the Fair Housing Act when, in 2010, it denied a request to allow a student with a psychological disability and her husband to keep an emotional support dog in their university-operated student apartment. The students, along with the Fair Housing Advocates Association in Akron, Ohio, filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD investigated the complaint, determined that KSU had violated the Fair Housing Act and referred the matter to the department. Under the proposed settlement, KSU has agreed to change its policy to accommodate similar requests going forward.

"Providers of on-campus housing have the same obligation to comply with the Fair Housing Act as other housing providers," said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "Today's settlement reinforces the ongoing commitment of HUD and the Justice Department to ensuring that individuals with disabilities are granted the accommodations they need to perform daily life functions."

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.

More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt

Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or through HUD's website at portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp

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