When and 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have faced the misfortune of submitting an ESA request to their landlord and being rejected because their paperwork is outdated. 

In this article, we will help you avoid the embarrassment and inconvenience of being denied ESA accommodation due to expired documentation. We’ll explain when and why ESA letters expire and share best practices for keeping your ESA documents valid. 

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First, Some Basics 

valid ESA letter allows a person to live with their emotional support animal, even in buildings that do not allow pets. The housing provider must accommodate ESAs free of charge. That means no pet fees or deposits!

Having an emotional support animal also means you are exempt from size and breed restrictions that apply to normal pets in your building. That means that a landlord can’t reject your ESA request solely because they think your ESA is too big or is a breed they don’t like. 

By law, an ESA recommendation letter must come from a licensed healthcare professional and meet certain standards under the Fair Housing Act.   

A valid ESA letter contains the date the ESA letter was issued by the licensed professional. The letter also has the professional’s contact information so that the housing provider can verify the ESA letter’s validity. ESA owners can run into trouble when they submit a letter past its expiration or when the landlord tries to reach a therapist to validate an outdated ESA letter. 

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Do ESA Letters Expire? 

The answer to whether ESA letters expire is not black and white. Under HUD guidelines and state rules, ESA letters do not technically expire, but it is a good idea to have a current ESA letter for several reasons. So the answer is that while your ESA letter may not have “expired” in a technical sense, it may not be useable if it is not up to date. Best practice dictates that, at a minimum, your ESA letter be no older than a year. 

To fulfill the ESA documentation requirement for housing purposes, a tenant needs an ESA letter issued by a licensed healthcare professional establishing their need for an emotional support animal. However, 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. 

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Despite the lack of definitive guidance on ESA letter expiration, it is recommended that ESA letters for housing are renewed at least once a year for the following reasons:

  1. Many housing providers and landlords will refuse to accept an ESA letter dated over one year ago. They will ask the tenant to submit a recent ESA letter to prove their need for an ESA is still relevant. 
  2. 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. However, the landlord can 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 verifying an ESA recommendation if the ESA letter on file is 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.

In addition, while emotional support animals are no longer allowed on flights, the old rules regarding ESAs from the U.S. Department of Transportation may be informative. Under those old rules, ESA letters submitted to airlines could be no older than a year. While those rules are no longer in effect and do not apply to housing, they may give some indication of what an appropriate timeframe for a current ESA letter is. 

For these reasons, it is recommended that tenants update their ESA letters at least annually. 

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What Should I Do if My ESA Letter Was Rejected For Being Expired?

If your ESA request was rejected due to an expired ESA letter, the best remedy is to speak with the healthcare professional that issued your letter 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 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. Landlords also 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 notification when your ESA letter is to expire. Tracking down your therapist for an urgent last-minute appointment can sometimes be tricky—it’s a good idea to plan and make sure you’re not stranded with an expired ESA letter. 

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To avoid any issues with your ESA in no-pets housing, ESA documentation should be kept up to date.

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 if 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 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. 

What if I’m Moving to Another State?

If you have moved to another state or are planning to move to another state, you should consider obtaining a new ESA letter even if your current one has not technically expired. There are a few reasons for this. 

The state you move to might have their own rules governing ESA letters. For example, California has specific requirements for ESA letters, including a 30 day relationship requirement. If you are moving to a new state, you will want a healthcare professional that is licensed to help you in that state. 

Other states also have their own ESA-specific rules, including Florida

Many landlords will demand a current ESA letter from a healthcare professional licensed in their state for tenants arriving from another state. 

What Other Reasons Are There for Renewing an ESA Letter?

There are some other reasons to consider renewing an ESA letter. For example, if your emotional support animal has changed, or if you need more than one ESA, you may need an updated letter to reflect that. 

Your condition and reasons for needing an ESA may have also changed, in which case you will want your licensed healthcare professional to know. 

Finally, it’s also possible that ESA rules may have changed in your jurisdiction. Typically, older ESA accommodations are grandfathered in, but that may not always be the case. You may feel more comfortable knowing that you have an ESA letter that is fully compliant with all the latest guidelines. 

Other Questions Regarding ESA Letters

What is the process for renewing an ESA Letter?

If you need to renew your ESA letter with your current licensed healthcare professional, the best way to get an updated letter is to reach out to them directly. If you obtained an ESA letter through a healthcare professional that works with ESA Doctors, you can reach out to our support team, and they will help you with the renewal process. 

Depending on the circumstances, your healthcare professional may require an additional evaluation and information from you in order to renew your ESA letter. 

If you need an ESA letter from a new provider (for example, if you recently moved or your former doctor/therapist can no longer help you), you will need to be evaluated by your new provider for an ESA letter. 

It may be helpful for your new provider to know about your former history with emotional support animals, but they will need to make their own determination about whether you qualify for an ESA letter. 

Who qualifies for an ESA letter?

