This article was last updated on October 20, 2023, to reflect the updates in ESA regulations

Understanding the laws surrounding emotional support animals (ESA) can be tricky. Is an ESA a pet, or is it a service animal? The truth is that an ESA falls somewhere in between, which means that ESAs do have legal rights, but not to the same extent as service dogs. Emotional support animals are not ADA protected service animals, but they are protected under federal Fair Housing rules and state laws.

That means if you live in a rental building, you may be able to live with your pet in a no-pets building if you qualify for an emotional support animal.

What is an emotional support animal? 

An emotional support animal is not a pet; it’s much more. Pets can be owned by anyone, whether or not they have a disability. An ESA, however, is owned by an individual with a qualifying mental or emotional disability. For these individuals, an ESA can be the difference between struggling with symptoms and living a healthy life. 

The company and comfort of an emotional support animal alleviate the symptoms of their owner’s emotional or mental disability. Due to their vital participation in a person’s well-being, federal and state laws exist to protect ESAs.

If you suffer from a mental health disorder and would like to qualify for an Emotional Support Animal online, ESA Doctors can help connect you to a therapist who is licensed in your state. Click below to get started.

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What federal law applies to an ESA

One federal law supports the presence of emotional support animals in rental units: the Fair Housing Act (FHA). 

The Fair Housing Act 

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) applies to emotional support animals and their owners. This federal law outlines the rights and responsibilities of housing providers and tenants. Under the FHA, a landlord or housing provider must not discriminate against a person due to their need for an assistance animal.

If an individual has a legitimate ESA letter, they may reside in rental homes and apartments with a “no pets” policy without penalty. Under the latest set of HUD guidelines, pet fees and policies also do not apply to ESAs. That means that landlords cannot charge pet fees or deposits for ESAs, or impose size or breed restrictions.

Most types of housing fall under the Fair Housing Act, which includes public housing. However, the following types are excluded from the FHA

  • Rentals of four dwellings or less, with one unit occupied by the owner of the dwelling. 
  • A single-family home, rented by the owner without the use of a real estate agent or broker. 
  • Housing owned or operated by religious organizations or private clubs that restrict housing to their members only.

In short, the FHA requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with emotional support animals. To qualify for an ESA under the FHA, the tenant must meet the definition of having a disability. The ESA letter substantiates a person’s emotional or mental disability and the need for an ESA. Qualifying conditions include severe depression, anxiety, PTSD or ADHD.

An emotional support cat at home in a rental housing.
Federal and state laws exist that protect emotional support animals in housing rental situations.

Are there any state laws for ESAs?

Although the FHA law applies to all states, each state may also have their own laws pertaining to ESAs. These laws typically supplement or clarify existing federal laws. The following are a few examples of state laws pertaining to ESAs: 

Florida state law for ESA

Florida’s SB 1084 aims to clarify legal expectations for both ESA owners and housing providers. This law defines how Floridians can appropriately qualify for an ESA and affirms the rights of ESA owners. This law also spells out the ability for individuals to use telehealth providers as an effective method to obtain an ESA letter in Florida.

California state law for ESA

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) for California is a civil rights agency that enforces FHA laws. In addition, California introduced a new law in 2022 called the AB 468 ESA law. California’s AB 468 aims to: 

  • Ensure that pet owners do not misrepresent their animals.
  • Ensure that ESA owners obtain the appropriate documentation. 

California notably requires a 30 day waiting period when obtaining an ESA letter for an emotional support dog.

Housing Rules for ESAs - Fair Housing Act - ESA Doctors

ESA Owners and Rental Laws

ESA owners who live in rental buildings are protected by Fair Housing rules – as long as they have a valid ESA letter. An ESA letter is the only legitimate way to have an ESA. If you’re not yet seeing a therapist regarding your emotional or mental disorder, or your doctor is not familiar with the benefits of an ESA, ESA Doctors can connect you with a licensed professional online in your state to see if you qualify. 

Qualify for an emotional support animal letter online in 3 easy steps:

Three easy steps to get an ESA Letter with ESA Doctors
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