Guest Blog: Federal Laws Pertaining to Emotional Support Animals - Benefits of Obtaining an Emotional Support Animal Letter

September 21, 2016

Emotional support animals (ESAs) should not be confused with service animals.  They are animals that are specifically designated to help individuals with both emotional or psychological disabilities. Referencing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), emotional support animals and service animals can be distinguished by the proceeding methods:

Emotional Support Animals
It’s very important to recognize that emotional support animals are typically chosen as companions to people who deal with emotional or psychological disabilities. These animals can include various species and can also be a pet that the individual already owns.  ESAs are not required to undergo training to perform specific tasks and are not trained to recognize particular symptoms or signs.  They are really recognized for the close, supportive, and emotional bonds that they provide the owner to help alleviate their emotional or psychological disabilities.

Service Animals
People that typically benefit from service animals usually suffer blindness, hearing impairment, seizure disorders such as epilepsy or are restricted to a wheelchair. Service animals are often dogs that are trained to perform specific tasks to help with these types of physical disabilities and can even be trained to recognize specific medical symptoms.  A service dog is typically recognized by wearing a service dog vest but they are not required by law.

How Does One Qualify for an ESA Letter?
People with disabilities that believe they could benefit from an emotional support animal would have to obtain from a licensed mental health professional a psychological diagnosis.

Emotional or psychological disabilities that typically justify an ESA letter can include:

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Stress Disorders
  • Personality Disorders
  • Panic or Anxiety Issues
  • Fear of Flying and Other Phobias
  • And Many Other Unique Issues

While emotional support animals often become family members, they are not to be confused with traditional pets.  Emotional support animals provide a very specific service so there are very specific beneficial laws that apply to them.

Legally, emotional support animals are designated as companions that provide emotional and mental support.  Although not required, they can also be trained to recognize psychological episodes.

Emotional Support Animals and Federal Laws
There are several federal laws that apply to emotional support animals and their owners.  These include the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and of course the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

It’s suggested that an individual who would like to experience the benefits get an ESA letter should by understand these laws as they apply.

The following is a brief synopsis of these laws:

The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, often referred to as the FHA, legally require that all housing communities and apartments must provide “reasonable accommodation” for emotional support animals even if they typically have pet restrictions within their policies or by-laws.  This means that all verified emotional support animal owners are NOT be denied housing solely because they possess an ESA.  This falls directly in line with federal laws that state people who suffer from disabilities that require the use of a wheelchair are not to be denied housing based on that reason alone.

To be covered by these laws, the emotional support animal owner will have to be diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional and provide any appropriate documents to the landlord or property management.

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.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)
The Air Carrier Access Act, which was passed in 1990, falls under the Department of Transportation’s regulations.  These regulations specifically prohibit any and all discrimination against those suffering from disabilities that have intentions of air travel.  The ACAAA specifically states that airline companies can not allow the refusal of transportation.

Airline companies can and often do have requirements with regards to the ESA owner providing an advanced notice when seeking certain accommodations.  This is similar to accommodation requests for electronic wheelchairs or medical equipment.

That being said, the ACAA does require ALL airlines to provide accommodations for emotional support animals owners that provide appropriate verification justifying the presence of the animal.  The owner may be required to sit in a specific location with the airplane cabin if the ESA is large enough to obstruct passenger exits.

Furthermore, the ACAA restricts airlines from charging fees for accommodating disabled persons with an ESA.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA provides specific guidelines for how businesses and organizations should treat individuals with emoitional support animals. These regulations are valid within all 50 states and it lists specific guidelines on businesses and how they apply to Emotional Support Animals.

Emotional Support Animals Are Not Just Pets
ESA’s can be other species besides dogs. The fact of the matter is that emotional support animals could be almost any type of animal.  The important concept is that the owner and his/her emotional support animal share a functioning bond that provides the emotional support as a treatment.

The goal of creating a healthy and successful relationship between the patient and the animal could’ve already started, but this people could very well have not recognized it.  Many people that have an animal which provides them with emotional support are qualified to apply for an Emotional Support Animal letter…in return, they could also enjoy the benefits and protection that has been discussed in this article.


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