Fact checked

Emotional Support Animal Laws: A Complete Guide

Emotional support animals are protected under federal law by the Fair Housing Act that enables ESA owners to live with their assistance animal in their home, exempt from pet fees or restrictions.

Pettable Staff
March 12, 2024
April 13, 2023
24 minutes read
Updated By
Matt Fleming
March 8, 2024
Expert Reviewed By:
Kassie ClaughtonKassie Claughton
LCSW, Clinical Social Work/Therapist
April 13, 2023
August 18, 2021
24 minutes read
March 8, 2024
Emotional support animal laws protect ESA owners from housing discrimination based on disability. Protect your rights with an ESA letter from Pettable.

The Bottom Line

  • What federal laws protect emotional support animals? The main law that protects emotional support animals is the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
  • What is The Fair Housing Act (FHA)? The Fair Housing Act is a law that protects people with disabilities from housing discrimination. The law also enables emotional support animals to live with their owner, exempt from pet fees and restrictions.
  • How do I qualify for an emotional support animal? — If you have a mental disability, speak with a licensed mental health professional in your state and they may be able to write you an ESA letter for your pet. If you don't currently speak with a clinician, we can connect you with one at Pettable

While they are not considered service animals, emotional support animals (ESAs) provide crucial companionship and therapeutic benefits to people living with mental health struggles. This guide explores everything you need to know about ESAs, including what protections they have and how to qualify for one. We’ll also show you how to bring an ESA home with you, wherever you may live.

Emotional Support Animal Laws

Emotional support animal laws provide crucial rights and protections for individuals with mental health conditions. These laws can vary by state but typically involve housing accommodations. They require proper documentation from a licensed mental health professional and ensure that ESAs are not subjected to breed or size restrictions. Understanding these laws is vital for individuals seeking emotional support animal assistance.

Federal Emotional Support Animal Laws

While service dogs are covered by the ADA, emotional support animals are governed primarily by the Fair Housing Act (FHA) which empowers individuals with mental health disorders. Whether your ESA is a dog, cat, bird, or other domesticated animal, it is afforded certain protections in your housing situation.

The FHA applies to nearly all housing situations and gives emotional support animal owners protection from pet restrictions and fees. The ACAA was changed at the beginning of 2021 to exclude emotional support animals and no longer offers protections for air travel.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

Enacted as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals in all real estate dealings and rental housing situations. This applies to ESAs and their owners, enabling them to live together in rental housing, no matter what the standard pet policy is. The Fair Housing Act essentially ensures that tenants can live with their emotional support animal free of any additional pet fees or restrictions as long as they have acquired an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. Landlords are prohibited by law from rejecting or evicting a tenant purely on the basis that they have an emotional support animal.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

For disabled people who are frequent fliers, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) offers a range of rights when you are traveling. While the ACAA generally guarantees access to service dogs (free of charge), they are subject to airline-specific breed and size guidelines. For the most part, a service dog traveling alongside their handler will need to fit in the space between the handler and the seat in front of them. Unfortunately, due to changes in the Air Carrier Access Act airlines are no longer required to accept emotional support animals on their flights. Instead, ESAs are subject to individual airline pet policies, and will likely be subject to additional fees when traveling with their owner.

How Does the Fair Housing Act Protect Emotional Support Animal Owners?

The FHA prohibits landlords and housing managers from discriminating against disabled individuals and their emotional support animals. It allows your ESA to live with you whether your housing provider has a “no pet policy” or not, and it exempts you from any associated fees or upcharges. It also prohibits breed restrictions and ESA species, so as long as your animal is domesticated, they are covered. However, your housing manager may deny your ESA if they pose a threat to other tenants or the property.

One of the provisions of the FHA covers assistance animals. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an assistance animal is “an animal that works, provides assistance, performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability.” The HUD also clarifies that “an assistance animal is not a pet.” Because the HUD is one of many federal agencies, this won't change based on emotional support animal laws by state. HUD statements apply to every person in the United States and reach a wider range of people than state or local laws may.

What Are the Rights of ESA Owners Under the Fair Housing Act?

Under the Fair Housing Act landlords must offer reasonable accommodation to tenants. This act applies to all emotional support animals except for ones that cause a health or safety hazard for anyone else on the property.

