When you have an emotional support animal (ESA) and the right documentation, you are protected by certain rights under federal law when it comes to housing. The Fair Housing Act and guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Housing (HUD) ensure that ESA owners are not unfairly discriminated against due to their need for an emotional support animal. To prove that an animal is an actual ESA, landlords can require the tenant to submit “reasonable supporting documentation” from a licensed healthcare professional, which is more commonly known as an “ESA letter.” 

An ESA letter gives many benefits to the owner of an emotional support animal:

  1. It permits the animal to live in housing, apartments, condos, etc. that prohibit pets,
  2. It exempts the ESA owner from pet fees and deposits, and
  3. It prevents the landlord from rejecting an ESA solely because it is a certain breed or weight.

If you suffer from a mental health condition and would like to qualify for an emotional support animal online, we can connect you to a therapist licensed for your state in the link below.

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In this article, we will look at HUD’s guidelines to see what should be included in an ESA letter. We will also discuss how you can easily see if you qualify for an ESA letter for housing through ESA Doctors. 

Table of Contents

  1. Who can issue an ESA letter for housing?
  2. How to get an ESA letter for housing
  3. Are ESA letters from ESADoctors.com legal?
  4. What should an ESA housing letter contain?
  5. Where can I use an ESA housing letter?
  6. What is not required to be included in an ESA letter?
  7. Does an ESA letter have to follow a landlord’s form?
  8. Does an ESA letter have to be notarized or have a sworn statement?
  9. Can a certificate, ID card, or registration substitute for an ESA letter?
  10. Are there special requirements for “unique” animals?
  11. Does an ESA letter have to name my ESA?
  12. Where can I renew my ESA letter for housing?
  13. Example of an ESA housing letter
  14. Is there any reason a landlord can refuse my ESA letter?

1. Who can issue an ESA letter for housing?

Under HUD guidelines, an ESA letter for housing must come from a “licensed healthcare professional.” ESA letters are typically issued by mental health professionals, such as social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors. Physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and physician’s assistants are also permitted under HUD rules to issue ESA letters. 

Many people wonder if it’s okay for an online professional to issue an ESA letter. That is indeed allowed and specifically approved under HUD’s guidelines. HUD recognizes that legitimate ESA letters can come from licensed health care professionals that “deliver services remotely, including over the internet.” As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have turned to obtaining an ESA letter online for their mental health needs. 

To work with a licensed healthcare professional and ESA expert directly online, you can start by completing this questionnaire.

2. How to Get an ESA Letter for Housing

If you’re interested in obtaining an ESA letter for housing, you should discuss the matter with your therapist or doctor. If you don’t have a therapist or doctor or your healthcare professional is unfamiliar with ESA letters for housing, ESA Doctors can connect you to a licensed healthcare professional specializing in ESAs for a legitimate ESA letter. The licensed healthcare professionals we work with are knowledgeable about the rules for ESAs and housing and can issue ESA letters that can be submitted to housing providers for qualifying clients. 

Three Steps to Getting an ESA Letter for Housing:

  1. Talk to your therapist/doctor or connect with one on ESADoctors.com.

  2. Communicate your needs for requiring an emotional support animal.

  3. Have your therapist/doctor provide your ESA letter on their letterhead.

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Yes, if you work with ESA Doctors, your ESA letter is legal. Under HUD guidelines, an ESA letter must come from a licensed healthcare professional. That means someone who is a psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist, doctor, registered nurse, or other similar type of professional who is licensed. In addition, HUD guidelines permit tenants to obtain ESA letters from professionals who provide their services remotely online.

That means you’re allowed to obtain an ESA letter without scheduling an in-person visit, as long as it’s from a licensed professional. That’s where ESADoctors.com can help. With ESADoctors.com, you will be paired with an independent healthcare professional who is knowledgeable about mental and emotional illnesses and ESAs and who is licensed for your state.

If you meet their criteria, the therapist, doctor, or social worker will write an ESA letter for you. The letter will be signed and dated by the healthcare professional and include their contact and licensing information. You can submit this letter to your landlord to formally request accommodation for your emotional support animal. Under HUD guidelines, an ESA letter is the only documentation you need to prove to your landlord that you have a valid need for an emotional support animal.

If you would like our help connecting with a licensed mental health professional, you may start by completing this questionnaire:

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4. What should an ESA letter for housing contain?

An ESA letter for housing should contain the following basic information:

  • The tenant’s name
  • The healthcare professional’s name, contact information, and license number
  • The type of emotional support animal needed by the tenant (i.e., cat, dog, bird, hamster, etc.)

In addition, an ESA letter has to confirm the tenant’s need for an emotional support animal. The letter should establish the following:

  • The tenant has an impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity, such as self-care or the ability to leave the home. Conditions that qualify include depression, anxiety, PTSD, and phobias. 
  • The tenant requires an emotional support animal to alleviate symptoms or effects of the tenant’s condition.

