Federal Laws and Emotional Support Animals: Benefits of Obtaining an ESA Letter
Individuals with emotional support animals are protected by federal law against discrimination.
Prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment,transportation,public accommodation and governmental activities
Individuals with disabilities who believe they would benefit from an ESA must have a psychological diagnosis as a disabled person from a licensed mental health professional. Emotional and psychological disabilities applicable for an ESA letter may include
While ESAs may become like members of an individual’s family, they should not be confused with traditional pets. ESAs provide a very specific service as an emotional support, and very specific laws govern their use.
For legal purposes, ESAs are considered companions offering mental and emotional support, as well as sometimes being trained to recognize specific symptoms and emotional occurrences
There are multiple federal laws applicable to ESAs and their owners, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Air Carrier Access Act, and the Fair Housing Act. It is important that anyone considering obtaining an ESA letter be aware of the laws that apply to owners and what they should expect from business owners under the law
A brief summary of federal laws and ESAs can be found by reading on
The ADA provides specific guidelines for how businesses and organizations should treat individuals with ESAs. The ADA guidelines are applicable in all 50 states, and it lists specific guidelines for businesses and ESA owners
The Air Carrier Access Act was passed in 1990 and works alongside Department of Transportation rules prohibiting discrimination of disabled individuals traveling by air. According to the Air Carrier Act provisions, airlines are not allowed to refuse transportation, limit, or require advanced notice before offering service to individuals who are disabled
Airlines may require advanced notice for certain accommodations, such as medical equipment or electric wheelchairs, and may require notice for ESAs, depending on the individual airline guidelines
The Air Carrier Act requires that airlines accommodate ESA owners who have verified identification. ESA owners are not required to sit in any particular location unless the animal is large enough to obstruct an aisle that must remain unobstructed
The Air Carrier Act also restricts airlines from charging fees for accommodating disabled persons with an ESA.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, commonly known as FHA, requires apartments and housing communities that ordinarily restrict pets to make “reasonable accommodation” for ESAs. In short, that means that verified ESA owners cannot be denied housing, just as individuals in a wheelchair or with a disability cannot be denied housing based on their condition.
In order to be protected by FHA laws, the ESA owner must have a diagnosed disability and provide documentation to the property owner or housing representative.
The benefits to FHA laws include the fact that property owners cannot charge an advance deposit or fees for ESAs. ESA owners should note, however, that if significant damage is done, or if it becomes apparent that the animal is being neglected, the property owner might be able to recoup fees later
Property owners also cannot question the disability, require the animal to wear identification as an ESA, or refuse housing. In short, FHA laws protect verified ESA owners who properly care for the animal but may not protect owners who are negligent or destructive.
Emotional support animals are not restricted to dogs. In fact, ESAs can be most any variety of animal. What is important is that the ESA and the owner have a special relationship that genuinely offers emotional support and wellbeing.
Obtaining an ESA letter requires more than just a psychological diagnosis; it also requires compliance with standards, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s standards, which includes demonstrating that the animal provides a service that supports the diagnosis
The journey to a happy, healthy ESA/owner relationship may already have begun, but disabled individuals may not realize it. Individuals who already have a pet that brings them comfort and emotional support can apply for an ESA letter, which will provide them with the protections discussed in this article and benefits that are immeasurable