What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a companion that offers some benefit to an individual with a mental, emotional, or physical disability. An emotional support animal is intended to provide its owner with the emotional support to alleviate at least one aspect, symptom, or effect, of their disability. While emotional support animals typically help people with an emotional or mental disability, service dogs help people in other ways.
Service dogs help people in many ways. Guide dogs help visually impaired people, and hearing dogs, or signal dogs, help people who are hearing impaired. Mobility dogs help people move from one point to another more independently, whether a person uses their feet, a wheelchair, a walker, or has balance concerns. These service animals are usually dogs rather than any animal, unlike emotional support pets.
Unlike service animals, emotional support animals do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. While the most common form of emotional support for pets is emotional support dogs, an emotional support animal does not have to be a dog. Other common types of emotional support animals include cats, hamsters, reptiles, and in some cases, horses.
What is the difference Between an ESA and a service dog?
Both support animals, emotional support animals, and service animals are quite different. Below we have provided a short list of the significant differences.
Regulations and Protections under the ADA
According to the ADA, individuals with a service dog individually trained to perform tasks for their owners can take them into public places without documentation. Public areas must make reasonable accommodations for a service dog.
However, these same protections do not protect emotional support dogs who help an individual's mental health. Emotional support animal laws differ from those for PSDs.
Individuals with emotional support dogs may be unable to bring them into public spaces or private businesses, even if they have an ESA letter. Individuals with ESAs can bring animals to assist someone as emotional support animals in public areas and private companies at the discretion of the state and local government.
While the ADA offers protections to individuals and their assistance animals, therapy animals, service animals, and emotional support animals, they also have specific requirements for what is supported in public and may not be.
According to the ADA, a service animal is typical "any dog individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability."
One of the significant differences between emotional support and service animals is the responsibilities expected of the two roles.
Service animals must perform specific tasks that assist their person with a particular disability or condition. However, support animals are only required to provide emotional support to their person.
An excellent way to tell the difference between the two "professions" is to compare the responses of the two animals to a particular illness. If an animal helps with mental health, they are most likely an emotional support animal. If an animal helps with a physical disability, it is most likely a service dog.
A service dog trained to recognize panic attacks in someone with an anxiety disorder can wake them up upon sensing the terror. An emotional support animal, in this case, would only have to be present when the person wakes up to comfort them. PSDs can be trained to provide deep pressure therapy to someone having a seizure.
Fair Housing Act
According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, an apartment complex cannot turn down any person due to their ethnicity, age, race, sexuality, religious view, or disability under the federal Fair Housing Act.
The FHA defines a disability as an individual with a physical or mental impairment substantially limiting one or more of the person's major life activities. The FHA also considers an individual as having a disability or handicap if there is a record of this person having an impairment or if this person is regarded as having an impairment.
The FHA also requires landlords and apartment complex managers to make reasonable accommodations to house those with any certified mental disability or physical impairment. Additionally, emotional support pet owners are also exempt from any pet fee or pet deposit under the FHA.
What's Considered "Reasonable Accommodations" Under the Fair Housing Act?
The FHA requires explicitly that the accommodations landlords make for tenants with disabilities (which includes support animal owners) are within reason. For reference, according to Animal Law, a reasonable accommodation is defined as a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces.
One typical example of reasonable accommodation is a landlord allowing therapy animals to walk around the building, at least to some capacity. Please note: this does not mean your emotional support animal should be permitted inside all rooms, for example, the gym or other tenants' apartments. However, your emotional support pet should be allowed to walk through the building for its health and well-being.
Other reasonable accommodations include:
- Granting support animal owners access to a standard apartment complex.
- Requiring them to pay the average monthly rate for the apartment.
- They can keep their support animal at no extra cost, even if there is a no pets policy.
Can Your Landlord Deny An Emotional Support Animal?
Under the FHA, the landlord of a rental property cannot deny ESA owners or emotional support animals housing, as your ESA is considered a medical tool, not a pet. This law applies even in buildings with no-pet policies and also exempts your ESA from any pet deposit or pet fee.
That being said, you will still need to provide your landlord with a document proving that your animal is an emotional support pet and not just a pet. That document is referred to as an emotional support animal letter or an ESA Letter for Housing.
ESA Letters are official documents written and signed by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). These letters can be provided by a medical professional that you are currently seeing or through a legitimate online ESA service, such as Pettable.
Once you have provided your landlord with your ESA Letter, which can occur before or after you have signed your lease, your landlord can not legally ask you for any more documents. You do not need to discuss your mental illness, disclose the diagnosis or severity of your mental or emotional disabilities, or provide any medical records or medical history.
If you, the tenant, have a disability, and your animal can alleviate or assist with this disability, then your landlord must grant you and your support animal housing. However, there are a few exceptions to this law: your landlord can legally reject your support animal. Keep reading to find out what these exceptions are.
What are the Reasons Your Landlord Could Potentially Deny Your Emotional Support Animal?
While the law demands that landlords are obligated to accommodate emotional support animals, special circumstances allow your landlord to deny your emotional support pet legally. While there are laws that protect housing rights due to mental health conditions or disabilities, there may be reasons your reasonable request is denied.
Specific accommodations do not need to abide by guidelines under the FHA. Thus, these accommodations are not legally obligated to provide housing for your ESA. These accommodations include:
- Housing is operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.
- Buildings with four units or less where one of the units is owner-occupied
- Single-family homes that were rented out without using a realtor. The owner of the house cannot own more than three single-family homes.
Additionally, while college dorms do not need to abide by rules under the FHA and accommodate emotional support animals, college and university campuses do not. This means most universities won't be thrilled by supporting animals walking around campus.
