(ESA) Emotional Support Animal Laws

There is a clear distinction between pets, service animals, and emotional support animals, and each type of assistance animal and their handlers are governed by a specific set of laws. ESA laws focus solely on emotional support animals (and their owners).

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA), also referred to as a support animal or assistance animal, is a designated companion animal that provides a specific benefit to a person dealing with a mental, emotional, or psychological disability or condition. In order for your animal to be officially considered an ESA, a licensed mental health professional or doctor must provide the proper documentation. The most common type of emotional support animal is a dog, but ESAs can also be cats or other types of animals. An emotional support animal is different from a service animal, both in definition and the way it is viewed under varying rules and regulations. If you have an emotional support animal, you have certain rights that are protected by the ESA laws. These rights extend to both housing and travel-related situations and are intended to provide for the fair and lawful treatment of anyone that’s received the proper designation for an emotional support animal.

Overview of the Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Laws

Laws on emotional support animals also referred to as the ESA Laws, outline specific regulations applying to two primary areas: housing and travel.

ESA Housing Laws

The first area that is covered by the ESA laws is housing and addresses how emotional support animals are considered under the Fair Housing Act. According to this portion of the ESA laws, your landlord, owner, or building manager is required to make reasonable accommodations to allow your emotional support animal, regardless of a “no pets” housing policy.

ESA Travel Laws

The second area addressed by the ESA laws is travel. According to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), an official emotional support animal is permitted to fly with you inside the airplane cabin. If your emotional support animal is a large dog, you have the right to request a seat change to allow for enough space for your dog. It is advised that all emotional support animal owners contact their airline at least 48 hours to advance, to ensure they have all proper documentation to avoid any conflict.

Can My Pet Become an Emotional Support Animal?

Any pet can qualify to become an emotional support animal, specifically if the pet provides comfort and emotional support to a person with disabilities. If your pet currently supports you in the management or emotional, psychological, or mental disabilities, they can become your emotional support animal. There is no specific training or certification required for an emotional support animal, but your pet should possess the ability to function well around other people and animals. If you’re interested in officially designating your pet as an emotional support animal, you will need an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter.

Who Can Obtain an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter?

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter is provided by a licensed mental health professional, stating why you require an emotional support animal. Typically, anyone with a qualifying and diagnosed mental, psychological, or emotional condition can obtain an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter if a licensed mental health professional sees fit. Here are just a few examples of conditions that may qualify you for an emotional support animal:
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Learning disabilities
  • Depression
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Motor skills disorders

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter must be printed on your therapist’s official letterhead, stating that you suffer from a specific emotional disability (as included in the Americans with Disabilities Act). The letter must also explain that your emotional support animal is key to your wellbeing. Finally, the letter is required to be signed and dated by your licensed therapist, as well as include their license number, and the date and place it was issued. An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter is only valid for one year from the issued date.

In some cases, you may be asked to provide an Emotional Support Letter that includes specific wording and information, such as the breed of your ESA, the weight of your ESA, and certain language applying to your needs.

Do I Need to Register My Emotional Support Animal?

No. You are not required to register your emotional support animal in any database or system. While there are many online services that advertise ESA registration, there is no official requirement or government database. Your ESA Letter is the only primary documentation needed.

Do I Need a Vest for My Emotional Support Animal?

No. Your emotional support animal is not required to wear an ESA vest, uniform, harness, or identification card. However, you may find it helpful to have something to identify your emotional support animal whenever you’re planning to bring them to a public place. Having some form of documentation to prove they are an emotional support animal can help you avoid conflict and hassle in the event that their status is questioned.

Can I Have Two Emotional Support Animals?

While there are no laws prohibiting two (or more) emotional support animals, the requirements for each animal do not change. A licensed mental health professional must provide recommendations for each of the emotional support animals, and each animal should have the proper supporting documents. It is important that both emotional support animals are properly trained to function in the public space, and that you are able to provide sufficient care and attention to all ESA.

If you are interested in ESA Letters for more than one animal, it’s important to understand that a licensed mental health provider must agree that there is a valid reason that multiple ESAs are necessary for your health and wellbeing.

Additional Information Regarding Your Rights Under the Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Laws

Provided below are additional details regarding specific scenarios, questions, and concerns you may encounter as the owner of an emotional support animal. Understanding specific regulations applying to emotional support animals is an excellent way to prepare yourself for various situations and assert your legal rights if needed.

Emotional Support Animals & Housing

Emotional Support Animal Housing Laws: The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in housing, including that related to disability, race, religion, color, national origin, sex, and familial status. Anyone seeking to rent or buy a home, get a mortgage, or receive housing assistance is protected under the FHA. There are additional protections that apply specifically to federally-assisted housing.

The FHA also prohibits a landlord or owner to set different terms, conditions, or privileges for the rental or sale or home based on any of the reasons listed above. Different rental prices or sale prices based on discriminatory factors is also banned, as is the failure to provide proper maintenance, harassment, or the limiting of privileges or services offered to other residents.

In very specific circumstances, the following types of housing may be exempt from the FHA: owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units, single-family houses rented or sold by owner (without an agent), private clubs that limit occupancy to members only, and housing managed by religious organizations.

According to the HUD, a housing provider must consider the two following questions when considering a request for an ESA:

1. Does the person seeking accommodations have a disability?

2. Does the person seeking accommodations have a disability-related need for the emotional service animal?

If one of the above questions can be answered with a “no,” then the housing provider does not have to make reasonable accommodations. If both questions can be answered affirmatively, then the housing provider must attempt to accommodate the ESA and its owner.