“Reasonable accommodation” gives ESA owners these rights:

  • The right to keep their ESA(s) in their home, even if the housing complex prohibits pets
  • Exemption from a housing complex’s weight or breed restrictions on pets
  • Exemption from pet-related fees, such as additional rent or cleaning deposits

Emotional support animal owners can expect these accommodations in most housing situations, whether they are buying or renting, and a landlord can not refuse to house someone because they have an ESA. This applies to anyone with an ESA, guide dog, signal dog, psychiatric support dog, or another form of service animal. However, there are some exceptions for certain circumstances, whether a person has a service animal or not.

What Kinds of Housing Situations Are Protected Under the Fair Housing Act?

Most types of housing are covered under the FHA. There are only a few exceptions, which are related to the type of housing. According to the HUD, these housing situations are exempt from the FHA:

  • Owner-occupied buildings that have no more than four units
  • Housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members
  • Single-family housing sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent

The FHA applies to all other housing situations. There are some cases where a landlord may be able to make a successful case for denying accommodation to an ESA. These exceptions have to do with property damage or threats to safety.

A housing provider may be able to avoid accommodating an ESA if they can show that doing so would impose an “undue financial and administrative burden.” They could also potentially deny an animal that has directly threatened the health and safety of other tenants and/or would result in significant property damage.

For example, a housing provider may be able to successfully argue that accommodating two ESA goats or a miniature horse in a third-floor apartment would cause property damage and/or impose an undue financial burden, regardless of the tenant’s necessity for the emotional support animals. If the HUD agrees, the landlord would be allowed to deny accommodation to the ESA goats.

A dog and their owner playing outdoors in the sun.

The Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) prohibits airlines and other air travel providers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Air carriers must not discriminate against people with disabilities and must make reasonable accommodations for them. This law no longer applies to emotional support animals, instead only service dogs are protected.

How Does the Air Carrier Access Act Protect Emotional Support Animal Owners?

As of January 2021, the ACAA does not provide any specific rights to ESA owners. The 2021 change to the original law allowed airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets (rather than service animals), thus allowing air carriers to exclude ESAs from the cabin and to charge additional fees for them to fly (either in the cabin or in the cargo area).

Individuals who wish to fly with their emotional support animals may be able to find an airline that allows them to fly in the cabin, either free of charge or for a fee. On airlines without such a program, individuals may need to fly their emotional support animals as they would with pets: in the cargo hold for whatever additional fee the airline requires. It’s best to check in with specific airlines regarding their rules for emotional support animals. They may ask for information on your emotional support animal and to see your ESA letter. As stated earlier, some airlines will provide reasonable accommodations to allow a person to fly with their ESA.

Are There Any Exceptions to the ACAA?

There aren’t any exceptions to the ACAA that affect ESA owners. However, the law does still require airlines to accommodate individuals with service animals. Service animals help people perform specific tasks to live a more independent life.

The ACAA’s definition of a service animal is “a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or mental disability.” This definition aligns with that of the Americans with Disabilities Act and includes guide dogs and specially trained psychiatric service dogs.

A woman giving her cat a cuddle and a kiss

ESA Laws by State

Although the ADA, FHA, and ACAA apply to all fifty states, some states have enacted their own ESA laws that augment or enhance federal protections. Some add requirements for ESA owners, while others target fraudulent assistance animal services or individuals with false ESAs.

Other states may have ESA-specific laws related to employment or university student housing. As mental and emotional disabilities become more understood and diagnosable, there may be future changes to state laws that give emotional support animal owners more rights to keep their animals with them.


As of January 2022, California law AB-468 clarifies ESA requirements and penalizes businesses that scam customers with fake ESA products, services, or animals. For example, individuals trying to pass an ESA off as a service animal or businesses selling ESAs with fraudulent credentials are subject to fines of up to $2,500 for multiple offenses. It also requires ESA patients whose ESA is a dog to have a minimum 30-day relationship with their licensed mental health professional (LMHP), which aims to ensure that individuals are properly diagnosed before an ESA letter is issued.

Under state law, people with an ESA may bring their animals to work in most situations. Employers with more than five employees must allow ESAs in the workplace. Assistance animals must be trained to act appropriately in the work environment (e.g. potty-trained) and must not threaten the health or safety of anyone in the workplace.


Recent laws and statutes enacted in the Sunshine State reinforce the FHA to ensure that disabled individuals and their ESAs are welcomed in rental housing situations. They also penalize individuals attempting to pass off a pet as an ESA without a legitimate ESA letter. ESA owners in Florida should take extra care to ensure their ESA letter meets federal and state legitimacy requirements by acquiring it from a mental health professional licensed in the state.


