This article was last updated on November 29, 2023, to reflect the latest updates in Texas ESA laws.

Emotional support animals (ESA) help individuals deal with emotional or psychological disorders. As Texans continue to embrace the comfort and solace provided by these animals, it’s crucial to stay updated about the latest state laws governing ESAs. 

This article provides an in-depth look into Texas ESA laws, ensuring that ESA owners and the general public remain informed and protected. 

Texas Emotional Support Animal Housing Laws

What gives ESA owners special housing rights in Texas? The federal Fair Housing Act plays a pivotal role here. The Fair Housing Act and guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing prevent landlords from discriminating against ESA owners. 

Texas landlords must allow for emotional support animals even if their building has a strict policy that forbids pets. ESAs are also exempt from lease provisions that ban ordinary pets. Under federal rules, ESAs are not considered pets but assistance animals for people with mental health conditions. 

Housing providers can never demand that an ESA owner pay pet fees or deposits (though the ESA owner is still on the hook for any property damage). As proof that a resident has a real emotional support animal, Texas landlords are entitled to see an ESA letter from a Texas-licensed healthcare professional. 

What wasn’t and what could be: In 2023, Texas bill HB 5206 was proposed, which would have provided additional guidelines regarding the process to get an ESA letter. The letter would have required healthcare professionals to establish a relationship with the client or patient for at least 30 days before issuing an ESA letter. That requirement would have put Texas in line with states like California and Arkansas, which have passed similar laws. The bill, ultimately, did not pass, but it’s a step forward to see Texas acknowledging the rights of ESA owners. In the future, Texas may eventually pass its own ESA laws to supplement existing federal law.

Emotional Support Animal in a Texas home
Housing laws in Texas provide additional protection for emotional support animals.

Texas Service Dog Laws

In addition to ESAs, Texas also recognizes the rights of service dog owners. Both Texas law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect service dog handlers from discrimination. A service dog is a dog that has been trained to perform a task related to the handler’s physical or mental health disability. 

In contrast, an emotional support animal doesn’t need any specialized training. An ESA can also be an animal other than a dog, like a cat, bird, or fish. ESA rights are also very different from service dog rights. Service dogs not only have housing rights but wide-ranging public access rights that allow them to enter establishments that normally ban animals. 

The trade-off for these greater rights, of course, is that service dogs require a high level of training. Service dogs must be trained to not only assist with their owner’s disability but also to ensure they can perform their duties in public environments. 

A new Texas law that went into effect in 2023, HB 4164, punishes individuals who attempt to misrepresent their pet or assistance dog as a service dog. Under the new law, a person can be fined $1,000 and ordered to perform 30 hours of community service for violations. In addition, the law allows for the seizure of neglected assistance animals and service dogs. 

Texas Assistance Animal Lawsuits

Failing to recognize the rights of assistance animal owners can lead to unpleasant legal consequences in Texas. For example, a veteran who owned a service dog to help with his PTSD sued a real estate company for rejecting his attempt to rent an apartment. The animal, in this case, was likely a psychiatric service dog

Another case that also involved a veteran, the U.S. Attorney’s office took action against a hotel for violating his ADA rights. The hotel was mandated to adopt a service dog policy, train its employees and managers, and pay damages to the veteran as compensation for the effects of their discriminatory actions. 

In one case that involved ESA letters, the court found that an ESA letter did not contain sufficient detail to establish the tenant’s need for an emotional support animal. This case highlights the need for healthcare professionals to understand how ESA letters should be written. When in doubt, go with a therapist or doctor who has experience writing successful ESA letters. 

Assistance animal and lawsuits in Texas
A few lawsuits in Texas have shown that state law protects the rights of legal assistance animals.

Texas ESA Travel Laws

Air travel in Texas falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Under the latest DOT guidelines, emotional support animals are no longer allowed to board planes free of charge. When flying on U.S. airlines, your emotional support animal will be subject to the airline’s standard pet policies.

You can, however, board a flight in Texas and nationwide with your service dog without any extra fee. Service dogs are protected under the federal Air Carrier Access Act. Flying with a service dog in Texas requires the handler to complete the DOT’s Service Animal Air Transportation Form.

Texas ESA Employment Laws

Many ESA owners would love to take their support animals to their workplaces. Unfortunately, no federal or state law exists which requires employers to allow for emotional support animals. However, many pet-friendly employers these days allow pets and emotional support animals as a workplace benefit. 

Service dogs, on the other hand, are allowed to accompany their handlers in the workplace. If you need an assistance animal during working hours, let your HR department know and ask what their policies are.

Texas ESA Registration Laws

Contrary to popular belief, Texas law does not mandate ESA registration. Nor do you need a certificate, license, or special ID card. A genuine ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional suffices. 

Registering an emotional support animal, obtaining an ID card, or having other ESA accessories like vests can be helpful for owners but are entirely optional. These items should also only be procured after qualifying for an ESA letter.

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In the state of Texas, emotional support animals’ rights are protected under both state and federal law. Texas also defines legal ramifications and consequences for misrepresenting pets and assistance dogs as service dogs. Given the track record of proposed bills in 2023, it is possible that the legal landscape will continue to evolve as pertains to minimum periods of client–provider relationships. What is certainly true and reliable is the one and only qualification for housing protections under federal and Texas law: an ESA letter.

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