Emotional Support Animal Laws and Benefits

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An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a pet that gives you comfort against emotional or mental stress.

Studies have found that pets can help to reduce anxiety, lower high blood pressure and help owners to feel happier and healthier.

So having an ESA can make a big improvement to your enjoyment of daily life.

Pets classified as ESAs also get legal protection against additional pet fees for travel or housing. They also get protection against no-pet housing policies, which means a landlord cannot evict you for having an ESA pet.

You can find out if you are a good candidate to have an ESA  by completing our 5-minute screening.

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Otherwise, keep reading to learn more about ESA pet types and laws.

Types of ESA Pets

According to federal law, ESAs can be the following:

Service Animals

Individuals who are blind, deaf, restricted to a wheelchair, or suffer from seizure disorders can benefit immensely from the aid of a service animal. Service animals are dogs or miniature horses that are specially trained to perform tasks and recognize medical conditions.

Emotional Support Animals

ESAs are more specifically chosen as companions to individuals who are psychologically or emotionally disabled. These companions may include a variety of animals and may be a current pet. ESAs are not trained to perform tasks or recognize particular signs or symptoms but are distinguished by the close, emotional, and supportive bond between the animal and the owner.

Who Can Obtain an ESA Letter?

Individuals with disabilities who believe they would benefit from an ESA must have a psychological diagnosis as a disabled person from a licensed mental health professional.

Emotional and psychological disabilities applicable for an ESA letter may include:

Stress Disorders
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Depressive Disorder
Panic/Anxiety Disorders
Personality Disorders
Phobias
And Many More…

While ESAs may become like members of an individual’s family, they should not be confused with traditional pets. ESAs provide a very specific service as an emotional support, and very specific laws govern their use.

For legal purposes, ESAs are considered companions offering mental and emotional support, as well as sometimes being trained to recognize specific symptoms and emotional occurrences.

Want to see if you qualify for an ESA letter?

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Federal Laws and ESAs

There are two main federal laws applicable to ESAs and their owners, these include the Air Carrier Access Act, and the Fair Housing Act.

It is important that anyone considering obtaining an ESA letter be aware of the laws that apply to owners and what they should expect from business owners under the law.

A brief summary of federal laws and ESAs can be found by reading on:

The Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act was passed in 1990 and works alongside Department of Transportation rules prohibiting discrimination of disabled individuals traveling by air. According to the Air Carrier Act provisions, airlines are not allowed to refuse transportation, limit, or require advanced notice before offering service to individuals who are disabled.

Airlines may require advanced notice for certain accommodations, such as medical equipment or electric wheelchairs, and may require notice for ESAs, depending on the individual airline guidelines.

The Air Carrier Act requires that airlines accommodate ESA owners who have verified identification. ESA owners are not required to sit in any particular location unless the animal is large enough to obstruct an aisle that must remain unobstructed.

The Air Carrier Act also restricts airlines from charging fees for accommodating disabled persons with an ESA.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, commonly known as FHA, requires apartments and housing communities that ordinarily restrict pets to make “reasonable accommodation” for ESAs. In short, that means that verified ESA owners cannot be denied housing, just as individuals in a wheelchair or with a disability cannot be denied housing based on their condition.

In order to be protected by FHA laws, the ESA owner must have a diagnosed disability and provide reliable documentation of their disability-related need for an assistance animal to the property owner or housing representative.

The benefits of FHA laws include the fact that property owners cannot charge pet deposits or fees for ESAs. ESA owners should note, however, that if significant damage is done to the property, or if it becomes apparent that the animal is a danger to others, the housing provider might be able to recoup fees later.

Property owners also cannot question the disability, require the animal to wear identification as an ESA, or refuse housing. Under the Fair Housing Act, tenants with mental or emotional disabilities are protected against discriminatory housing policies.

ESAs Are More Than “Man’s Best Friend”

Emotional support animals are not restricted to emotional support dogs or emotional support cats. In fact, ESAs can be most any variety of animal. What is important is that the ESA and the owner have a special relationship that genuinely offers emotional support and wellbeing.

Obtaining an ESA Letter requires more than just a psychological diagnosis; it also requires compliance with standards, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s standards, which includes demonstrating that the animal provides a service that supports the diagnosis.

The journey to a happy, healthy ESA/owner relationship may already have begun, but disabled individuals may not realize it. Individuals who already have a pet that brings them comfort and emotional support can apply for an ESA letter, which will provide them with the protections discussed in this article and benefits that are immeasurable.

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