North Carolina protects those in need of emotional and physical assistance from discrimination, particularly those who rely upon an emotional support animal for disability support. There are federal and state laws in place that ensure those with emotional support animals recommended by a licensed mental health provider are allowed to have their companion with them in various areas, including in their home and in most public accommodations.
However, there are certain restrictions that North Carolina residents who own an emotional support animal should be aware of, along with important distinctions between those with service animals and those with emotional support animals.
The following is an overview of the rights provided to those who have an emotional support animal and their faithful companion in the state of North Carolina. We break down housing opportunities, laws related to travel, whether emotional support animals are allowed in the workplace, and more.
Those who own an emotional support animal (or service animal) to help them with a mental or physical disability or complication are protected by the laws laid out in the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA). You can see the laws for animals under the FHA specifically for North Carolina here. The law states that landlords, real estate agencies, and others cannot deny housing opportunities to prospective renters due to their emotional support animal or service animal.
This also includes apartment complexes and rental home properties that have a strict no pet policy. They are also obligated to waive any pet fees they may have.
In the state of North Carolina, those who have an emotional support animal letter (ESA letter) provided by a licensed mental health professional are protected for the following housing opportunities:
- Residential facilities
- Mobile homes
- Nursing homes
- Group homes
Housing opportunities that are not covered in North Carolina include buildings with four or fewer units in which the landlord occupies a unit, single-family homes that are sold or rented without a real estate broker, and hotels and motels.
The landlord may deny the tenant’s emotional support animal if the animal poses a threat to others in the complex or displays disruptive or destructive behavior. The tenant may also be required to provide information on the specific service the emotional support animal or service animal provides, although providing the ESA recommendation letter from a licensed mental health professional is typically all that is required.
To make the process as convenient as possible and avoid any potential complications or conflicts, let the landlord know about your disability and use of an ESA or service animal well in advance.
Employers are not required to allow workers to bring their emotional support animal to the workplace in the state of North Carolina. However, those who rely upon a service animal for physical safety—such as someone with epilepsy who owns an alert dog—may be protected and allowed to bring their service animal with them.
Although emotional support animals are not protected in the workplace under North Carolina law, many employers are understanding and will allow their employees to carry their companion with them each day as long as it does not disrupt others. Therefore, consider discussing your need for a service animal with your employer and arranging accommodations to make it convenient for the entire office.
If the emotional support animal is still not allowed at your place of work, then other accommodations can possibly be arranged. For example, perhaps you and your employer can arrange a few extra short breaks throughout the day to decrease stress without your ESA during the workday. In some instances, your employer may allow for shorter days and more remote work to accommodate your needs.
In the worst-case scenario, it is perhaps best to search for a new employer if your current one does not allow emotional support animals or your service animal at work and you cannot make it through the day without one.
If your employer does allow for emotional support animals, then be sure to communicate well to ensure it does not cause any issues. For example, let your employer know how frequently it needs to go outside, and any other accommodations that you might require.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) previously used to allow all ESAs in the cabin of a plane for free. However, the ACAA has since been updated and unfortunately ESAs are treated as regular pets on airplanes now. This means that airlines can charge a pet fee, and can make your ESA ride in the cargo if it’s too large or there are too many other pet reservations.
If planes trigger your anxiety (or other mental conditions) and you need support from your furry friend during takeoff and landing, it may be beneficial to see if registering your ESA as a psychiatric service animal is right for you. Service animals have more legal protections than ESAs, and you won’t have to worry about leaving your emotional support in cargo.
Public Accommodation Laws
Many public venues are not required to allow emotional support animals, although many do make accommodations to assist visitors. While emotional support animals are not protected under North Carolina Law, service animals are. Service animals provide an important role to their owner as it relates to a physical condition, rather than an emotional one in which emotional support animals assist.
Those who rely upon a service animal are more strongly protected by law and allowed into most public places without discrimination, including restaurants, hotels, gyms, parks, libraries, museums, public gatherings and numerous other areas. Many locations are not, however, obligated to allow emotional support animals in North Carolina, including hotels, parks, and other common facilities.
If you own a service animal protected in public accommodations, then the establishment is not allowed to question you about your service animal. If you own an emotional support animal that you want to bring with you into a public place, then be sure to contact the place beforehand and make sure it is okay. Many places are understanding and willing to allow your emotional support animal as long as it does not cause a disturbance of any kind.
However, if you do not provide proper notice, then they are typically more likely to deny your emotional support animal. The key to traveling to places that are not required to allow your emotional support animal is to properly communicate beforehand.
An Overview of an ESA Letter
An ESA letter is the required official documentation that states the individual was evaluated by a licensed mental health professional and recommended an emotional support animal to deal with their emotional complications or disability. It essentially means the emotional support animal provides a benefit to the owner. As discussed, emotional support animals are protected in North Carolina by various housing laws.
The essential component of an ESA letter is an evaluation by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). During the interview, they will ask a series of questions about your medical history, diagnosis and why you feel you can benefit from an emotional support animal before making a recommendation.
The ESA letter ensures the person is protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act and other federal and North Carolina laws. People in a position of power such as landlords are not allowed to discriminate against owners or their emotional support animal if there is an applicable law in place that protects the emotional support animal.
How to Get an ESA Letter in North Carolina
You can register your emotional support animal through the U.S. Service Animal website. The process can essentially be broken down into three steps, which include the following:
- Fill out the registration form
- Have an interview with an LMHP
- Finish the review and approval process
The first step is to fill out the registration form on our website. Once you complete the registration, we will review your information and schedule a consultation between you and a licensed mental health professional, during which they will evaluate you to see if you qualify. Upon approval, you will be sent a copy of your ESA letter, which protects the owner from discrimination in areas covered by state and federal law.