Emotional support animals provide individuals suffering from a mental or emotional disability, a sense of comfort and support. Though they can’t cure the illness completely, they do help alleviate some of the symptoms with their constant love.
To allow these individuals the right to have their emotional support animals (ESA) accompany them wherever they go, certain laws have been formed.
Emotional support animal laws are clear and distinct and can help an ESA owner in a number of ways. We have discussed them in detail and how you and your ESA are protected under the law.
What are Emotional Support Animal Laws?
Emotional support animals should not be confused with traditional pets, though they become a part of your family but still have a purpose to fulfill. They provide emotional support and comfort and there are certain federal laws governing their use.
“What laws protect emotional support animals?”
The two main federal laws that apply to emotional support animals and their owners are:
- The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
- The Air Carrier Access Act
There are several misconceptions when it comes to emotional support animals, laws for different types of animals. People confuse service dogs with ESAs – they have different purposes, hence different laws.
People who think that having a support animal can help them must be aware of the laws and the rights that come with an ESA.
Here is an overview of these federal laws and how they can help you.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that was enforced to protect the rights of individuals suffering from physical or mental impairment. FHA clearly states that an ESA owner cannot be denied housing based on their need for a support animal, provided that they possess a legitimate ESA letter.
An ESA letter is a prescription letter from a licensed mental health professional, stating that an emotional support animal helps alleviate the individual’s symptoms.
It isn't easy for ESA owners to find suitable and pet-friendly accommodation; under the Federal Fair Housing Act 1988, landlords are required to make reasonable accommodation for the people with an emotional support animal and a valid ESA letter.
Landlords who have a no pet policy are legally required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to allow emotional support animals.
A landlord must not discriminate, this means that a person with an ESA letter cannot be denied housing due to their need for an ESA, similar to how a person with a physical disability (person restricted to a wheelchair) cannot be denied housing or public accommodation because of their condition.
What Fair Housing Act Doesn’t Cover?
While an ESA owner is protected by the FHA, there still are certain situations where this law doesn’t apply. Such as when,
- The building only has four or fewer units and the landlord stays in one of them.
- A single-family house that isn’t rented through a real estate agent.
- It isn’t possible to accommodate the ESA due to its size, for instance, if it is a horse.
Documents Needed by Landlords to Allow Accommodation
Under the Fair Housing Act for an emotional support animal, the only legal requirement of living with your ESA is an ESA letter. This law also gives landlords the right to ask for this document before allowing the person into their residence and premises.
Landlords must, however, check if the letter is valid or not. A legitimate ESA letter is printed on a licensed mental health professional’s letterhead, with their signatures. Other than that, no other documentation should be required by your landlord.
ESA Owner’s Rights According to FHA
The Federal Housing Act is made to protect the rights of ESA owners; therefore, landlords are prohibited to do any of the following things.
The landlord/property management is allowed to ask for your ESA letter but is, therefore, not legally allowed to ask for a person’s medical records and details regarding their disability. Landlords can also not deny housing saying that their insurance doesn’t cover it. Your landlord can also not ask you to register your emotional support animal.
In addition to that, landlords cannot ask an ESA owner if their animal goes through specific training or uses a harness or a collar. And they cannot impose restrictions on the size/breed/type of animal. However, if your ESA isn’t well-behaved or displays disorderly behavior, you might be asked to evict the place.
Under this act, housing landlords cannot ask the tenant for an advance deposit or ask them to pay extra money as their pet fee. But it is the ESA owner’s job to ensure that no property damage or other significant damage is being done.
In that case, the ESA owner will be held responsible and will be made to pay. And the owner can’t ask the landlord for unreasonable changes and put them in a financially difficult spot. For example, the request to put grass in the backyard instead of concrete so that his ESA dog can play around can be denied by the owner.
What Happens If a Landlord Doesn’t Comply?
If a landlord refuses to provide accommodation to an ESA owner then under the FHA, he/she can be sued. This is a form of discrimination; thus, the person will be charged under the Federal Law.
If your landlord has denied you housing due to your ESA, here are some legal actions that you can take against him:
- Make the property owner aware of the federal law and the consequences of not conforming to the Fair Housing Act.
- File an official complaint against the landlord to the U.S Justice Department or the Housing and Urban Development
- Sue the landlord for discrimination due to your emotional disabi
Americans with Disability Act (ADA) guidelines allow an ESA owner to keep their ESA animals with them all time and even in places with no pet policy. However, an ESA has some limitations like you cannot take your animal to public places like restaurants and public parks. Unless your dog is a service dog and is individually trained to perform tasks.
In 2013, HUD sent a legal notice that all the universities and colleges in the United States must comply with FHA. This means that students can now bring their support animal to the college, including the dormitories and halls.
The Air Carrier Access Act
In 1986 Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which prohibited the discrimination against passengers having emotional support animals. This act had allowed the ESA owners to bring their emotional support animals on board. However, by the start of 2021 year, the act was no longer functional for emotional support animals. This is because people had started to take advantage by portraying their pets as ESAs to avoid the pet fee.
According to American Airlines: “it will only allow passengers to bring trained service dogs in the cabin and emotional support animals are no longer allowed to travel with their owners, starting March 1, 2021”.
Therefore, the Air Carrier Access Act now only allows service animals to travel by air. The ESA can travel with their owners as pets. ESA owners have to pay a pet fee if they wish to fly with their emotional support animals.
