Why You Should Renew your ESA Documentation
Some emotional support animal (ESA) owners have faced the misfortune of submitting an ESA request to their landlord or airline and being rejected because their paperwork is outdated. Owners of ESAs frequently ask if and when their ESA documentation actually expires. As we will explain, the answer to whether an ESA letter technically expires is both yes and no, depending on the circumstance, but recommended practice for various reasons is to renew an ESA letter at least once a year.
In this article we will help you avoid the embarrassment and inconvenience of being denied ESA accommodation due to out-of-date documentation. We’ll explain when and why ESA letters expire and share best practices for keeping your ESA documents up to date and valid.
Do you have to renew your ESA Letter?
First, Some Basics
A valid ESA letter allows a person to live with their emotional support animal, even in buildings that do not allow pets. An ESA letter also allows you to fly with your ESA in the airplane cabin. In both cases, the housing provider and airline must accommodate ESAs free of charge. By law, an ESA recommendation letter must come from a licensed healthcare professional and meet certain standards under the Fair Housing Act or Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).
A valid ESA letter contains the date an ESA letter was issued by the licensed professional. The letter will also have contact information for the professional so that the housing provider or airline can verify that the letter was written for the tenant or passenger. ESA owners can run into trouble when they inadvertently submit a letter past its expiration period, or when the landlord or airline tries to reach a therapist to validate an old ESA letter.
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When Does an ESA Letter Expire for Flights?
Under the ACAA for emotional support animals, airlines are permitted to request “current documentation” from a passenger that is seeking to travel with an emotional support animal. The ACAA defines “current documentation” as documentation from a licensed mental health professional that is “no older than one year from the date of the passenger’s scheduled initial flight.”
For purposes of air travel, an ESA letter should be renewed at least once a year.ESA Doctors, est. 2015
In addition, many airlines require that the passenger’s therapist complete an additional form prior to departure (even though the DOT tried to halt that practice). Some ESA owners believe they can just have their therapist complete these forms each time they fly, eliminating the need for a more recent evaluation and ESA letter on file. However, the therapist may not submit one of these forms—which require validation of a passenger’s need for an ESA—unless they have a recent evaluation and ESA letter on file for the individual.
Thus, whether you fly on an airline that accepts standalone ESA letters or requires a special ESA form, you will want to renew your ESA letter with your licensed mental health professional at least annually. If your ESA documentation is dated more than a year from your flight, the airline has the legal right to reject your request for ESA accommodation. That could subject you to costly fees for boarding with a non-assistance animal or, worse yet, prevent your ESA from boarding altogether.
Renew your ESA Travel Letter in the link above.
Do ESA Letters Expire For Housing?
The documentation requirement for ESAs under housing laws is similar in many ways to the requirements under the ACAA. For purposes of housing, a tenant needs an ESA letter issued by a licensed healthcare professional establishing their need for an emotional support animal. Unlike air travel rules, the Fair Housing Act and guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing are silent on the issue of whether an ESA letter for housing expires.
Despite the lack of definitive guidance, it is recommended that ESA letters for housing also be renewed at least once a year for the following reasons:
- Many housing providers and landlords will refuse to accept an ESA letter that is dated more than a year. They will ask the tenant to submit a more recent ESA letter to prove their need for an ESA is still relevant.
- A therapist may not validate an ESA letter if it is outdated. Under Fair Housing rules, landlords are not allowed to pry into the tenant’s medical history or request sensitive details regarding the tenant’s condition. The landlord can however verify that the licensed professional did in fact recommend an emotional support animal for a particular tenant.
In a situation where a landlord reaches out for confirmation, a healthcare professional may not be comfortable with providing verification of an ESA recommendation if the ESA letter on file for the individual is very dated. The healthcare professional may need to conduct a more recent evaluation of the individual’s situation and issue a current ESA letter before confirming their recommendation with a third party.
For these reasons, it is recommended that tenants also update their ESA letters at least annually.
Renew your ESA Housing Letter in the link above.
What Should I Do if My ESA Letter Was Rejected For Being Expired?
If your ESA request was rejected due to an expired letter, the best remedy is to speak with the healthcare professional that issued your letter originally for updated documentation. The healthcare professional may require a re-evaluation to determine whether you still qualify for an ESA letter.
Once you have your updated ESA letter, you should re-submit it right away to your airline or housing provider. Under HUD guidance, landlords are required to work in good faith with their tenants to resolve any hurdles when it comes to ESA accommodations and should reconsider an initial denial if an up-to-date ESA letter is subsequently submitted.
If you qualified for an ESA letter from one of the licensed healthcare professionals that work with ESA Doctors, you will automatically receive a notice when your ESA letter is about to expire. Otherwise, it’s helpful to set a calendar reminder to make sure you don’t run into any surprises because of an expired ESA letter. Tracking down your therapist for an urgent last-minute appointment can sometimes be tricky – it’s a good idea to plan in advance to make sure you’re not stranded with an expired ESA letter.
What if I’m No Longer Seeing the Therapist that Originally Wrote my ESA Letter?
If you have an expired ESA letter and need a new therapist to issue an updated letter, or you’re interested in qualifying for an ESA for the first time and don’t know where to turn, we can help. ESADoctors.com connects individuals to real licensed healthcare professionals that are knowledgeable about ESAs and compassionate about mental and emotional health issues. The licensed professional will help determine whether an ESA can make a positive difference in your life.
Do you need to connect with a licensed medical health professional now? We can help. (linked)
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