Emotional Support Animals are Protected by Two Federal Laws:
- The Fair Housing Act (FHA) – The Department of Housing issues guidance relating to the FHA
- The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) – The Department of Transportation issues guidance regarding the ACAA
In order to be receive protections under these two Emotional Support Animal Laws, you must first qualify for an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. If you feel that an Emotional Support Animal will benefit your life, complete the questionnaire in the link below to certify your dog as a verifiable Emotional Support Animal.
Update, November 2019: Department of Transportation has provided clarification on the Air Carrier Access Act regarding Emotional Support Animal Travel Regulations.
Overview of the Emotional Support Animal Laws
Emotional Support Animal owners must be accommodated under federal ESA laws in two areas: housing and air travel.
Emotional Support Animal Housing Law
Under Emotional Support Animal Housing Laws, ESAs must be allowed housing access, even in “no pets” buildings.
Based on Emotional Support Animal Laws, an ESA is not considered a normal pet. Therefore a building’s policies regarding pets do not apply.
Emotional Support Animal Housing Policies Based on the Fair Housing Act
Landlords, apartment managers, HOA’s, and co-op boards must follow the policies set out by Emotional Support Animal Housing Laws.
- Landlords are not permitted to impose breed, weight and size limitations on ESAs
- Landlords are not allowed to charge fees or deposits in connection with ESAs
- Landlords are not allowed to request medical information or ask to contact your LMHP
- Landlords are allowed to deny an ESA if accommodating the ESA would impose an undue financial burden and if the landlord determines that the ESA poses a threat to the health and safety of others
If you are ready to seek reasonable accommodations for you and your ESA, it would be helpful to read this guide to renting an apartment with your ESA.
Emotional Support Animal Travel Law
Based on the ACAA, the Emotional Support Animal Travel law, your ESA is allowed to fly with you inside the airplane cabin.
Under the ACAA, you have a right to fly with your Emotional Support Animal. In addition, the Department of Transportation recently issued updated guidance regarding traveling with your Emotional Support Animal.
Airlines cannot charge you a fee to fly with your Emotional Support Animal.
Emotional Support Animal Airline Policies Based on the ACAA
- The airline is not allowed to charge fees in connection with your Emotional Support Animal (ESA)
- The airline cannot unilaterally place weight or breed restrictions on an ESA dog, cat, or miniature horse
- The airline may ask that you contact them at least 48 hours before departure to make sure you have all the necessary airline forms submitted
- The airline may request your veterinarian to complete a form regarding your ESA’s health
- Airlines can now deny exotic or unusual animals such as snakes, rodents, spiders, etc.
When you are ready to fly with your ESA, you can read about some tips here.
Emotional Support Animal Requirements
The difference between a legitimate Emotional Support Animal and a pet is a letter from a licensed therapist. Your pet may functionally already be acting as your ESA.
Your pet is not recognized as an ESA in the eyes of the law until you qualify for an ESA letter.
An ESA recommendation letter –
- Is written by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP)
- It states you suffer from a mental or emotional disability (such as severe anxiety, depression, or phobia) and the ESA is necessary to alleviate symptoms of your disability
- Must be written on the therapist’s letterhead and be signed and dated
- Must include the LMHP’s license and contact information so the housing provider or airline can verify the letter
ESA Letter Renewal Requirements
For purposes of air travel, ESA letters are only valid for one year from the issue date. Fair Housing does not require annual updates, but it is recommended as well.
Are Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs the Same Thing?
No, Emotional Support Animals are not the same as Service Dogs.
It is important to note that Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and Service Dogs are governed by different sets of laws. ESAs are not Service Dogs, which have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and are generally allowed anywhere the public is allowed. Service Dogs are specially trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities, such as guide dogs or seizure alert dogs.
Emotional Support Animals on the other hand do not require special training and provide support through companionship. ESAs can help alleviate the symptoms of mental and emotional conditions such as:
ESA Registration is Not Required
All you need to qualify for an emotional support animal is an ESA letter.
It is not legally necessary to register your Emotional Support Animal. Some owners choose to voluntarily register their Emotional Support Animals and obtain cards and vests to make it easier to deal with the public.
You should be aware however the only way to officially have an emotional support animal is by obtaining a recommendation letter from a licensed mental health professional.
If you would like, you can contact Service Dog Certifications and request to register your Emotional Support Animal. You can also order a custom ESA Identification Card and ESA vest. These are items that may make travel easier, but you can never be required to have them.
Emotional Support Animals and Your Wellbeing
ESAs have helped thousands of people live happier and healthier lives.
If you are suffering from an emotional or mental disability an ESA may be able to provide you with the stability and comfort you need. The best way to obtain an ESA letter is through your therapist. If you are not currently seeing a therapist or do not have access to a therapist, ESA Doctors is a great place to turn to for support.
ESA Doctors will help pair you with a licensed therapist who is familiar with animal therapy to help you.
You can read about why ESA Doctors is the best choice to see if you qualify for an ESA letter here.