2 Ironclad Emotional Support Animal Laws (Updated 2019)

Emotional Support Animal Dog

Emotional Support Animal Laws: Understanding Assistance Animals

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are animals that are specially designated to assist individuals with emotional or psychological disabilities. They are a type of assistance animal, and according to federal law, assistance animals can be distinguished in the following ways:

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 Dogs and Other Animals (ESA)

ESAs are more specifically chosen as companions to individuals who are psychologically or emotionally disabled. These companions can range from a dog, a cat, or even a miniature horse. 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.

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Emotional Support Animal Laws

Who Can Obtain an ESA Letter?

Individuals limited by an emotional and/or mental disability, such as depression or a similar condition, in which affect their mental well-being.
Emotional and psychological disabilities applicable to an ESA letter may include:

  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Postpartum Depression
  • Depression
  • Phobias and Fears
  • General Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder

An ESA letter is written by a Licensed Mental Health Professional who believes you would benefit from an Emotional Support Animal.
While ESAs may become 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.

HUD notice about emotional support animals considered as not pets

Excerpt from HUD Notice – Assistance Animals are not Pets!

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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 Emotional Support Dog letter be aware of the laws that apply to owners and what they should expect from airlines and landlords.
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, which is your ESA letter and possibly additional forms based on the specific airline.
Before you fly, make sure you are aware of the materials you need to board the plane with your Emotional Support Animal. For example, check out Delta’s here.
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.

Emotional Support Animal Housing Laws: 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.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines “reasonable accommodation” and obligates all housing providers covered under the FHA to allow ‘assistance animals’, including ‘Emotional Support Animals’, as a reasonable accommodation. You can download the exact notice issued by HUD regarding assistance animals here (it’s only a few pages long and defines the laws very clearly – all ESA owners or applicants should go through it).

HUD notice about emotional support animals

Excerpt from HUD notice regarding assistance animals, including emotional support animals.

In short, that means that verified ESA owners (i.e. owners who have an ESA letter written by a Licensed Mental Health Professional) 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 documentation to the property owner or housing representative.
The benefits of FHA laws include the fact that property owners cannot charge an advance deposit or fees for ESAs. ESA owners should note, however, that if significant damage is done, or if it becomes apparent that the animal is being neglected, the property owner might be able to recoup fees later.
Property owners also cannot question the disability, require the animal to wear identification as an Emotional Support Animal, or refuse housing.
In short, FHA laws protect verified ESA owners who properly care for the animal but may not protect owners who are negligent or destructive.

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Emotional Support Animal California

Updated: Emotional Support Animal Registration is NOT REAL

Is Emotional Support Animal registration a “real” thing?
No, and unfortunately many sites take advantage of unknowing consumers.
These sites claim that to make your pet an Emotional Support Dog or other ESA all you need is to be “registered” in their database and put an emotional support dog vest on fido. This neglects the key point of Emotional Support Animals: they are for people with diagnosed disabilities. Furthermore, wearing an emotional support animal vest is not required for your animal.
This also goes the same to Emotional Support Animal certification or getting your ESA “certified.” It’s a false statement that does not hold up in a court of law and tricks consumers into paying for something that isn’t real.
Both the ACAA and FHA mentioned above only apply to people and their pets with an ESA letter from a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP). The registration part is completely unnecessary and just a way to exploit consumers.
Most airlines and landlords will ask for verified proof of a disability in the form of an Emotional Support Animal letter. Make sure you are prepared with a correctly-written letter (aka only done by an LMHP!) from CertaPet. If you want to know how to get an Emotional Support Animal Letter, click here to get started.

I Already Have an ESA Letter, Should I Use an Emotional Support Dog Registration Site Too?

Absolutely not.
As stated above, registration sites offer no value. There is no such thing as an “Official Emotional Support Animal Registry or Emotional Support Dog Registry.” This also goes for sites with names similar to “United States Dog Registry,” “US Animal Registry,” and “Service Dog Registry of America.”

Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal?

Most of the time no.
But let’s be clear.
There are two questions a housing provider must consider when a request for reasonable accommodation is made:

  1. Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability — i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
  2. Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

If answers to both questions are “yes” then a landlord must provide reasonable accommodation for an Emotional Support Animal. CertaPet ESA letters are written by REAL Licensed Mental Health Professionals and in such a way that more than 99% of landlords accept the letters without incident.
The case where an Emotional Support Animal may not be accepted are:

  • If the building has four or less unit and the landlord occupies one of the units
  • Private Clubs
  • Single-family housing sold or rented without a real estate broker

ESAs are More Than “Man’s Best Friend”

Emotional Support Animals are not restricted to Emotional Support Dogs or Emotional Support Cats, but could even be a miniature horse! 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 Emotional Support Dog letter, which will provide them with the protections discussed in this article and benefits that are immeasurable.