Latest on ESAs in California: ESA owners have been found exploiting the current relaxations and provisions for the service dogs by presenting their ESAs as service animals. It is to be clarified here that ESAs are not entitled to the same rights and privileges as those of a service animal. Service animals are trained to complement the physical or other disabilities of their owners by performing very specific duties for them. ESAs, on the other hand, are not trained for any such tasks and they are only there for emotional support. Therefore, it is very unethical to present an ESA as a service animal.
The current law in California considers it to be a punishable act if a person intentionally and fraudulently presents a dog as a guide, signal, or service animal. Any person found guilty of such an act can be imprisoned for up to 6 months, and be fined for an amount of up to one thousand US dollars.
Which Animals are Allowed to Travel in the Cabin?
Although emotional support animals cannot fly with their ESA owners, such animals are now considered pets. There is a fixed pet fee to be paid by the owner to the airlines before traveling.
A wide range of emotional support animals are allowed in the cabin of the airplane flying within the United States and on international flights. However, the most commonly seen emotional support animals on flights are dogs and cats, as airlines exclude exotic animals or those that:
- Poses a direct threat to the safety of other passengers or people at the airport.
- Are too large or too heavy to travel in the cabin with you.
- Can cause hindrance to the cabin service.
- Are not allowed to enter a particular foreign country.
- Reptiles, poisonous, dangerous, and exotic animals like snakes, lizards, spiders, etc.
Other than these, an airline cannot pose any kind of restrictions like the breed of dog or weight of the animal. The only requirement is that the companion animals or guide dogs are well-behaved and can fit under your seat.
Taking Your ESA on an International Flight
Do you want to take your four-legged companion on a vacation outside of the United States?
The airline cannot ban your animal on international flights. To make sure that you can easily travel to your desired country, you must plan ahead and find out all the necessary information.
Every foreign airline has its own policies regarding the animals that they accept. For instance, some airlines may only accept dogs. So, it is advised that you check out all the requirements of your destination.
Things to Keep in Mind When Travelling with Your ESA
Traveling with your pet is the same as traveling with your toddler – which is hard and far from simple and easy.
To save yourself from the trouble and panic, here are a few tips that can help ensure a smooth journey while traveling with your dog.
- When you get to the airport, locate the nearest pet relief area in case your ESA needs to relieve itself.
- If you have a smaller ESA, then it can sit on your lap
- Make sure that your ESA is not in the way of other passengers or staff members
- Don’t ask the Airlines to upgrade to a different class because of your ESA.
- Make sure that your ESA is well-behaved and doesn’t bark unnecessarily or display aggressive behavior.
- Your ESA must be well-groomed without any foul odor.
- Put a vest on your pet that identifies them as a support animal to avoid random people petting it.
- When traveling, keep your ESA letter with you to avoid any issues
Note that the most important piece of document you will need to travel with your pet is an ESA letter, make sure that you keep it in your handbag when traveling.
How to Obtain an Emotional Support Animal Letter?
Do you think that having the companionship of a four-legged pal helps with your mental state and make your life more joyful?
Then getting an ESA letter is the only option for you. The process to get a valid emotional support animal letter is fairly simple. All you need to do is get in touch with a licensed mental health professional and have them assess your symptoms.
If you qualify and your therapist thinks that having a support animal will benefit you in improving your condition, then they will write you an ESA letter.
Having this letter will allow you to enjoy the federal laws mentioned above, and have your buddy accompany you wherever you go.
Can I Get an ESA Letter for My Pet Dog?
If you are someone who suffers from some kind of emotional disability and has a pet that has resulted in a fundamental alteration of your condition then you can apply for an ESA letter for it.
We hope that this article helped clear any ambiguities that you might have had regarding the emotional support animal laws and the process to obtain an ESA letter.
For a better life, get your ESA letter today!
Frequently Asked Questions
- 1. Can a landlord refuse an emotional support dog based on breed?
No landlord can pose any restriction on the kind of dog you have as an ESA. Similarly, he also cannot refuse your ESA because of the breed. In case you are facing any such situation, file a complaint against the landlord.
- 2. Is it possible to have different service animal laws by the state?
While service animal laws as ADA service dog laws 2018 and 2019 do not change in many states, there could be some additions. For example, in some states asking for the proof of the service dog’s identification is illegal while some states encourage service dog certification
- 3. Is it illegal to pet an ESA and a service dog?
While there are no legal concerns over petting a service or emotional support dog, please understand that these dogs are here for a reason. These dogs are here to help their owners, either emotionally or physically, and petting could distract them, therefore, no petting, please.
- 4. Are emotional support animals also service animals?
No, they are not. Emotional support animals are different from service animals. ESAs help and support their owners by providing companionship and they do not need to be trained either. Service animals, on the other hand, need proper training and they help their owner with some crucial physical disability like blindness, autism, hearing issues, and those who are bed or wheelchair ridden.
- 5. Emotional support animal rights vs. service animal rights.
Do both of these kinds of animals have the same level of rights? No, they do not. Emotional support animals have the right to live and travel with you free of cost while they do not have complete access to all the public places like parks, restaurants, and hotels.
Service animals have a crucial role in helping a person with a physical disability and this is why they have more rights. They can live and travel with their owners for free as well as they have complete access to public places also.
- 6. What are emotional support animal hotel laws?
Can I book a room with my ESA? No, you cannot. ESAs do have the right to live and travel with you for free but they do not have access to public places. Hotels are public places and this is why they are not obliged by the law to allow your ESA into their rooms. In case you want to live with your ESA, search for dog-friendly hotels.
- 7. What are Amtrak’s emotional support animal laws?
Amtrak is North America’s largest train commute and since ESAs are not service animals, they are regarded as pets by the service. They charge separately to travel with your animal and you will have to check their website to see if animals are allowed on your route and about the updated charges as well.