New York Emotional Support Animal Laws Explained

woman sitting on dock with dogMany of us see animals as pets, but for some, animals are more than that. Pets that serve as emotional support animals, or ESAs, go above and beyond the role of a standard pet. These animals offer support and comfort for people suffering from mental health conditions and emotional trauma.

While service dogs have been around for a long time, emotional support animals have recently entered the spotlight. Lawmakers have addressed the issue and passed federal legislation to protect owners of emotional support animals. While some laws about service animals were modified to include ESAs, some states have taken matters into their own hands to take those protections even further. New York is one of these states.

While federal laws are in place, Governor Andrew Cuomo passed legislation in August of 2020 to protect ESA owners against discrimination when applying for housing. While this is the most recent example of ESA legislation, ESA owners benefit from protection against other types of discrimination as well. Read on to learn more about New York Emotional Support Animal laws.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional Support Animals are more than pets. These animals provide comfort and support for their owners. Emotional Support Animals also vary, and most common pets can be registered. While service animals are primarily dogs, there are dozens of animals that can be recognized as Emotional Support Animals.

Service animals provide a specific aid to their human companions. While some service animals can provide mental support for their owners, the purpose of a service animal is typically physical or sensory. For this reason, service dogs are used to help people with vision loss, hearing problems, and reduced motor function.

Emotional Support Animals are different because they offer comfort to people suffering from mental health issues. ESAs are primarily used for people that suffer from panic attacks, emotional distress, and other debilitating mental conditions.

Types of Emotional Support Animals

The definition of an emotional support animal is vague. This means that people can use any pet that has a positive impact on their life. There is a lot of variation in ESAs because any animal can be one as long as they are properly trained and well-behaved. This means you can use any animal you like, including birds, ferrets, dogs, cats, mice, hamsters, lizards and more.

What Health Conditions Can Emotional Support Animals Treat?

If you’ve been struggling with emotional or mental distress, you might qualify for an emotional support animal. In New York, there are a few prerequisites that need to be met before you can be eligible for an ESA.

First and foremost, you’ll need to have a discussion with your healthcare provider. This needs to be a mental health professional that’s licensed to evaluate you and make recommendations. Furthermore, they’ll have to determine that you have a disability that can be improved with an emotional support animal.

Emotional support animals are used to treat a lot of mental and emotional conditions. Still, according to laws within the Fair Housing Act, for an ESA to be viable, it must be a condition that directly disrupts your quality of life. For example, mild anxiety and depression don’t always qualify you for an emotional support animal. The caveat is that your condition must make life difficult for you. So, we’re going to take you through a few examples.

Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the more common reasons to pursue an emotional support animal. Still, general anxiety won’t always be enough. Your healthcare provider must assess your anxiety and determine that it’s a disability. Some examples include panic attacks and excessive stress in social situations.

Depression

Millions of Americans struggle with depression, and that number continues to grow. Depression is a difficult condition, and it’s also complicated to treat. For this reason, people suffering from excessive depression may qualify for ESAs. In most cases, this only works if other treatment options don’t show improvements.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that’s brought on by past trauma. The condition is typically associated with war veterans, but abuse, sexual assault, and other traumas can lead to PTSD.

PTSD is a severe condition, but to qualify for an ESA, it needs to be classified as a disability. This takes time, and you’ll need to work closely with your healthcare provider to determine whether or not you’re eligible.

Phobias

People that suffer from intense phobias may also qualify for ESA support. By intense, we mean phobias that lead to frequent panic attacks. A good example is aviophobia, a fear of flying. People who have aviophobia have difficulty in planes and are prone to panic attacks and anxiety when flying.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental disability, it’s essential to reach out to your doctor. While conventional treatments work for some, emotional support animals may be as effective. There is no time like the present, especially with federal and state legislation on your side.

New York State Emotional Support Animal Laws

The federal government has passed several laws in the past to make emotional support animals viable. Service animals used to be the only animals permitted for travel, work, and housing, but adjustments have been made to include ESAs. We’re going to take you through the New York emotional support animal laws.

New York ESA Housing Laws

We’ll begin with housing laws. New York, especially the five boroughs, is filled with apartments and landlords. Depending on the landowner, having pets on the premise is complicated. Some landowners don’t mind letting our little companions roam around, but others are against it. If you have an ESA, this can be worrisome.

