What are the Emotional Support Animal Laws?

What are the Emotional Support Animal Laws

Here are the emotional support animal laws: 

  • Fair Housing Act: Carried out by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) as part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), this set of laws protects people from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing-related activities.
    This includes anti-discrimination laws against people with disabilities who have a prescribed need for an ESA.
  • Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA): This set of laws protects owners of service dogs, such as guide dogs or psychiatric service dogs, from discrimination when traveling by air. These federal laws prohibit discrimination against a person with a disability from traveling by airplane and require air travel companies to make reasonable public accommodations for those needing a service dog.
    These laws, however, no longer protect emotional assistance animals, and air travel services can now decide whether or not to allow ESAs on their flights.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): According to ada.gov, “the ADA is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life.”
  • General ESA owner’s rights: One of the most important rights owners of ESAs have is the right to housing. ESA owners are allowed to live with their companion animals as a “reasonable accommodation,” even in buildings that generally prohibit pets.
    They are also exempt from weight and breed restrictions and pet-related fees such as additional rent or cleaning deposits often charged by housing providers. State laws will vary on what the rights of an ESA owner are, so it is best to check with your local government agencies for a more thorough understanding.

Legitimate way to certify your emotional support animal

  • Connects licensed medical practitioners to individuals seeking ESA letters
  • ESA letters comply with state and federal regulations

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Federal Fair Housing Act is a set of federal laws that are carried out by the FHA and, in instances regarding emotional support animals, requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations regardless of whether or not they have a no pet policy.

The term “reasonable accommodations” is defined as a “change, exception, adaptation or modification to a policy, program or service that allows a person with a disability to use and enjoy a dwelling.” This most often includes waiving a pet fee in rentals or allowing someone to have an ESA in a home that is otherwise not pet friendly.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issues guidance on the laws around housing accommodations and how they are implemented and enforced.

What does the FHA Say About Emotional Support Animals?

FHA laws state that in order for someone to qualify for reasonable accommodations in housing, they must meet the requirements of having a disability. There are three broad categories of disabilities covered by the FHA, and they are:

  1. A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as walking, seeing, working, learning, washing, dressing, etc.)
  2. A record of having such an impairment
  3. Being regarded as having such an impairment.

If these qualifications are met, then a landlord must make reasonable accommodations regardless of a person’s disability to allow them to have their ESA to help meet their disability-related needs.

In order to meet the needs of one of these three categories, a person must submit a request for reasonable accommodations in writing to the proper authority, usually the landlord or property manager, and provide a note from a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional for proof of mental illness or of an individual’s disability. They must also provide an ESA letter for their support animal if applicable.

These laws also apply to all types of housing except for two: 1) buildings with four or fewer units where the landlord lives in one of the units and 2) private owners who own fewer than three single-family homes, and do not use real estate brokers or agents and do not use discriminatory advertisements.

Regarding reasonable accommodation requests:

  1. Tenants must have physical or emotional disabilities.
  2. The landlord must know about the disability.
  3. Reasonable accommodations may be necessary to afford the tenant an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwelling.
  4. Reasonable accommodations would not constitute an undue burden or fundamental alteration.

What are Emotional Support Animal Owner’s Rights Under the FHA?

Owners of emotional support animals are provided rights by the Federal Housing Administration.

These rights include the right to housing with reasonable accommodations like waivers of pet fees and no pet rules. To gain reasonable accommodations, a pet owner must file a written form to the landlord or property manager stating the reason for the need for an ESA along with a note from a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor and an ESA letter stating that your pet is there for mental health care.

You can get started on the process of obtaining an ESA letter at certapet.com.

What is the Air Carrier Access Act?

The Air Carrier Access Act was signed into law in 1986 and is enforced by the Department of Transportation. It “prohibits discrimination based on disability in air travel by airlines that offer flights in the United States and to and from the United States by foreign airlines,” according to accessibility.com.

Airlines are required to make aircraft and other facilities easy to access for those with disabilities. The ACAA also states that passengers must self-identify their disability to airline personnel to ensure they have the same prompt access to other passengers’ information.

Under this law, airlines may require safety assistants to accompany people with a disability in the event of an evacuation or to effectively communicate the safety briefing.

These emotional support animal laws also allow airlines to require passengers who are traveling with a service animal to complete and submit to the airline a form, developed by DOT, attesting to the animal’s training and good behavior, and certifying the animal’s good health to ensure the safety of others on board.

What does the ACAA Say About Emotional Support Animals?

The ACAA no longer considers emotional support animals service animals. This means airlines are no longer legally required to recognize ESAs as service animals, and this seems to be because of the training service animals receive.

They define service animals as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.” Since ESAs are not trained to perform a specific task, they are no longer covered under this federal law.

What are Emotional Support Animal Owner’s Rights Under the ACAA?

Unfortunately, there are no protections for owners of ESAs under the ACAA. Traveling by air is no longer something an ESA can do unless the animal is placed in the cargo hold, which is neither safe nor comfortable for the pet. The ACAA protects service dogs, but there is no longer a law stating airlines are obligated to recognize the need for emotional support animals.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The ADA was signed into law in 1990 and prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities in areas of employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and access to state and local government programs and services. I

t states reasonable accommodations are to be made for those who suffer from a physical or mental disability to provide them with a meaningful experience in the aforementioned areas. A “reasonable accommodation” as it relates to the ADA is defined as “a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done during the hiring process.”

