What is the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA Act)?

Emotional and Medical Support Animals and The Americans With Disabilities Act

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was implemented more than two decades ago, the protections offered for individuals utilizing animals for medical and emotional support were limited.
Since that time, the provisions have been modified, providing a greater scope of protection for service animals (SAs) and emotional support animals (ESAs), as well as the individuals who own them or utilize their services.
There is also an often-overlooked combination between SAs and ESAs, known as psychiatric service dogs (PSDs).
It is important to understand that there is a legal difference between SAs, ESAs, and PSDs, as well as the legal protections afforded to each distinction. A brief description of each classification of animal is as follows:

Service Animals

Service animals are traditionally dogs or miniature horses that are specially trained to assist individuals with disabilities. Individuals who are deaf, blind, restricted to a wheelchair, or suffer from seizure disorders benefit tremendously from the assistance of SAs. SAs can be trained to complete specific tasks, such as retrieving medication, performing household tasks, and assisting individuals with stability and mobility.

Emotional Support Animals

Unlike SAs, ESAs are not specifically trained to perform tasks or recognize medical conditions, and, in fact, there is no requirement that ESAs be dogs. ESAs are classified as animals offering support of the individual’s emotions, comfort, and wellbeing. Under ADA guidelines, in order to be considered an ESA, the owner must have a diagnosed psychological disability or condition, such as an anxiety or personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or depression.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs are a combination between SAs and ESAs in that they offer both emotional support and can be trained to recognize psychiatric episodes or destructive behaviors. To qualify for a PSD, individuals must be diagnosed with severe disorders that could place them in danger.

The ADA and ESAs

Now that we have discussed the important distinctions between SAs, ESAs, and PSDs, it is time to move on, more specifically, to a review of the protections offered to individuals with ESAs under the ADA.
After more than two decades, the U.S. Department of Justice ruled in 2010 to offer more distinction between service animals and emotional support animals.
More specifically, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) has moved to provide even greater distinction and to promote further protection for ESAs and their owners.
These more recent updates to the definition and protections have led to a greater awareness of ESAs and their importance to many individuals.
Under ADA guidelines, ESAs are not afforded some of the basic legal protections of SAs and PSDs, such as the ability to take ESAs to all public locations.
For example, SAs and PSDs are legally protected with the ability to accompany individuals to public areas, like theaters, whereas ESAs may not have the same protection. There are several specific provisions within the ADA, however, that do directly protect ESAs and their owners, including reasonable accommodation and housing.

Reasonable Accommodation

Under Title II of the ADA, individuals with ESAs must be provided reasonable accommodation for their animal as an assistive aid. As an assistive aid, ESAs are often compared to that of a wheelchair, which requires reasonable accommodation in order for an individual to enjoy certain activities.


While ESAs are not considered “service animals,” they are also not considered “pets,” because they do serve a specific purpose for the individual.
The ADA and FHA both have been updated to provide protection for individuals with ESAs from unfair housing regulations.
Individuals with verified ESAs (diagnosed and in possession of a legitimate ESA letter) cannot be denied housing, even if the housing complex or property owner has a “no pets” policy.
It is recommended that individuals with ESAs write a letter to the prospective property owner requesting reasonable accommodation for their animal based on the disability.
In order to receive the protections of the ADA, ESA owners must be able to verify there is an emotional relationship that supports their overall mental health and well-being.


Another protection under the ADA, and as part of the Housing & Urban-Rural Recovery Act of 1983, is the protection of ESA owners from fees or deposits.
Property owners cannot charge pet policy deposits and fees to individuals who are disabled and who own SAs, ESAs, or PSDs.
However, if an ESA significantly damages the property, the property owner can legally charge a fee to the individual vacating the property.

The Future of the ADA and ESAs

Several elements of the ADA and other pieces of legislation have been called into question as the use and awareness of ESAs increases.

One example is the issue of housing on college and university campuses.

Because the ADA and FHA are not always consistent in the language and definitions of SAs and ESAs, there is some question to the legality of ESAs on campuses, which are considered public places.

Court cases like United States v. University of Nebraska-Kearney and Alejandro v. Palm Beach State College address the issue of whether campus housing is classified as a “dwelling” under the ADA and FHA and whether SAs and ESAs should be allowed in classrooms and public areas.

