If you’re a resident of the Keystone State, you are protected against discrimination in housing if you own an emotional support animal. Landlords and housing providers in Pennsylvania must accommodate tenants that have a signed ESA letter from a licensed healthcare professional. That’s true even if the building or lease has a “no pets” clause because emotional support animals are not considered pets. 

The U.S. Department of Justice has even shown that it will take action against landlords who fail to meet their obligations to owners of emotional support animals. They recently sued a landlord in Pittsburg for unfairly discriminating against ESA owners. 

In this article, we’ll explore your rights as an ESA owner in Pennsylvania and explain how you can obtain an ESA letter to show your landlord or housing provider. 

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How does Pennsylvania Define an Emotional Support Animal?

In Pennsylvania, an emotional support animal is a small, domesticated animal that provides comfort and support to a person dealing with mental or emotional health issues. An emotional support animal is not a service animal. A service animal receives individualized training to fulfill a task to assist their owners. For instance, dogs who warn their owners of impending seizures can spend years learning to do so. 

On the other hand, ESAs don’t require any specialized training. Instead, just their presence helps their owners deal with mental or emotional health disorders.

Laws that Protect Emotional Support Animals in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act makes it illegal to discriminate against people who use support animals. In addition, the Fair Housing Act, a federal law, protects ESA owners in every state. 

Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords must allow for emotional support animals even if their building or lease bans all pets. They cannot charge any fees or deposits for emotional support animals or apply breed, weight, or size restrictions. 

There are limitations, of course. For example, landlords do not have to accommodate an emotional support animal that has displayed behavior that threatens the health and safety of other tenants. Some smaller landlords are also exempt from ESA Fair Housing rules, such as owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units and single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent.

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What is an ESA Letter? 

An ESA letter offers evidence that an emotional support animal is necessary for a person’s mental or emotional wellness plan. A legitimate ESA letter allows emotional support animals to live in homes and rental properties that typically don’t allow pets. Under the U.S. Department of Housing’s guidelines, an ESA letter is the only documentation you need to prove that your animal is an ESA.

The ESA letter attests that the ESA is an invaluable part of the owner’s mental and emotional wellbeing. - ESA Doctors
The ESA letter attests that the ESA is an invaluable part of the owner’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

Who Can Write an ESA Letter in Pennsylvania? 

A valid ESA letter in Pennsylvania needs to be written by a licensed healthcare professional. A few roles that fall under this category are:

ESA letters can be obtained online or in-person, though they need to be written by a healthcare professional licensed to practice in Pennsylvania.

A valid ESA letter must be issued by a healthcare professional who is licensed to practice in Pennsylvania.

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What about ESAs on Flights?

Until recently, emotional support animals were also allowed on flights. Unfortunately, that ended in 2021 due to rule changes by the U.S. Department of Transportation. While emotional support animals are no longer allowed on flights, psychiatric service dogs are still allowed to board the cabin without any charge. 

A psychiatric service dog helps with mental health conditions similar to the ones that ESA owners suffer from. However, a PSD must be trained to perform a task or job relating to the owner’s mental health condition. A PSD owner must also have a qualifying disability under the Air Carrier Access Act. A licensed healthcare professional can help determine whether you meet the criteria for a service dog eligible disability. If you qualify, they can give you a signed PSD letter that sets forth whether they believe you have a mental or emotional health disability.

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PSD Letter
An ESA can stay in housing with their owner despite no-pets policies.
An ESA can stay in housing with their owner despite no-pets policies.

Where You Can Adopt an ESA in Pennsylvania

For people searching for an ESA in Pennsylvania, the following are popular adoption sites for furry friends.

All 4 Paws

All 4 Paws Rescue, Pennsylvania

Located in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, All 4 Paws rescue was started in 2009 and has since rescued over 10,000 animals. As a foster-based rescue, All 4 Paws houses their animals in foster homes. This allows their animals to receive socialization and care 24 hours a day, preparing them to be adoptable pets.

Wet Nose Rescue

Wet Nose Rescue, Pennsylvania

Started in 2008 and located in Southampton, Wet Nose Rescue is another non-profit, all-breed dog foster-based rescue center. Their adoption center offers dog training to new pet owners and sells supplies such as crates, collars, leashes, and dog beds. They currently develop a new program called “Grey Nose Society,” promoting Senior dogs for Senior Citizens.

To Love a Canine Rescue, Inc. 

To Love A Canine Rescue (TLC), Pennsylvania

To Love a Canine Rescue, Inc. (TLC) is a foster-based rescue. Located in Chester County, TLC emphasizes honesty in their adoption process, providing owners with all their information about each animal. Their team of foster families and trainers also work to make the adoption process successful for each of their animals. 

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Where You Can Take Your ESA for Exercise if you Live Near Philadelphia

The following are popular Pennsylvania dog parks located in Philadelphia: 

Seger Dog Park

Seger Dog Park is a favorite of local dog-lovers. The park boasts well-maintained grounds and beautiful scenery. The Seger Dog Park also hosts community events and regular community clean-ups, helping to connect Seger Dog Park with the surrounding neighborhoods. 

Seger Dog Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
1001 Rodman St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (map)

Piazza Dog Park 

The Piazza Dog Park boasts brand new canine-friendly turf grass, perfect for dog owners who don’t want dirt or sand on doggy paws. The park contains wide, shady trees and comfy benches for humans to wait while dogs romp.

Piazza Dog Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
156 W Wildey St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (map)

Schuylkill River Park Dog Run

The Schuylkill River Park Dog Run also boasts a canine-friendly turf grass courtyard, though this park overlooks a river. With sections for large and small dogs and clean drinking fountains, it’s perfect for most dogs. There’s also a train track near the park, where dogs love to bark at passing trains. This park, however, isn’t recommended for dogs who are sensitive to noise! 

Schuylkill River Park Dog Run, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
300 S 25th St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (map)
If the LMHP you are working with is not familiar with ESA regulations, you may qualify for an ESA letter online from an LMHP licensed in Pennsylvania. Click “Get Started Now” below to apply.

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