An Illegitimate ESA Letter
If you provide your landlord with an illegitimate or invalid ESA letter, your landlord can deny your ESA Housing. An illegitimate ESA Letter can be anything from a document provided by a fake or counterfeit online business, a letter written by a healthcare provider who is not licensed to practice in the country, ESA registration "badges" and IDs, or a letter you forged yourself.
Additionally, despite the lack of guidance on this issue, it is recommended that ESA Letters for housing are renewed at least once every year. This is because many landlords will refuse to accept an ESA Letter dated over one year ago, and some therapists will not validate an ESA Letter if it is outdated.
Get Your ESA Letter
Your ESA Causes Undue Financial Hardship on Landlord
In most cases, landlords are responsible for maintaining the property you live in. As pet owners know, pets can be messy, and they can cause damage to accommodations, including scratches on the door or bite marks on surfaces. If your support animal is prone to causing property damage, your landlord could be on the line to pay those fees. This may lead to your landlord rejecting your support pet. The best way to prevent this is to train your support animal to be well-behaved, calm, and collected.
ESA Poses a Threat or Health Risks
If other tenants have allergies that could lead to more complicated health problems, this could lead to many landlords rejecting your ESA. Likewise, if your ESA has disruptive behavior, which could later cause a financial hardship on you or your landlord, they are allowed to reject the ESA from living there.
Size of ESA
Remember how we mentioned that an ESA could be any animal? Well, that includes peacocks, llamas, and in some cases, horses. If you have a giant support pet and are trying to move into a small accommodation, your landlord may reject your support animal. If your support animal is too large for your accommodation, this can result in higher maintenance costs for both the service dog and the landlord.
If your landlord rejects your ESA, it will likely be because of one of the reasons stated above. If you feel your landlord is simply rejecting your assistance animal because they have a no pet policy or for another reason that doesn't make sense, reach out to the company that gave you your official ESA letter.
How to Get an ESA Letter for Housing with Pettable
Suppose you are looking to move into a new accommodation with a support animal. In that case, one of the best ways to ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible is to obtain a legitimate ESA Letter that you can trust. If you aren't already seeing an LMHP, Pettable is one of the top-rated online services that can provide you with a valid ESA Letter that fully complies with federal law and state laws.
Founded by mental health and animal experts, this premier service has already changed the lives of 10,000 individuals this year with its wide-ranging network of mental health professionals. Here's what the process of obtaining an ESA Letter for Housing through Pettable looks like.
First things first: clients will complete a 3-minute pre-screening test to confirm that they are eligible to move forward to the next step in the process. The quiz will ask you to provide primary and logistical information such as if you already have a pet, how many pets you have, etc.
After completing this initial assessment, Pettable will create a unique profile to help the site match you with a mental health professional.
Get Your ESA Letter
Consult with an LMHP
When you are ready to book your consultation, you will be asked to pay an affordable fee online. Then, Pettable will use the information you provided in your assessment to match you with a suitable LMHP from your state. One of the best parts about Pettable is every mental health professional in its network is not only properly licensed but is also an expert in ESAs.
Your consultation will give the LMHP that you matched all the information they need to write you a valid ESA Letter.
Receive Your Letter
Once you complete your consultation and your LMHP has determined that a support pet is necessary for your care, they will write a personalized and legally compliant ESA Letter. An official letter will show your need for your support pet, whether you are coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, or other mental or emotional health conditions.
Pettable understands the urgency surrounding ESA Letters; therefore, if you choose to opt for its services, you will receive your ESA Letter within 24 hours of your LMHP consultation. If your LMHP ultimately decides that an ESA is unnecessary for your mental or emotional disability, Pettable will provide you with a full refund.
Where Can You Get an Emotional Support Animal?
As mentioned earlier, ESAs need a lot less training than PSDs, so the qualifications the animal needs to meet are pretty lax. Once you have your letter from a licensed healthcare professional, there aren't many things keeping you from getting whatever ESA you want.
Animal shelters are a great place to go looking for an ESA. Not only can you easily find an animal to fill your emotional needs, but you can give an animal a good home. Before you sign any adoption papers, ensure you have the space and can afford to take care of the animal you choose.
Does my ESA Need a Vest?
ESAs are not required to wear a vest signifying that they are an emotional support animal. Although not required, you may feel more comfortable having your ESA wear a vest and it may prevent any confrontations in and around your place of residency. Keep in mind that ESAs are only legally protected in private, permanent housing and are not permitted into many public places regardless of whether they are wearing a vest or not.
Does a Service Dog Need a Vest?
Despite popular belief service dogs, like ESAs, are not required to wear a vest indicating their role as an assistance animal. Having your service dog wear a vest can be beneficial to indicate that your dog is a service dog, preventing awkward encounters in public. Ultimately, it is up to the handler to decide whether a vest is right for them and their assistance animal.
How much does it cost to get an ESA or PSD?
You do not purchase a letter, rather you pay for a consultation or meeting with your mental health professional. It will likely cost you money to start seeing a therapist, psychiatrist, or another healthcare provider who is willing to provide a letter confirming your need for a support animal. If you don't have insurance that will cover the cost of visiting the offices of these professionals, you will have to pay out-of-pocket or copay for an appointment as you would for any appointment with a professional.
Once you get the letter, you have to adopt the dog. If you are concerned about cost, it is okay to adopt a dog from a local shelter instead of buying it from a breeder. You will have to cover the adoption fees.
Now, you have your letter and the dog. The next step is to train your dog. The ADA doesn't require that you get formal or professional training for your dog to be considered a service dog. It may be a struggle, but it is cost-effective to train your dog yourself.
Once you pay for all the expenses of acquiring a psychiatric service dog, you must pay for vaccinations, pet insurance, and food to care for your dog long-term. You are exempt from paying pet fees if you are a renter, so it's essential to have a letter from a healthcare provider.