Owning an Emotional Support Animal in New York City
Those with certain psychiatric disabilities (anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc) may be afforded protection in New York to keep emotional support animals, even in housing or employment situations that might otherwise prohibit animals. These legal protections are newer, more limited, and sometimes complicated compared to legal protections for service animals, but specific rights certainly exist.
Emotional Support Animals Overview
Similar though ESAs are to service animals, the difference explains the complexity in regulations. The purpose of a service animal is to provide the owner with a particular, trained skill, such as guiding the visually impaired, detecting imminent seizures, pulling wheelchairs, and so on. These animals are usually highly trained dogs or even horses. Emotional support animals differ because their purpose is to provide therapy to those suffering from anxiety or depression, for example. These animals need not be limited to dogs; cats, rats, and birds can also provide necessary relief for those suffering from psychiatric ailments. Emotional support animals do not require specialized training like a service dog might. (See FHEO Notice: FHEO-2013-01, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). However, documentation proving the disability and the need for the support animal may be required in some instances.
Emotional Support Animal Laws In New York: Specific Protections
Support animals do not receive the same protections as service animals do. While other states, such as California, have more extensive legislation protecting emotional support animals, New York is not so generous. However, federal law offers protections in housing, employment, and travel contexts (particularly air travel).
Emotional Support Animal Travel Laws
The Air Carrier Access Act applies to individuals with disabilities and emotional support animals traveling on airplanes. However, the rules are more strict and individuals with disabilities may be required to present more documentation. Flying with an emotional support animal typically requires a letter from a licensed mental health professional, which must explain that a mental health disability exists and there is a need for the animal. The letter should clearly indicate the type of practice (ie license type) in which the health care professional specializes. The letter should also be under the health care professional’s letterhead and cannot be more than one year old. Finally, you may be required to give 48 hours advanced notices to the carrier.
Emotional Support Animal Employment Laws
While emotional support animals do not meet the federal definition of a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act in the context of public spaces, the Act arguably does apply to employees and job applicants with emotional support animals. Employers cannot discriminate against an employee because of his or her disability and must make reasonable accommodations for the disability. When the person with a disability has an emotional support animal, employers with five or more employees must make such accommodations. Therefore, despite any corporate policies disallowing animals in the workplace, employers must make an exception for support animals. However, like landlords, employers may also require documentation for the need of an emotional support animal.
Emotional Support Animal Housing Laws
Landlords must allow renters to live with their emotional support animals as a reasonable accommodation. This means that a landlord may not evict a renter or even charge a pet deposit for emotional support animals, except under rare circumstances. A landlord may require a renter with an emotional support animal to show documentation supporting the fact that the renter has a disability and that reasonable accommodation for the support animal is necessary. You may be required to show a letter from your clinician to satisfy this requirement. However, the animal itself need not be certified since no training is required for emotional support animals.
Legal protection afforded to emotional support animals is limited. In New York, and under federal law, emotional support animals may not be permitted in public places to the same extent as service animals.
Employers also may require that support animals not pose a threat to others in the workplace or create an inappropriate work environment due to lack of house training.
Landlords may deny renters to live with emotional support animals if, even with reasonable accommodation, the animal poses a threat to the health and safety of others or would cause substantial property damage. This exception is very limited; the mere fact that an emotional support animal is large or of a particular breed does not allow the landlord to raise this exception. The threat to safety or property must be particularized to the animal in question. On the other hand, the amount of damage done by an animal need not be great if it is unreasonable. (See, e.g., Woodside Village v. Hertzmark, FH-FL Rptr. ¶ 18,129 (Conn. Sup. Ct. 1993), where failing to walk the dog in designated areas or clean up after the dog resulted in a proper eviction).
If you have a psychiatric ailment for which you require an emotional support animal, you may have access to more legal protection than you think. Because laws governing the treatment of support animals are so new and complex, many employers and landlords may not be aware of the protections. Thus, it is important to consult federal laws on the matter: The Fair Housing Act, the Air Carriers Access Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (see our overview with source links here).
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