The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was established in 1990 to protect people with disabilities from discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications. In 2010, the Department of Justice revised regulations to clarify and refine issues, update requirements, and defined dogs as the only recognized service animal under titles II and III.
Service dogs are individually trained to work or perform tasks for disabled persons. Under the ADA entities must permit service animals to accompany the disabled in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go. Unfortunately, the ADA has yet to recognize the medical need for emotional support animals (ESAs) because they are not trained to perform a job like service dogs. Therefore, ESAs are not covered under the ADA. Federal protections for ESAs are limited to air travel and housing only.
What are ESAs?
Emotional support animals can be any typically domesticated animal that provides comfort, support, well-being, or aid to an individual through companionship, nonjudgmental respect, and affection. While most ESAs are dogs or cats, other animals can be used as well. To qualify for an ESA, patients must have a verifiable psychological disability that substantially interferes with major life activities. Examples of such disabilities include generalized anxiety, PTSD, fears or phobias, and social anxiety, among others.
Laws protecting Emotional Support Animals
Because emotional support animals do not meet the criteria as service animals, patients must look to two other federal acts for protections. The Fair Housing Act (FHAct) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).
The Fair Housing Act was created to end discriminatory practices related to housing and to ensure that everyone had the same rights when it came to purchasing or renting a home. Under the act, there are seven classes of people who are protected; they include:
- Disability (physical or mental)
- National origin
- Familial status
FHAct protects individuals with mental and emotional disabilities and gives them the right to live with ESAs by requiring apartment complexes, landlords, and condo associations to accept people and the ESA despite having a no-pet policy. ESAs are also exempt from:
- Additional pet deposits
- Additional pet rent
- Animal age restrictions
- Animal weight restrictions
Patients must get an ESA letter from a licensed mental health practitioner (LMHP) that is no more than a year old to qualify under the FHAct.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allows patients to travel with their ESA in the cabin with the proper documentation. Like the FHAct, the ACAA enables airlines to request an ESA letter from the LMHP that is treating the patient. Airlines may exclude animals under the following conditions:
- The animal is too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin
- Pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others
- Cause a significant disruption of cabin service
- The animal is prohibited by the airline due to species such as snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders, and spiders
Emotional Support Animal Scam
As with any program, there are always individuals who will attempt to defraud either the patient or the entity providing the service. To protect yourself, patients who wish to use an ESA should seek the advice of their mental health practitioner. Not only are they the best source of treatment, but they are also often familiar with the requirements for either the ACCA or FHAct.
Beware of websites that claim to be able to certify your condition and issue an ESA letter instantly. Despite many online claims, there is no national animal certification nor registration that is required to travel or live with your support animal; it is a scam designed solely to take your money.
To ensure that you are following your state’s rules and regulations, make sure your ESA letter includes:
- Proof that the mental health professional is licensed in the same state of the patient
- Have the issue and expiration dates of the LMHP’s license
- Be written on a doctor’s professional letterhead and have valid contact information
- Require renewal on an annual basis and must contain the issue date and have an expiration that is no more than one year from the original issuance
- State the details of the ESA including the type of animal it is and its name
While many online sites that supply ESA letters are scams, others are not. ESACare is an online platform that connects patients with licensed clinics like EzCare and Mango clinic which can provide the required documentation. Our providers are here to assist you in your diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. We follow the rules so that our patients can travel and obtain housing without any problems.
Although getting an ESA letter can be time-consuming and have associated fees, circumventing the process by falsifying documentation or misrepresenting a pet as an ESA is illegal and can result in criminal charges. Don’t risk it and ask a professional for help today. Get Your ESA Letter now!