See If You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

2018 Update: Here’s What Emily, A Happy Customer, Has to Say About CertaPet’s Service

Additional Resources

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Section 504 Website
Emotional Support Animal NYC
Emotional Support Animal California

All product and Company names are Trademarks™ or Registered® trademarks of their respective holders.

  • Marie says:

    I have two ESA’s. I have a letter from my family Dr due to the fact that our place where I go for psychiatric counseling, won’t write them any more. And where I live the landlord is charging me $60 per month for both dogs. I told him he isn’t suppose to and not allowed. He said his insurance company told him he can even tho they are ESA’s.
    Can someone help me with this please?
    Thank you

  • Olivia says:

    If there is a weight restriction of 30 pounds and my dog is 50 pounds but is a ESA can the landlord still not let us live there?

  • Alan Gilbert says:

    Some jerk lives above me with 2 ESA dogs. He has conned the property people with some papers signed by a NY physician. We both now reside in CT. Does he need to reestablish his credibility with a new set of paperwork because he now resides in CT?

    • Alan Gilbert says:

      These dogs are no more trained than I am. They yap at everything, from their window then scamper across our ceiling to their door. The jerk is insolent enough not to care. No concern for other people.

      • alex says:

        some animal owners are shitty, no animal can be threatening however, and i believe their is a caviat where ESA or even service animals cant be a nuisance where they are barking for any extended amount of time. should be able to call the law and establish that the animals have are constantly disturbing you and making noises. almost noone has two ESA’s. its a good indication hes just abusing the law, make his life difficult.

        • Arienfire says:

          While “almost no one” has two ESAs (how do you know, did you poll everyone?) doesn’t mean they can’t. There is now law that says how many one can have.

    • Jamie Miller says:

      No, he does not. An ESA letter is not based on location. However, the letter is generally only good for one year. Further, his ESA is not required to have any basic training.

  • Corey says:

    We are planning a large banquet at a private country club in California. We have someone who has a comfort dog due to her PTSD. The country club says no. What are the laws.

    • Jamie Miller says:

      A comfort dog is not a thing. If it is a specially trained service animal, the dog will be covered by title II and III of the ADA. If it is merely for emotional support or comfort, it is an ESA and the person has no protection at a country club.

    • alex says:

      no, its a public place. ESA’s have no rights in public

  • Corey says:

    Are comfort dogs allowed in a private banquet facility, especially if the caterer says NO. The person has PTSD.

    • Arienfire says:

      No. Only service dogs/miniature horses are. Service dogs actually do something, i.e. help the person stand or sit, paw at them when time for medication, or paw at them when having an anxiety attack. If it does nothing but provide comfort, i.e. exist lol it is not allowed.

  • Joy says:

    Hello! I have an odd situation. My boyfriend is coming to visit me during school and I got placed 7 hours away. He has a an ESA for PTSD. The issue is my apartment has a breed restriction and a weight restriction which his dog breaks both of those at 20 lbs over the max weight and the dog is a husky/german shepherd mix. He does not have anyone to watch her while he is gone and he does not feel comfortable leaving her at a doggy daycare. Is my landlord allowed to deny the dog temporarily staying at my place? I was not sure since he clearly isn’t a tenant so this does not fit into the usual scenario. Thank you!

  • Diana says:

    do you have to be on the lease for an esa to be accepted>

    • Hal says:

      Hi, I’m not sure if you got an answer but I think it depends on your state. In California if you have lived somewhere longer than 30 days you are considered a tenant and have the same rights as everyone else to have your ESA

  • Diana says:

    do you have to be on the lease in order for the esa to be accepted?

  • Leh\'Tasia Styles says:

    I have an emotional support animal and I just recently moved into my apartment. I’ve given my property manager all of the required documents to prove he is an ESA, but they are saying we have to wait for approval before he can stay in the apartment with us. Are they allowed to do that and why?

  • Leh\'Tasia Styles says:

    I have an emotional support animal and I just recently moved into my apartment. I’ve given my property manager all of the required documents to prove he is an ESA, but they are saying we have to wait for approval before he can stay in the apartment with us. Are they allowed to do that and why?