High mortgage rates and rent prices are some of the biggest barriers Valley residents face when it comes to finding housing, but The Arizona Pet Project says there’s another challenge too.
CEO Leanna Taylor says some people are being discriminated against and turned away from housing because of their service animals or emotional support animals (ESA), both of which are protected under federal law.
Autumn Miller says her dog Riley is her emotional support, keeping her mind at ease when life gets hard.
“I’ve had a long history with depression and anxiety,” Miller said. “I’m good now, but a while back I had a lot of suicidal ideations and one of the things that kept me here was my animals.”
When she suddenly lost her home, Miller said she considered living in her car if it meant keeping her pets, and when attending a recent conference, she learned from the Arizona Pet Project about the rights emotional support animals have.
“I was under the assumption ESAs weren’t protected at all,” Miller said.
Miller said she got a letter from her psychiatrist which allowed her to find an affordable place to live with her dog, Riley.
According to Taylor, her organization is currently working with veterans and pairing them with emotional support animals. She says they often run into a slew of challenges.
“They face breed, size restrictions, or no pet policies when they move into housing,” Miller said. “It can be really difficult to advocate for yourself and the housing crisis has really only exasperated that.”
Under the Fair Housing Act, a landlord can’t refuse someone with an emotional support or service animal. Since they aren’t technically pets, owners don’t have to pay pet fees. It’s also important to note that service animals are trained to assist someone with a disability but ESAs are not, which means you can’t take ESAs everywhere. But Taylor says she’s seen people with both ESA and service animals denied a place to live.
“Are there instances where people go online and get letters? There are. Exploitation of any loophole happens. But I think that is less frequent and what actually is more frequent is that people who would qualify for one aren’t actually aware of that qualification and aren’t pursuing that letter that would provide them those rights,” Taylor said.
Miller says she works with veterans as part of her job and is passing along what she has learned to them.
“The knowledge itself has come in handy already,” Miller said.
If you believe you are being discriminated against, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
If you do not need an ESA or service animal but are struggling to find affordable housing and coming across restrictions because of your pet, Taylor says her organization has resources to help.