Luckily, you don’t have to panic. According to the Fair Housing Act, emotional support animals are considered a reasonable accommodation. If you have a mental health condition that limits major life activities, if an ESA alleviates symptoms of your condition, and if you have a letter from a licensed professional, landlords can’t reject your application because of an ESA.

Can I Have an ESA on a College Campus?

This act also applies to co-ops and college campuses. Students struggling with mental health conditions can have emotional support animals in on-campus housing, residential halls, and some lecture halls. Before moving on-campus, make sure you notify the school in advance.

Still, you have to be prepared. If you’re looking to move into housing with a no-pet policy, you’ll need the proper paperwork. Make sure to present an ESA letter to your landlord. The letter should highlight your mental condition and the reason you need an ESA.

Can a Landlord Reject My ESA Request?

Landlords can also reject your ESA request if your animal is not well-behaved. If they notice property damage, aggressive behavior toward other residents, or health concerns, they can rescind their acceptance. In these cases, it’s the landlord’s obligation to keep other tenants safe, which goes above a tenant’s desire to have a potentially hazardous animal on the premise.

New York ESA Employment Laws

Emotional Support Animals can also accompany you in the workplace. The federal government has implemented several acts that protect against employers discriminating against workers with mental illnesses. The Americans with Disabilities Act covers most mental health conditions and permits the use of service animals.

While service animals are referenced in the act, Emotional Support Animals are a gray area. For this reason, it’s up to an employer’s discretion to permit ESAs in the workplace. Navigating this can be tricky, depending on where you work and the type of ESA you have.

New York ESA Travel Laws

Air travel is stressful for a lot of people. Between take-off, turbulence, and being confined in a small space, planes can cause panic attacks in individuals that suffer from PTSD, phobias, or anxiety. While medications can help, cuddling up with your furry friend can be a helpful alternative or treatment supplement.

According to the Air Carrier Access Act, Emotional Support Animals are eligible for air travel. This is a federal law, so it applies to New York. If you have the necessary paperwork, flights aren’t allowed to deny you access to your Emotional Support Animal on flights. Under this law, airlines are also prohibited from charging you additional fees for traveling with your support animal. Airlines also have the right to refuse service if your ESA is aggressive, out of control, or poses a risk to other passengers.

What Do I Need Before I Fly With an ESA?

Before you take to the skies with your ESA, you’ll have to be prepared. You’ll need to have paperwork that indicates your pet is an eligible ESA that treats one of your conditions. We recommended having a letter from a licensed mental health professional handy. The message needs to indicate that you have a mental health condition that’s listed in the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Furthermore, it should state that you require support from your ESA as well as the nature of your condition.

While all airlines are required to follow this law, every company and airport is different. We recommend reaching out to your airline in advance because they might require additional forms in addition to your ESA letter. You should also submit your ESA letter and other paperwork before reaching the terminal. Be sure to offer everything no later than 48 hours in advance.

New York ESA Exceptions

New York is lenient with emotional support animals, but there are a few exceptions. If your ESA is a potential risk to those around you, their ESA status can be revoked. Potential hazards include aggressive behavior, property damage, and excessive barking. Your rights to have the animal travel and live with you can also be withdrawn if your ESA poses a threat to other animals.

Misrepresenting a Support Animal in New York

With a growing number of emotional support animals and service animals, states have cracked down on fraudulent activity. In December of 2018, Governor Cuomo established a law that makes it unlawful to misrepresent an ESA or service animal knowingly.

The law includes purposely creating a false or incorrect identification tag for your animal, forging letters from licensed mental health professionals, obtaining a counterfeit service vest, and designating an ESA as a service animal.

While New York is more lenient than other states with this law, misrepresenting a service animal or emotional support animal is a serious crime. Penalties include a fine of up to $100, and/or fifteen days in jail. For this reason, it’s essential to make sure everything is in order when you present paperwork for your support animal.

Recap

Federal laws have improved the outlook of emotional support animals. The concept used to be scoffed at, but now people suffering from mental health conditions can get the help they deserve. While federal laws have made it easier for people to obtain and live alongside ESAs, New York takes the issue even more seriously. Aside from passing legislation, lawmakers have taken action and are determined to protect the rights of anyone that relies on emotional support animals.

If you live in New York and believe an emotional support animal can be an asset to your well-being, don’t hesitate. Reach out and have a discussion with your healthcare provider about the possibility of obtaining an emotional support animal. If you don’t have anyone to turn to, let us help.