Mental health issues affect millions of Americans every day. As our understanding of these complicated disorders improves, better treatment options are discovered helping individuals live a healthier life. Some patients respond well to therapy or medications, but others need additional support. One of the latest trends in treatment is the use of emotional support animals (ESAs).
What are ESAs?
Most people are familiar with service dogs that have been trained to perform specific jobs for those who are physically disabled such as someone who is blind or deaf. Emotional support animals are different. While they have been recommended by a licensed mental health practitioner (LMHP), ESAs are not specially trained to perform a specific job or task. Their duty is to provide comfort, support, or aid to an individual through nonjudgmental companionship and affection.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) only recognizes dogs as valid service animals due to their specific training and provides protections for a service dog’s inclusion in public places such as restaurants, malls, and movie theatres or any area that the public is allowed. In contrast, ESAs are not recognized by the ADA and therefore are not necessarily allowed everywhere their owners can visit. However, due to the increased awareness by many states, several jurisdictions have updated their laws to accommodate emotional support animals. Patients who use this vital treatment option are encouraged to check with their local governments or the recommending practitioner to review any pertinent laws. Read more about ESACare and why to choose us.
Emotional Support Animal Laws
Patients who have been diagnosed with a mental or emotional health disorder are protected in only two areas by the federal government, air travel, and housing. Service dogs, however, are protected in all aspects of the patient’s life.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is designed to allow qualifying patients the right to fly commercially within the US with their ESA accompanying them in the cabin. Airlines are prohibited from charging additional fees or imposing alternative rules regarding travel arrangements or seating.
The goal of the Fair Housing Act (FHAct) is to ensure that all people, including those with a mental or emotional disability, are afforded the same rights as others when it comes to buying or renting a home.
How does the FHAct work?
Due to concerns with pets, some landlords or rental agents have strict no-pet policies or if allowed, require their tenants to pay additional fees or deposits. According to the FHAct, patients who need an emotional support animal cannot be evicted or denied access solely on this basis. In addition, the FHAct exempts tenants from the following:
- Additional deposits or pet rent
- Animal age or weight restrictions
- No pet policy
In order to qualify for protection, patients must submit an ESA letter from their mental health practitioner that contains the following information:
- Valid contact information of the mental health professional that is providing treatment
- The dates of issue and expiration of the LMHP’s license
- State the date that renewal is required (must be no more than one year from the original issuance)
- State the details of the ESA including the type of animal that is being used and its name
Regardless of the rules under the FHAct, emotional support animals should be housebroken and not pose a threat to other individuals or damage the property.
Can my landlord legally deny my request to house an ESA?
In most cases, landlords cannot deny a legitimate ESA based on the fact that they do not allow pets or are not comfortable with the breed or age of the support animal. However, there are some conditions where they can legally reject the ESA, such as:
- The animal is too large for the accommodation size; for example, a small studio apartment cannot house a horse
- The animal brings an undue financial hardship to the landlord
- The animal causes damages or harm to others in the building
For the most part, landlords or rental agencies are less likely to understand what an emotional support animal is and the rights of a patient who requires one. In many cases where a tenant is denied; it is due to this lack of knowledge. Once the tenant or potential tenant provides the necessary documentation and proof of federal guidelines, denials are often changed, and tenants are met with fewer obstacles.
However, if a patient finds that even after meeting the federal guidelines, they are still denied, appealing to the authorities can help. For assistance contact:
Landlord and tenant agreements are often tricky relationships to navigate without complicated conditions like an ESA. Patients may find that when presented with the rules and regulations along with an understanding attitude, getting an approval right away may not be as hard as you’d think. Knowing that the FHAct also protects their property will go a long way to ensuring a smooth transaction. Get Your ESA Letter now!