Emotional support animals (ESAs) are wonderful pet companions that help many individuals who may be suffering from a range of mental health conditions or disabilities.
Accommodations for individuals to live alongside their emotional support animal without stress are granted in the majority of jurisdictions. However, you may be wondering what exactly your rights are when it comes to renting a space with your ESA.
Our article gives you more information about ESAs, what landlords are required to accommodate, and how to avoid accidentally obtaining a false emotional support animal letter.
Understanding Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals are a type of companion animal, and they are different from service animals. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals can generally be any species of animal, and they do not have to be trained to perform specific disability-related tasks for their owners.
The main benefit of an emotional support animal is comfort and the relief of symptoms related to mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and autism.
Because emotional support animals aren’t trained in the same way as service animals, they have different protected rights. Service animals are known for their wide-reaching public access rights, but emotional support animals are not permitted to be brought into most areas that don’t already allow animals.
The main protected right you should aim to understand for emotional support animals is housing, something we elaborate on below.
Your Emotional Support Animal Rights
As we mentioned above, emotional support animals benefit from different rights than service animals. It’s important to understand what your rights are for your ESA so that you can rely on them when needed.
Living With Your ESA
Living with your emotional support animal is one of your most important protected rights. You should aim to understand the specifics of what your state and the federal government protect when it comes to residing with your ESA.
The majority of states and jurisdictions do have regulations that support federal protections for fair housing rights. Housing is protected by the federal Fair Housing Act. These acts and laws state that individuals are not allowed to be denied access to housing on the basis of a disability or necessary accommodation, such as an emotional support animal.
Proper accommodations must be made for an individual that needs to live with their emotional support animal, regardless of whether the property they are moving onto typically allows animals.
States do have differing regulations on how accommodations must be requested and what creates a valid ESA letter. So, it’s important to review state specifics as needed to make sure that you understand any accommodation procedures relevant to your jurisdiction.
Traveling With Your ESA
Previously, travel with your emotional support animal was covered by the Air Carrier Access Act, a federal act that ensured travel for service animals and ESAs was protected.
However, updates to the Air Carrier Access Act were passed in 2022 and removed emotional support animals as protected animals. This was partly as a method to control rampant false ESAs that were causing disruption and safety issues on flights.
Today, whether or not an airline will accept your ESA and provide you with accommodations is up to each airline. You will need to research whether or not emotional support animals are allowed on each flight you take. You can do this by directly accessing this information on the airline’s website or calling the airline’s customer service.
It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you can’t take your emotional support animal with you on a flight anymore. It simply means that you may be required to treat your ESA as a pet and pay a fee to keep them in the cabin with you throughout your flight.
Consult regulations for the areas you are traveling to and airline rules for more information about traveling with your emotional support animal.
Working With Your ESA
Some states, such as California, have rules in place that allow individuals to take their emotional support animals to work with them. If you are in a state with these protections, you will most likely need to submit an accommodations request to keep your emotional support animal with you while you work in the office.
Check your state’s laws for more information on whether or not this is protected in your state and details on how to request accommodations like this.
Emotional support animals aren’t covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the most well-known piece of legislation. The ADA deals with service animals and provides the public access rights that service animals need to accompany their owner in businesses, stores, and restaurants that don’t typically allow animals.
The Fair Housing Act is the only piece of federal legislation that protects emotional support animals and your right to live with your companion animal. Under this act, accommodations must be made, and individuals are not allowed to be rejected for housing on the basis of a disability, mental health condition, or other condition that requires the support of an ESA.
Will I Need to Pay Fees to Live With My Emotional Support Animal?
Once your accommodations request to live with your emotional support animal has been granted, you will be able to move your ESA into your residence and live alongside them. The Fair Housing Act prevents any sort of charge, such as a pet fee, a pet rent, or a pet deposit from being collected due to living with your emotional support animal.
This means that your landlord cannot charge a deposit or fee for your emotional support animal.
Any landlord or property company that does try to charge a fee, deposit, or reoccurring pet rent while you live with your ESA is going against your federal and state protections.You may need to consider seeking legal counsel.
What if My Landlord Denys My Accommodation Request?
Accommodations requests for emotional support animals are rarely denied, and if they are denied, you should pay attention to the reason given. There are a few exceptions that allow a landlord to turn down your ESA accommodation request.
A landlord may deny your accommodation request if:
- Your request isn’t reasonable for the property, such as moving into a small studio unit with multiple animals or very large dogs. You must be able to properly care for your accommodated animals.
- Your emotional support animal is causing great financial strain on the landlord or property due to destructive actions around exterior areas and inside your unit.
- Your emotional support animal is causing a health or safety threat to others on the property, such as being aggressive or attempting to bite.
If your accommodation request has been denied for a reason that we didn’t discuss above or your landlord is insisting on collecting pet rents, you will need to reach out to a legal professional.
Denying an emotional support animal accommodation request without a valid reason can be considered a type of discrimination. Depending on your situation, you may need to deal with this in court to ensure you can take advantage of your federally protected fair housing rights.
How Can I Avoid a Fake Emotional Support Animal Letter?
When requesting accommodations for your emotional support animal, you will need to make sure that you have an ESA letter that is valid for your state.
The majority of states require that your ESA letter be written by a licensed mental healthcare professional. You also need to have a valid mental health condition or another diagnosis, and your need for an ESA is clearly listed on the letter.
You can avoid fake emotional support animal letters that may land you in more trouble and difficulty requesting accommodations by keeping the following in mind:
- If you have to simply pay a fee, especially a very large fee, and receive a template letter, your ESA letter is probably fake.
- Some states require you to work with a licensed mental healthcare professional for a certain amount of time before you are eligible to request a letter. Never seeing the individual writing your ESA letter may result in a false or invalid ESA letter.
- States have differing rules on what must be listed in an ESA letter. If you receive a generic one almost instantly after requesting it, you might be dealing with a company that provides false ESA letters.
The best way to obtain a valid emotional support animal accommodations letter is to work with your current medical or mental healthcare provider.
They can point you in the correct direction to obtaining this letter, prescribe you one, or guide you to a company that reliably provides letters via online services. Always use common sense when purchasing an ESA letter online; make sure to only go through sites that have real mental healthcare professionals on staff.
Keeping Your Animal Companion by Your Side
For many individuals, keeping their emotional support animal by their side is essential to their mental well-being. Fortunately, living with your emotional support animal is protected both federally by the Fair Housing Act and on a state level. So, you can request accommodations to bring your ESA with you into any housing that you reside in.
Once your accommodations are granted, landlords cannot charge you any fees, pet rent, or deposits related to your emotional support animals.
Make sure to understand your rights before requesting accommodations to make this process as smooth and stress-free as possible.