Do Landlords Have to Accept Emotional Support Animals?

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords must make an effort to reasonably accommodate your emotional support animal, even if the property has a “no pets” policy. However, reasonable accommodation can be denied in certain situations. For example, it allows your emotional support animal would place an undue administrative or financial burden on your housing provider, they are allowed to deny your request. Or, if you have a particularly large emotional support animal, such as a llama or horse, you may be denied housing as well.

If your emotional support animal is disruptive in any way and is determined to be detrimental to the health, safety, or property of other tenants, the landlord may have grounds to refuse housing. Restrictions that normally apply to pets living on a property, such as pet fees or breed restrictions, cannot be applied to emotional support animals. Each emotional support animal request but be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, depending on the situation and animal in question.

You should know that while your landlord is allowed to request for ESA documentation, he or she is not permitted to ask for your personal medical details, records, or other extensive information.

Can Landlords Charge for Emotional Support Animals?

HUD regulations specifically stipulate that landlords cannot charge extra fees to tenants with any type of assistance animal, including emotional support animals. However, keep in mind that you may be liable for expenses incurred from damages caused by your emotional support animal.

Should I Tell a Prospective Landlord about My ESA During the Application Process?

Usually, communicating openly with your prospective landlord about your ESA is the best course of action. Providing advance notice allows them to determine if a reasonable accommodation is possible. Also, in the case that a landlord provides a valid denial of your ESA request, you will be able to seek other housing with ample time.

However, you are not required by law to disclose your ESA during the housing application process, so the decision is ultimately up to you. If you choose not to discuss your ESA during the application process, you will then need to provide your ESA documentation after your have been accepted. At that point, if you are denied, you can take further steps such as requesting additional information about the denial or filing a complaint with the HUD.

Can I Bring My Emotional Support Animal to On-Campus or University Housing?

Many colleges and universities have specific policies addressing the use of emotional support and other assistance animals in housing facilities. Recent court cases have required college campuses with “no pets” policies to make reasonable accommodations for ESAs, stating that on-campus housing at public universities is covered by the Fair Housing Act. However, there is still some uncertainty regarding ESAs and private, on-campus housing, so it’s best to contact your educational facility ahead of time to gather information.

What If I Feel My ESA Rights Have Been Violated?

If you believe you are the victim of housing-related discrimination resulting from your ESA request, you can file a complaint with the HUD using their online filing process. You can also print and mail a HUD Discrimination Form, or file a complaint with the specific agency in your state.

Emotional Support Animals & Travel

Emotional Support Animal Travel Laws: The Air Carrier Access Act

Passed in 1990, the Air Carrier Access Act bans discrimination against disabled individuals traveling by airplane. According to the law, airlines are prohibited from refusing or limiting transportation and must allow ESA owners who have the proper verified documentation. Further, as an ESA owner, you cannot be required to sit in a certain seat unless your animal is large enough that they may block the aisle. Finally, the Air Carrier Act places restrictions on any additional fees associated with the accommodation of ESAs.

Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed on the Plane?

Yes. In most cases, your emotional support animal is permitted to fly in the main airline cabin with you. It is extremely important that you contact your airline in advance to request information about any required documentation or information needed to allow for your emotional support animal. Most airlines require advanced notice, especially if you have a large emotional support animal so that they are able to make the proper accommodations.

Typically, your emotional support animal will be able to either sit on the floor of the plane, on your lap, or on an open seat next to you. It’s important to understand that your emotional support animal is not allowed to be disruptive on the plane. Sitting or moving around in the aisle and barking is prohibited, and your ESA cannot pose a threat to other passengers, making proper training critical.

Some airlines only allow one emotional support animal per passenger, and extremely large ESAs may be excluded. If you are planning to fly internationally with your emotional support animal, you must contact both the airline and the embassy to confirm any applicable policies. It’s not uncommon for many international and airlines to enforce regulations on the transportation of foreign animals of any type, including emotional support animals.

Note that according to the Air Carrier Access Act, airlines are never required to allow reptiles (including snakes), rodents (including ferrets), sugar gliders, or spiders.

Do I Need Specific Information or Paperwork to Bring My Emotional Support Animal on the Plane?

Some airlines may request specific information or wording on your Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter, which is why it’s so important to call ahead to confirm necessary documentation. You may also need to complete certain documentation pertaining to your emotional support animal. Many airlines have specific ESA forms that are required to be filled out by a mental health professional or doctor before flying. They also could request health records, such as proof of up-to-date shot records, from a veterinarian.

Can I Bring My Emotional Support Animal on a Train or Bus?

ESA approval animals that are well behaved are typically allowed on trains and buses with flexibility. However, trains and buses are not required to allow emotional support animals. We suggest calling the company in advance to ask about their pet policy.

Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed in Hotels?

Emotional Support Animal Laws do not apply to hotels, so there are no requirements that your emotional support animal be accommodated. However, the likelihood that you are allowed in the hotel with your emotional support animal are increased drastically with the proper documentation from a healthcare professional or doctor. We suggest you can call ahead to inquire about your hotel’s pet policy. Many hotels allow guests to bring pets into their hotel room, though some may require an additional fee or deposit. Of course, if your emotional support animal damages hotel property in any way, you are liable.

Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed in Restaurants?

ESA Laws do not state that restaurants must allow emotional support animals. It is not unusual for restaurants to prohibit animals, due to food safety regulations. However, you may want to call the restaurant to find out if there is any way to accommodate your emotional support animal.

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