An accommodation is reasonable if it does not create undue hardship or a direct threat. These include

  1. Ensuring equal opportunity in the application process
  2. Enabling a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job
  3. Making it possible for an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment

What does the ADA Say About Emotional Support Animals?

Emotional support animals are not recognized as service animals under the ADA. Therefore, they are not given the same protections service animals have because they are considered “comfort animals” under this law.

This was not always the case, however, the law was changed to be more specific to address service dogs that are trained for specific tasks that assist people with disabilities. There are also no steadfast regulations when it comes to ESAs beyond basic pet ownership.

There are no restrictions on species or breed an animal must be to be considered an emotional support animal, but it must have basic manners, listen to your commands, and be neither a nuisance nor a threat, especially if living in a multi-family building.

When it comes to employment, reasonable accommodation requests can be made but must be considered on a case-by-case basis. Here is a general overview of how to request a reasonable accommodation:

  1. Start the Process: This will be different from one employer to the next but be sure to start a dialogue regarding your disability. Talk to them about what your duties are and how your disability is interfering with your ability to perform them.
  2. Initiate the Dialogue: The goal is to understand what the issue is and why it exists. Knowing this will help inform the employer of the problem so they can discuss what accommodations can be made. From here, changes may be made on a need-to-know basis.
  3. Obtain Documentation: The employer may require documentation from a licensed mental health professional and an ESA letter if the goal is to bring your ESA to work.
  4. Agree upon the Accommodation: The accommodation is often deemed reasonable when both parties agree to the terms. The employee knows the limits of their work abilities based on their disability, and the employer will set forth the agreed-upon terms to accommodate the employee’s needs.
  5. Document Actions: Keeping a record of dates of conversations, actions are taken, and adjustments are necessary to assure continued success and hold the employer accountable.

What are Emotional Support Animal Owner’s Rights Under the ADA?

Owners of ESAs have similar rights under the ADA as they do under the Fair Housing Act. Under these terms, owners of ESAs cannot be turned down from renting or be evicted based solely on the support animal.

There are also no protections granted to ESAs when it comes to the workplace, so there is no law stating an employer must permit an ESA on company grounds under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

What States have Specific Emotional Support Animal Laws?

What States have Specific Emotional Support Animal Laws

Here is an in-depth review of the states with specific emotional support animal laws.

Emotional Support Animal Laws in California. The laws for emotional support animals in California state any person with a disability can own an ESA and live in any dwelling regardless of their pet policy if an ESA letter and a note from a licensed medical professional are provided for proof of disability and need for the animal. The medical professional providing these documents must be licensed in California, and a client-provider relationship must be established at least 30 days prior to receiving the letter.

Under these laws, landlords are required to allow someone with a support animal to rent from them, cannot evict someone because of their support animal, and cannot ask for a pet deposit. The tenant, however, is responsible for providing the landlord documentation regarding the need for an ESA should they request it.

Emotional Support Animal Laws in New York. Emotional support animal laws in New York are the same as the Fair Housing Act. Landlords cannot restrict someone from renting based on their ESA. They can only evict a person if the animal is aggressive or destructive.

People looking to live on campus while attending college are also permitted to bring their ESA. The animal may be allowed in housing, residential halls, and some lecture halls, but it is best to notify the school ahead of time so accommodations can be made.

When it comes to employers, it is at the employer’s discretion. ESAs are not service animals, so they are not protected under any federal statute, which puts ESAs in a gray area. It will be up to the business to determine whether or not to allow an ESA on company grounds.

Emotional Support Animal Laws in Texas. Under the emotional support animal laws in Texas,  ESA owners are permitted to live with their animals under federal and Texas state laws. Landlords are entitled to require an ESA letter but are not allowed to charge a pet fee or refuse to rent to a potential tenant solely because of their support animal.

Regarding public transportation, there are no laws requiring public transit services to allow ESAs on board, and falsely presenting an ESA as a service animal is a crime in Texas. Employers in Texas are under no legal obligation to allow an ESA into the workplace either, as they do not service animals with rights given to them by the ADA.

Emotional Support Animal Laws in Florida. Emotional support animal laws in Florida regarding housing issues are the same as the federal laws. Landlords must oblige all reasonable requests from tenants with emotional support animals in Florida and cannot evict someone for having a support animal.

Landlords in Florida are only permitted to deny or evict tenants if their support animal poses a direct threat or is a nuisance. An ESA letter may be obtained from a variety of sources in Florida, including social workers, registered nurses, and family therapists. Landlords cannot require notarized documents regarding the ESA and cannot deny an ESA request because a tenant did not follow routine procedures.

That means landlords must consider an ESA request if the tenant submits valid ESA documentation from their health care practitioner. They cannot further insist that the tenant submit additional forms or follow a different procedure if the tenant has otherwise complied with ESA rules. 

Providing false documentation for an ESA is a misdemeanor in Florida, even if it is done unknowingly, like if someone gets their ESA letter from an illegitimate source.