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2 Ironclad Emotional Support Animal Laws (Updated 2018)

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.

See If You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

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!

See If You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

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.

See If You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

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

Comments 451

  1. I live in a townhouse. Me and one neighbor. Am I still allowed to have an ESA? I was reading above if there are Four our less units an ESA will not be allowed?

  2. I recently adopted a dog here in California from a rescue. I also recently moved in to a new place.

    When we signed the lease there was no mention about a two pet limit, but I was on the apartment website trying to pay rent when I came across a portion that said there was indeed a two pet limit. Both of my roommates have emotional support animals.

    As you can imagine I was pretty shocked since our lease didn’t mention anything and I quadrupled checked to make sure I could adopt, as did my roommates.

    My plan was to register my pup as an emotional support animal once she’s fully vaccinated to help deal with stress and anxiety. Would this void the two pet rule?

    Thank you in advance for any advice you may be able to offer here.

  3. Hello
    My apartment complex is accepting of my ESA animal but is asking me to either nueter the animal or move, is this something that can be asked of me? I am not ready to neuter the animal until he is fully grown and is at the appropriate age. Neutering would defeat the purpose of being my ESA animal.
    Thank you.

    1. Although there may be some specific legal requirement to your state, I don’t believe neutering fits into their requirement to provide “reasonable accommodations”.

  4. You guys are terrible people. There are real service dogs that train years. Not some scam that you people have here. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Dogs don’t belong in grocery stores, restaurants, etc. They are lovely pets that should remain home or at dog parks. All you people who try to game the system are pathetic. I hope the laws change

    1. That’s cruel. My own son has a real need for an ESA. Saying that it’s a scam means you’ve never dealt with the issue that require one to need an ESA. Try a little sympathy for those who need this. Maybe you don’t know what crippling anxiety is like.

    2. I am a licensed mental health professional. ESA are around for a reason and they are indeed different from service dogs, but that does not make them any less valuable. and the idea of ESA’s a “scam”. ESAs just have to have a good disposition and require no formal training. Mental health illness is no joke and if an animal can help soothe a human and make them more functional then more power to sites like this that provide appropriate information.

  5. I live in a high rise in NJ, if I get an Emotional Support Animal with the proper paperwork from a certified health professional can I keep the dog at home when I go to work or must I take the dog with me to work. Also some times I have to travel on business for a week at a time, can I leave my dog with a caregiver when I travel and still qualify for an Emotional Support Animal when I leave home for an extended stay without the dog?

  6. I am a landlord. Tenant moved in in July, signed lease “No Pets Allowed”. Now in September told me that she is bringing her Emotional Support Registered Cat to live in my condo. Can I refuse based on the lease

    1. Hey Erica,
      That depends on whether you fall under the guidance of the Fair Housing Act. If so, “reasonable accommodations” must be made regardless of the language of the lease. Legal guidance dictates that having their animal live with them if they have been recommended an Emotional Support Animal by a Licensed Mental Health Professional constitutes reasonable accommodation. That being said, they are not off the hook for any damage caused by their cat.
      I don’t think that was what you were desiring, but I hope it helps.

  7. Hello Sir or Ma’am

    I was just wondering if you had a list of which states your LMPHs are licensed in. just want to see if I got someone in my State. Thanks!

  8. I received the ESA letter from my physician and got my ESA dog months after signing a no pets allowed lease. I didn’t inform my landlord of the letter before or after we got the dog. The property management company found out about the dog and gave a breach of lease notice. I informed them that she is an ESA and that we could provide the necessary documents. They said it is still a breach of lease due to the fact that we did not inform them of the letter prior to getting the dog, and that she is therefore still considered an unauthorized pet. Feeling under pressure, i threatened legal action if necessary, and they terminated the lease. However, we talked it out and now they are willing to work with us and transfer us to another unit that allows pets; they even put a hold on the lease termination in order to make time to cooperate with us. But i believe that they are still going to try to charge me for the unauthorized pet fee. Are they allowed to do this if we request reasonable accommodation to include the waiving of the unauthorized pet fee? I know that ESAs are by law not pets, but i worry that i may have messed up my chances for reasonable accommodation by threathening legal action. Are they still subject to accommodate? They also mentioned something about how the ESA laws changed in 2017 and now apartment complexes have the right to deny ESAs as well as pets. Is this true? I have not seen anything online related to any law change in 2017. Where can i find completely updated legal information regarding ESAs?

    1. I would seek legal counsel and this is not to be taken and legal advice. That being said… Yes they have to waive the fees as a reasonable accommodation regardless of what transpired between you. No they can’t deny the ESA because of a law that changed in 2017. At least not if you received it through CertaPet. We take full measures to ensure we meet all the required laws. In fact, we have been told by at least one housing authority that we are the only ones they are currently accepting until they have a chance to audit others.

  9. I am trying to fly to the UK from the US. Which airlines require more additional information? Which airlines will allow me to fly with just the certificate from certapet?

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