Finally, an ESA letter should always be signed and dated by the licensed healthcare professional. An ESA letter can be in digital form, such as a PDF or hardcopy. There is no requirement to produce a printed hardcopy, and many therapists, especially online therapists, will issue letters digitally.

5. Where can I use an ESA housing letter?

An ESA housing letter can be used in many instances where regular pets or certain breeds are not allowed. Here are a few specific use cases for your ESA housing letter.

  • Rental Home
  • Apartment
  • Condominium
  • Home Owners Association (HOA)
  • Co-ops

If you worked with ESA Doctors for your ESA letter and you run into any issues, you may contact us at any time for support. If you would like to work with us, you can learn more about the ESA letter process here.

6. What is not required to be included in an ESA letter?

Tenants have a right to confidentiality regarding the specific nature of their condition that necessitates an emotional support animal. Knowledge about a person’s mental health history can be a delicate and sensitive issue, and Fair Housing rules give tenants a right to privacy when it comes to such information.

HUD has stated the following when it comes to the disclosure of sensitive information: “Disclosure of details about the diagnosis or severity of a disability or medical records or a medical examination cannot be required.”

Landlords are never permitted to request specific details regarding a tenant’s condition or ask for medical records. Healthcare professionals are also bound by ethics rules to keep information regarding their clients confidential. For these reasons, an ESA letter for housing will not contain specific details about your condition. ESA letters for housing can look generic and impersonal to people not familiar with them, the reason being that healthcare professionals are protecting their clients’ confidentiality.  

7. Does an ESA letter have to follow a landlord’s form?

No, HUD’s rules have made it clear that landlords cannot demand that a tenant’s ESA documentation must follow their specific requirements. A valid ESA letter with the information required under HUD’s guidelines is all of the documentation that a tenant needs to submit in order to obtain accommodation for their emotional support animal.

8. Does an ESA letter have to be notarized or have a sworn statement?

No, landlords cannot insist that healthcare professionals notarize documents or make statements under penalty of perjury. A signed digital or physical copy of an appropriately drafted ESA letter on the professional’s letterhead is sufficient. 

ESA dog on legs of owner - ESA Doctor
Protect your right to own an emotional support animal; know what an ESA letter for housing looks like.

9. Can a certificate, ID card, or registration substitute for an ESA letter?

Certifications, ID cards, and registrations are not valid substitutes for an ESA letter for housing. They are also not necessary to obtain once a tenant has a valid ESA letter. HUD’s rules specifically warn tenants against companies that sell registrations and certificates for emotional support animals. ID cards are also unnecessary, although some tenants with ESA letters use them so they can notify others in the building that their animal companion is an ESA and is an exception to the rule about having pets. An ID card by itself, however, is not an effective substitute for an actual ESA letter. 

10. Are there special requirements for “unique” animals?

HUD recognizes that small, domesticated animals “traditionally kept in the home for pleasure rather than for commercial purpose” can be emotional support animals. ESAs are commonly dogs, cats, small birds, rabbits, hamsters, fish, and other small animals kept in the home as pets. 

More “exotic” animals, such as goats or large snakes, could potentially be emotional support animals, but they are subject to a higher documentation standard than more typical ESAs. Unique animals require ESA housing letters to contain additional language justifying the tenant’s need for the unique animal and other more specific details than a standard ESA housing letter. 

11. Does an ESA letter have to name my emotional support animal?

An ESA letter for housing should identify the type of ESA you have (i.e., dog, cat, bird, etc.) but does not need to identify the specific animal. Many ESA letters are issued before the tenant actually adopts their emotional support animal. Healthcare professionals are also often not in a position to independently verify specific attributes about an emotional support animal— their role is to evaluate a person to see if an ESA recommendation is appropriate. 

12. How do I renew my ESA letter for housing?

You can talk to the healthcare professional who wrote your original letter, or you can renew your ESA letter online. To renew your ESA letter online, follow these steps:

  1. Complete the ESA renewal questionnaire.
  2. Wait for your healthcare professional to review your questionnaire. You may reach out to them if you have any questions.
  3. Receive your up-to-date ESA letter via email and/or USPS mail.
  4. Submit your new ESA letter to your landlord or housing authority.

13. Example of an ESA Housing Letter

The letter below is an example of an ESA letter for housing. However, it is for educational purposes only and not intended to be used — an actual ESA letter must come from a licensed professional who will tailor the ESA letter for each client. An ESA letter from a licensed healthcare professional working with ESA Doctors will not mention ESA Doctors.

A sample ESA letter for housing. Click to enlarge.

14. Is there any reason a landlord can refuse my ESA letter?

Landlords will sometimes make excuses for not accepting an ESA letter. Some of these excuses are valid, others are not. For example, if your ESA letter is not from a state-licensed healthcare professional, the landlord does not have to accept it. 

Some landlords do not have to accept ESA letters at all. 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 are exempt from ESA rules. An ESA letter also does not prevent a landlord from evicting a tenant whose animal has threatened the safety of others or caused significant property damage.

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