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Emotional Support Animal Laws

Your Emotional Support Animal can provide a comforting presence when you are feeling lonely or emotionally unstable. It can also boost your moods, allowing you to remain focused, in tense situations, or battling depression. The truth is that ESA laws and regulations can limit your freedom to keep and travel with your animal companion. 

 

More often, a legitimate ESA letter will help you bypass the several housing and air travel limitations, but there’s more to legally keeping our companion friend than just qualifying for an ESA letter. Below is a breakdown of the individual laws governing your rights to keep or travel with an emotional support animal.

Federal ESA Laws

Two major federal laws protect Emotional Support Animal owners

 The Fair Housing Act (FHA) – Under the Fair Housing Act, with a certified ESA letter, you are allowed to own and keep emotional support animals, even if the premise has a policy prohibiting pets. This act provides guidance from the U.S Department of Housing on how the FHA’s provisions are implemented and effected for the varying housing rules or in certain conditions, e.g., when an emotional support animal threatens the safety, health or well-being of other tenants.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) – The U.S Department of Transportation issues some guidelines through which airlines must comply with, for passengers seeking to fly with their ESAs. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, ESAs can travel on the cabin free of charge. 

In addition to the above federal acts, several states have passed their own emotional support animal housing laws giving better housing rights to ESA owners. While these rules are often similar to those found in the FHA, some differences may exist.

 

Emotional Support Animal Laws California

Like in many states, an ESA in California is defined as a dog or other animal providing emotional support, companionship, and a state of well-being to their owner. ESAs differ from psychiatric service dogs or the trained service dogs, and California law also gives a clear provision on this. 

For example, persons with disabilities are allowed to bring their trained service dogs, and not ESAs, to all the public places. Here, a public place includes shops, hotels, public libraries, hospitals, restaurants, theatres, and public transport facilities e.g., trains, and buses.

The only two laws protecting ESA owners in California are the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act.  

Fair Employment and Housing Act

The Fair Employment and Housing Act is a wide California statute that prohibits employment discrimination covering labor organizations, employers, employment agencies, etc.

Both the housing and employment laws have been bundled into this primary law covering everything related to a discriminatory act.

Emotional Support Animals in Workplaces

New regulations provided under the FEHA general principles allow employees with mental conditions such as depression or a traumatic brain injury to keep a support animal. These animals aren’t required by law to have any specific training. However, the law allows the employer to impose requirements for the animal to be accepted in the workplace. These include;

The animal should be free from unpleasant odors.

The animal should display habits appropriate for the workplace.

The animal should not endanger the safety or health of the disabled employee or other persons in the workplace.

A request to keep an emotional support animal in your workplace follows an accommodation request. The request is often granted after an assessment, from which a final decision is reached via an interactive process. Like the many accommodations made for persons with disabilities, the request to keep an ESA should;

Be reasonable – it shouldn’t be overly burdensome to the organization. 

Be effective – shouldn’t affect the quality of services offered by the disabled employee or other employees in the workplace.

 Not be a hindrance  –  the request must not pose some undue hardship in the workplace. Other employees and customers shouldn’t have fears for the animal. Work operations should also continue as usual.

How to Qualify for FEHA Accommodation

Before a request for support animal accommodation in your workplace is approved, some factors are considered to determine your eligibility. These are;

1. Certification 

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing requires an employee to present a note from his or her licensed medical practitioner. The note should document the employee’s restriction and the need for FEHA accommodation. 

The note doesn’t need to disclose further details about the employees underlying health conditions but should validate the existence of a disability and restrictions due to the condition.

An example is a note from a physiatrist indicating that the employee suffers from anxiety, which causes him or her difficulties in certain social settings. It should also explain that an ESA provides the employee with some relief from anxiety. The causes of anxiety need not be indicated on the note.

2. Reasonable 

Once you have presented the certification, the request will be examined whether it’s reasonable based on the type of business, work environment or industry, and the employee’s position at work. 

Housing Laws

California’s FEHA allows ESA owners to keep their support animals in their rented homes. Landlords cannot restrict or evict a tenant from/for keeping an emotional support animal. Also, they cannot charge the tenants any fee to accommodate their ESAs in their homes beside the rental fee.

While documentation may be required, for the landlord to ascertain that the animal is an ESA and not an ordinary pet, an ESA owner doesn’t have to show evidence that the animal is certified. This documentation should, however, be in the form of an ESA letter. As a general rule of thumb, your ESA letter should be authentic and from a licensed medical practitioner.

Air Carriers Access Act – California Travel Laws

Unlike the Fair Employment and Housing Act, California travel laws follow the (ACAA) ESA guidelines except for the public transportation laws. An ESA letter from a mental health professional is required before you can legally fly with an emotional support animal. The law applies whether you’re flying within the United States or flying out of the country.

The ESA letter should indicate the passenger’s mental health condition and how the animal will offer emotional support. In most cases, this letter should explain the ESA’s role on the plane journey and the activity at the destination. 

Specific rules for emotional support animals have been passed to avoid inconveniences and mishappenings at the airport. More often, if an ESA cannot fit on your lap or at your feet, the animal can’t take up a seat, and should, therefore, travel on the cabin. The animal can also stay in the passengers’ section if they are well-behaved – meaning no growling, biting, lunging, or incessant barking.

Squirrels, skunks, and other reptiles are often not allowed in the plane. Most airlines will also be strict about ESA birds such as chickens, and you would want to inquire about this with the airline company 48 hours before getting ready for a flight.

Conclusion

Emotional Support Animal laws can vary from one state to another. It’s always important to know what your local laws state about housing rights and travel restrictions with support animals. In certain cases where the federal and state laws differ, the law that provides better protection for your Emotional Support Animal will be used. 

That being said, an Emotional Support Animal Letter will be helpful and relevant in all the cases where some documentation or verification is required.  Get in touch with us today, and we’ll help you get an ESA letter, effortlessly and affordably.

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