The state of Illinois allows people with emotional support animals to live with their ESA without incurring additional fees. Federal law also views these animals as vital for the well-being of people that suffer from emotional or mental health conditions.
Emotional support animals are dogs, cats, and other small domesticated animals that provide their owners with friendship, companionship, and unconditional support. Let’s explore what legal rights ESA owners have in Illinois and how to properly qualify for one with the help of a licensed mental health professional.
If you are ready to see if you qualify for an ESA letter online, you can complete the questionnaire at the link below. A mental health professional licensed for Illinois will assist you after you submit your questionnaire.
What Qualifies As a Disability in Illinois?
To qualify for an emotional support animal, you must have a “disability” as defined under federal law. That means having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. For people suffering from mental impairments, that includes (but is not limited to) conditions such as PTSD, phobias, anxiety disorders, and depression.
A licensed mental health professional such as a doctor, counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker can evaluate whether you meet the criteria for having a disability. If they believe that you have a mental or emotional health disability where an emotional support animal could provide assistance, they can provide you with an ESA letter.
Having a letter from a licensed mental health professional provides proof to landlords that a tenant has an eligible disability that requires the assistance of an ESA.
Emotional Support Animals in Illinois Apartments and Condos
Emotional support animals are not considered pets under housing rules, so they are exempt from building pet policies. The landlord or building manager cannot discriminate against tenants who need an ESA or charge additional fees to accommodate the emotional support animal. ESAs are also exempt from breed and size restrictions that may apply to normal pets that live in a building. Housing providers must “reasonably accommodate” emotional support animals as long as the ESA does not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
Illinois ESA Laws and ESA Letters
In 2020 the State of Illinois implemented the Illinois Assistance Animal Integrity Act, which set out to curb individuals from faking the need for an emotional support animal. This state law is similar to the federal protections given to ESA owners under the Fair Housing Act. Illinois law requires ESA owners to provide documentation from an appropriate party to demonstrate their need for an ESA (i.e., an ESA letter).
Illinois has taken steps to prevent people from buying instant ESA certifications. The ESA documentation has to come from someone you have a “therapeutic relationship” with, meaning a physician, mental health service provider, or a non-medical service agency who has actual knowledge of your condition and need for an ESA.
Illinois law is clear that you cannot qualify for an ESA by buying a certificate or license without the involvement of someone who has assessed your disability and disability-related need for an emotional support animal. In Illinois, it’s ideal to obtain an ESA letter from a qualified licensed healthcare professional.
Once you have an ESA letter, you can provide it to your landlord as proof that you need accommodation for your emotional support animal. The ESA letter will state that you have a disability and disability-related need for an emotional support animal. However, the ESA letter does not need to contain sensitive details regarding your condition or medical history. ESA letters should be written on the provider’s letterhead and also contain their contact and licensing information.
If you live in Illinois and already have a healthcare professional looking after your mental health, that is the best person to discuss your ESA needs. If you don’t have access to anyone, you can connect with an Illinois licensed therapist online. To get started on the process, complete the questionnaire at the link below.
ESAs in the Workplace in Illinois
Unfortunately, there are no explicit protections in Illinois when it comes to ESAs in the workplace. If you need an ESA to do your job, you may want to ask your employer for permission. Having an ESA letter from your mental health professional and other information (like behavioral training etc.) can help build your case. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that employers are not obligated to accommodate emotional support animals.
Emotional Support Animals and Air Travel in Illinois
Emotional support animals were formerly allowed to fly in the cabin of airplanes free of charge, but that is no longer the case. As a result of changes in the law in 2021, U.S.-based airlines no longer recognize emotional support animals. Psychiatric service dogs, however, are still allowed to board the cabin of planes without paying any additional fees. PSDs are also exempt from the size and weight restrictions placed on pets that fly in the cabin.
A psychiatric service dog helps people with mental health disabilities like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and phobias. However, they differ from ESAs in that they must be trained to perform a job or task relating to the handler’s disability. A PSD is not considered a service animal until it has fully completed this training.
If you’re interested in owning a PSD and need a licensed healthcare professional to evaluate whether you meet the criteria for having a PSD-eligible disability, you can connect with one online by clicking on the link below. If you qualify, the healthcare professional can give you a signed PSD letter.
Get your Psychiatric Service Dog Letter Now
Living With an ESA in Illinois
The state of Illinois and the city of Chicago have been wonderful in protecting the rights of ESA owners. Don’t live another moment with a mental or emotional health issue when an ESA may be the answer to your problems. Having an emotional support animal recommended to you by a mental health professional will protect your rights as an ESA owner under both federal and state laws.