If you have an emotional support animal (ESA), you’ll need a letter from a licensed healthcare provider. Read on to learn how to ensure you’re getting the real deal to ensure all applicable laws protect your rights.
What Is an ESA
Emotional support animals can provide a lot of benefits to their owners. They are great companions that help people with mental or emotional disabilities. ESAs are animals that provide comfort and support to their owners. They help people with mental health issues, like anxiety or depression. With an ESA, the owner can feel comforted and experience a sense of relief from the constant stressors in life.
The following are some of the benefits that an emotional support animal can provide:
- reducing the symptoms of mental health disorders like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression
- enhancing social skills by providing unconditional love and companionship
- increasing self-esteem by giving you a sense of control over your life
- providing physical comfort by purring or providing a warm lap for cuddling
Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not just dogs but can be any animal providing those benefits to you – that means that cats, birds, hamsters, rabbits, or nearly any other animal can qualify.
Why Do You Need an ESA Letter?
There are a lot of reasons why people need an ESA letter. Some of them include the following guaranteed rights:
- ensuring your landlord allows you to keep your ESA in your home, even if they have a ‘no pets’ rule
- making you exempt from any breed or weight restrictions your landlord may have
- avoiding the need for pet fees, pet deposits, or pet rent
There are also other things that having an ESA letter may help with. Although these are not guaranteed rights, some businesses may be more accommodating if you have an ESA letter. They may allow you:
- to keep your animal at work with you when it is not a service animal
- to travel with your ESA in the cabin on planes, trains, and buses
- to bring your ESA into public places where you would otherwise not be allowed to bring your pet
ESA letters provide you with legal protections that you would not have with a standard pet and makes it more likely that businesses will be more accommodating to your needs.
Who Can Provide an ESA Letter?
Typically, a licensed mental healthcare provider is either a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist.
Finding a practitioner qualified to provide you with an ESA letter can be challenging, especially when trying to find one in your area. It is important to research the credentials of any practitioner before engaging them.
Companies like ourselves can connect you with local mental health practitioners who can evaluate you for an ESA.
What Should an ESA Letter Look Like?
Not all ESA letters will be exactly the same. While your provider may use their own template, they can vary between providers. However, some things are non-negotiable to make the letter legally valid.
For starters, a valid ESA letter will be written on official letterheaded paper from your doctor or licensed mental healthcare provider. It should also contain the following:
- your doctor or licensed mental healthcare provider’s license number
- a signature from your doctor or licensed mental healthcare provider
- a recommendation that an ESA can help alleviate your symptoms
- the date
- your full, legal name
- your disability as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
- notes about your inability to perform at least one vital everyday life activity due to your disability
- which Federal Regulations will offer you protection
Why an ESA Template/Sample May Be Useful
If you know roughly what you’re looking for in an ESA letter, you can make sure that your letter contains all of the information legally required. This means that you are less likely to waste time and money on obtaining fraudulent letters that will not be accepted by your landlord or anyone you may need to show your letter to.
Why You Shouldn’t Use a Template or Sample to Create a Fake ESA Letter
Some people may be tempted to forge an ESA letter to speed up the process. However, there are many reasons not to. For one, the legal process can be made super easy by using a reputable website like USSA to obtain your ESA letter.
Other than that, steep penalties are associated with faking an ESA letter. These vary depending on your state but can be a criminal record, hefty fines, and even jail time.
How to Avoid Scams
Unfortunately, as the number of people seeking emotional support animals rises, so does the number of scams out there. They can be a waste of time and money in the best-case scenario, and in the worst case, they can get you into legal trouble.
In this section, we’ll discuss how to recognize these scams and how to avoid falling for them.
This may be common sense, but for a licensed mental healthcare professional to provide you with a diagnosis and their recommendation that you have an ESA, they’ll actually have to speak to you. Most of the time, this appointment can be in the form of a phone call or telemedicine appointment rather than a face-to-face meeting, but it still needs to happen.
Any company that suggests that they can obtain you an ESA letter without you having to have an appointment with a licensed mental healthcare provider is likely a scam. No doctor is able to make a diagnosis without speaking to a patient.
Immediate or ‘Pre’ Approval
Although licensed mental healthcare professionals can issue ESA letters pretty quickly when required, it’s not an instant thing. It’s a manual task that cannot be completed by simply filling out a questionnaire or ticking boxes. Any site that says you are preapproved for an ESA letter is a scam, as are ones that indicate you can get an immediate letter.
‘Registration’ Instead of a Letter
If a website or organization tells you that they can simply register your pet on a database to enable you to take advantage of legal protections, they are incorrect. Every ESA-specific law requires a letter from a health professional for the laws to apply to you. Be careful about the wording used on these websites. They’re a scam if they only offer registrations or suggest that they are required.
Out of State
Federal law requires that the doctor or licensed mental healthcare provider be licensed in the same state as the patient they are seeing. At USSA, we connect you with local licensed mental healthcare providers to avoid this issue.
Out of the Country
Many websites operate in countries other than the United States. If you’re an American citizen living in the United States, you need to be aware that letters written by doctors out of the country are not valid in any state. All of the licensed mental healthcare providers connected to you through USSA are in your country and, therefore, can write you valid letters.
In California specifically, you have to have been under the care of a licensed mental health professional for a minimum of 30 days. If you live in California and a company purports to be able to provide you an ESA letter sooner than this, give them a wide berth. It’s a legal requirement, so you’ll know they’re not legitimate.
Read on to find out the answers to some commonly asked questions about ESA letter templates.
Can my landlord deny my emotional support animal?
Providing you have a valid ESA letter, your landlord cannot deny you the right to have an emotional support animal in your home. However, they can make you remove the animal from their property if it creates a nuisance or safety issue for them or their other tenants.
Can I write my own ESA letter using a template?
Because an ESA letter is like a prescription, it must come from a licensed mental health professional. Therefore, no, you cannot write your own.
How can I get an ESA letter online for free?
Unfortunately, any website that offers you an ESA letter for free will likely be a scam. If you already see a licensed mental health professional, they may issue you one for no additional charge, but that’s the only way to get a free letter.
Is an ESA letter easy to get?
With USSA, we make the process painless and quick. We do all the legwork, so all you have to worry about is attending appointments.
Make Sure Your ESA Letter Is Legitimate
An emotional support animal is a companion animal that helps with its owner’s mental and emotional well-being. Emotional support animals can provide companionship, comfort, and relief from anxiety. They are not trained to perform tasks such as guiding people or providing protection.
You need an ESA letter to protect your legal rights to an ESA. If you haven’t got one yet, but think that you’d benefit from an ESA, schedule your risk-free consultation with USSA today and find out how we can help you get your emotional support animal letter.