Another area of concern is the use of ESAs in the workplace.

Because ESAs are not given the same protections under the ADA as SAs, there is some confusion regarding the use of ESAs, the legal rights of employers, and the legal rights and responsibilities of ESA owners.

Because of these cases and other factors, many believe that the ADA should be further assessed and revised to address the distinction between SAs, ESAs, and PSDs; their use; and the protections that should be afforded to the individuals with disabilities who benefit from them.
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  • Mike Dace says:

    What is the FAA or Frontier law/policy regarding a small quiet service dog sitting in a dog bed on a empty seat next to me!!
    I have been threatened 2x for her sitting on a empty seat on her bed. She is a 16# female

  • Judith Farley says:

    I need to know I can keep my pet chickens, all hens. They do not leave the property..

  • Tina says:

    A friend with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is about to move into a supportive / assisted living group home for people who are disabled with TBI. The owner is saying that they will not accept any animals including ESA. My friend has a cat who is his ESA. Does this establishment have the legal right to deny my friend’s ESA? Thank you.

  • Kenneth Bell says:

    We have an emotional support animal and we keep getting harassed when we go to certain mom and pop hotels, mainly in the Keys. The bigger chains don’t have a problem with it. He has been an emotional support animal since 2014. He is perfect, small, a chug. Can we make him something more? We have a Dr’s note, which is current and dates back to 2014.

    • David says:

      Unfortunately, the Fair Housing Act in not applicable to hotels and locations of temporary stay. Kudos to the big brands for working with you. That said, there is nothing in the FHA or ADA that allows for Emotional Support Animals to accompany you in hotels, motels or other places you stay at on the road.

  • Anielle says:

    I have my dog registered as an ESA because I suffer from an eating disorder. I also have an online doctors letter due to the fact that obtaining a mental health therapist in person is quite expensive. My pet has provided much comfort to me these past 2 years, however I am starting to have problems with my neighbor. I live in a community with an HOA, and they filed a violation against me for having a pit bull. Am I still legally allowed to keep him there? Or do HOA’s not abide by the FHA/ADA?

    • David says:

      HOAs do not supersede Federal Law! You are still legally allowed to have him.

      • mark barton says:

        I have a H.O.A. in town that has a 2 dog limit I have 2 dogs that are pets my wife and I have one E.S.A. dog each .They will not let me buy in the subdivision because they count the too e.s.a. dogs as a total of four dogs they should not count the too e.s.a. dogs in the total count should they?

        • David says:

          This is a tough one we see time to time. There is no legal precedence establishing that an ESA is not a pet. Rather, an ESA is typically viewed as a pet that provides support. As such, the interpretation is that 1 pet and 1 ESA is actually 2 pets, one of which happens to be an ESA.

  • Maria E Taronji says:

    I suffer from anxiety and my question is how i made my dog a emotional support animal?

    • Michelle says:

      A doctor or a physician’s assistant will write a letter prescribing or recommending “pet therapy” if you have been diagnosed with an illness that could benefit from this. There isn’t a test or certification process for your pet to undergo.

      • Dee says:

        Not just any doctor It should be done by the psychiatrist who has been treating you for the disorder would be the best to get it from. The longer the history is documented the better.

  • SDAdvocate says:

    ESAs are not covered by laws to have public access and bringing a dog into a grocery store other than a task trained service dog is a health code violation. Yes, they can legally deny allowing your ESA in a business unless it is pet friendly.

  • SDAdvocate says:

    Emotional Support Animals are not granted public access under the ADA, so your dog would not be allowed even with a doctors note. Only task trained service dogs are allowed to go everywhere.

  • SDAdvocate says:

    As this stayes above, ESAs are not covered by the ADA to be allowed public access, therefore, they are not allowed in hotels/motels unless the business is pet friendly.

  • Kevin says:

    I’m looking into an ESA and I travel frequently for my work but I was looking for regulations for hotels and motels allowance of an ESA.

    • certapet says:

      Emotional Support Animals are not Service Animals which means they are not guaranteed access to hotels. I recommend you check with the hotel at your destination prior to travel, so that you prevent any issues. 🙂 Feel free to email us at [email protected]