In order to qualify for an ESA letter, you must have a mental or emotional health disability. That means you have a mental health disorder that substantially limits a major life activity like the ability to sleep, work or socialize. 

These are some common reasons why people need an emotional support animal:
– Depression
– Anxiety
– PTSD
– Phobias
– ADHD
– Panic disorders
– Social anxiety

A licensed healthcare professional can determine whether you meet the criteria for owning an emotional support animal. 

Can my pet qualify as an emotional support animal?

Emotional support animals are not required to have any type of specialized training. Your existing pet may already be functionally serving as your emotional support animal. The most common emotional support animals are dogs, cats, birds, fish, turtles, gerbils, and other small, domesticated household pets.
 
Certain “exotic” animals may not be allowed as emotional support animals for health or safety reasons. No animal that is dangerous to others is appropriate as an emotional support animal. 

Can I travel with my emotional support animal?

Emotional support animals only have housing rights in the U.S. In the past, ESAs were allowed to board flights free of charge, but that is no longer the case. The U.S. Department of Transportation put an end to ESAs being able to board flights.

Airlines and travel rules, however, still recognize the rights of service dog owners. Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are a type of service dog that helps people with mental health disabilities. PSDs are different from ESAs because they must be trained to perform a task or job relating to the handler’s disability. PSDs must also be able to perform their duties and behave in public settings. 

Owners of psychiatric service dogs have the ability to board flights free of charge, as long as they complete and submit a special form beforehand. There is no other special documentation required to prove you have a service dog for purposes of boarding a flight in the U.S. 

Some PSD owners, however, keep a PSD letter on file for personal documentation of their mental health disability. A PSD letter is a signed letter from a licensed healthcare professional who has evaluated the person’s mental health. A PSD letter indicates whether the person has a disability that could qualify for a psychiatric service dog. 

If you are interested in a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter, we can connect you with a healthcare professional.

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Do you need an ID card, certification, or registration in addition to an updated ESA Letter?

an emotional support animal. Housing providers are not allowed to demand an ID card, certificate, or registration number to confirm that you have an emotional support animal. The only way to properly qualify for an emotional support animal is with an ESA letter from a licensed professional. 

Can my landlord reject my emotional support animal even if I have a valid ESA letter?

The right to have an emotional support animal in your home is not absolute. There are circumstances where landlords can rightfully deny your emotional support animal.

For example, if the emotional support animal has exhibited aggressive behavior towards another tenant or has caused significant property damage, those could be reasons to properly deny an ESA. The landlord is allowed to consider the safety and health of other residents in the building when deciding whether to allow an emotional support animal.

As an ESA owner, it’s important to make sure your ESA is well-behaved and does not disturb the right of other tenants to enjoy their dwellings in peace. 

Certain smaller landlords are also exempt from ESA rules. Owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units and single-family homes sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent do not have to comply with ESA rules.

I submitted an ESA letter but my landlord wants to charge me a fee, is that allowed?

Under Fair Housing rules, housing providers are never allowed to charge fees or deposits for an emotional support animal. It is not an excuse to charge a tenant with an emotional support animal a fee or deposit because all pet owners in the building have to pay up. ESAs are not considered pets, and they are exempt from general pet rules in the building.

Keep in mind as well that landlords can’t charge you an application fee for considering whether to accept your ESA. 

If your ESA causes any damage to the dwelling, the landlord is of course entitled to reimbursement from you. ESA owners are still on the hook for any property damage that is caused by their emotional support animal. 

Does an emotional support animal count towards a pet limit?

Under HUD’s rules, emotional support animals are not considered regular pets. They are special assistance animals for people with mental health disabilities. That is why they are allowed even in buildings that don’t allow for animals of any kind.

Thus, even if your building bans all pets, your emotional support animal is exempt. Landlords must reasonably accommodate emotional support animals even if they have rules in place that say no pets are allowed. 

Can I renew my ESA letter online?

Yes, it is possible to renew your ESA letter or get an all new ESA letter from a healthcare professional online. Telehealth providers play a vital role for people that can’t do in-person visits for various reasons or just prefer not to. For example, online services are an ideal option for people with mobility issues, financial limitations, busy schedules, COVID worries, or anxiety about in-person visits. 

HUD guidelines allow for online remote providers to write ESA letters as long as they are properly licensed and have evaluated the individual. If you are obtaining an ESA letter from any online source, you should make sure that your ESA letter is coming from an actual healthcare professional who is licensed in your state. 

ESA letters can be written by licensed doctors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and social workers. It’s useful to find someone that is familiar with emotional support animal rules and has experience writing ESA letters. 

If you need a current ESA letter, ESA Doctors can help connect you to a friendly professional that is licensed for your state. The healthcare professionals that work with ESA Doctors work remotely, so they can help you without the need for in-person visits. ESA Doctors is fully accredited with an A+ rating from the BBB and garners rave reviews from clients for the valuable service they provide. If you think an emotional support animal could change your life, get started by clicking on the link below today.

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