The Texas Fair Housing Act is another law that fortifies the federal FHA to strongly protect disabled individuals with mental health disorders that are not necessarily visually apparent. This means that housing managers and landlords may only ask for proof of a disorder in these cases; the only documentation required is an official ESA letter signed by an LMHP that is currently licensed in the Lone Star State. 

New York

While the New York Human Rights Law primarily reinforces the FHA, it allows landlords and housing managers to ask for documentation of certain ESAs’ vaccination status. However, certain animals that are illegal to own in New York are also prohibited as ESAs, including venomous snakes and some primates. Additionally, landlords cannot charge additional fees for ESAs but may hold the tenant responsible if their ESA causes property damage or excessive wear and tear.


Effective October 2023, Montana residents who own ESAs are subject to Montana HB 703, which requires patients to have a 30-day relationship with their LMHPs before an official ESA letter is written. Otherwise, it supports the FHA like other states’ laws.


Similar to Montana and California, Arkansas has passed a law that adds a requirement that clinicians have a pre-existing relationship (minimum of 30 days) with their clients before issuing them an ESA letter. Furthermore, to crack down on illegitimate ESAs and individuals attempting to pass off their pets as service animals, the law requires sales notices for ESA and service dog products (like vests, certificates, and ID cards) that state these products alone do not make your pet an assistance animal. Additionally, significant penalties apply to anyone intentionally misrepresenting their pet as an assistance animal.

A woman giving her cat a treat while sitting on the couch.

Who Qualifies for an Emotional Support Animal?

Now that you understand the legal rights that ESAs and PSDs have, you may be wondering whether your dog, cat, or other animal qualifies as one. To qualify for legal protection, your animal must meet certain requirements.

ESA Eligibility Requirements

As stated in the FHA, an emotional support animal counts as an assistance animal. Any type of animal can be an ESA as long as their presence provides comfort and support that helps their owner cope with or reduce symptoms of an emotional or mental disability. Emotional support animals can help with a wide range of conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • PTSD
  • Agoraphobia
  • Postpartum depression

This isn’t an exhaustive list. To officially declare your pet an ESA, you must be diagnosed with a mental or emotional condition. Additionally, the diagnosing LMHP must recommend an emotional support animal to treat your condition.

The legal document that proves your animal is an ESA is similar to a medical prescription. It’s an ESA letter. It must be written and signed by a licensed mental health professional who can legally practice in your state. The letter must include the practitioner’s license number.

A woman carrying her cat on a walk in the park.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal is an animal companion that offers comfort, friendship, and assistance to those struggling with an emotional or mental disability. Emotional support animals can come from any of the places that pets come from. ESAs can be adopted from shelters, purchased from breeders or pet stores, or obtained from anywhere else that a pet could come from.

Emotional support animals can help those struggling with major life activities who have difficulty falling asleep, are frequently worried, or whose life is severely affected by any mental condition that's diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional. Emotional support animals can provide unconditional love to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many other mental health illnesses.

While dogs are the most common type of emotional support animal, any species of animal can qualify to become a legitimate emotional support animal. As long as the animal is proven to alleviate at least one aspect of a person’s mental and emotional disorders, their cat, horse, bird, or any other animal or pet they feel connected to can turn into their official emotional support animal, but could be subject to local zoning laws

How An Emotional Support Animal Is Beneficial

Mental health professionals note vast improvements in patients with a mental or emotional disability thanks to the presence of an emotional support animal. Below are the benefits of having an ESA.

They Provide Mental and Emotional Encouragement

Emotional support animals provide comfort to owners with mental health issues, especially to those who have:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Specific phobias like agoraphobia and aerophobia
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder

During tough times, emotional support animals can help individuals stabilize intense emotions resulting from the mental illnesses mentioned above. Studies show that animals, especially dogs, help humans produce neurotransmitters that make them happy. Dogs increase the neurochemicals in the brain called dopamine. This is the neurochemical associated with love, bonding, and pleasure. 

When you take care of another living being, such as an animal companion, your capacity to love increases, and you feel less depressed. People suffering from loneliness feel safer and loved when they have an animal around. Having an ESA, especially a dog, also gives you a reason to go out for a walk, maybe a run, or spend time outdoors. These are all good for your mental well-being.

They Give Unconditional Love

Animals can feel love and give love, too. The truth is that animals provide unconditional love. They give love unconditionally to people struggling with mental health decline or an illness like depression or grief. With the unconditional love provided by these animals, a person will feel loved and help them get back on their feet after a difficult emotional experience.

Feeling loved can dramatically improve a person’s overall mental health. This is important for a person to re-engage with the people around them, form loving relationships, and have more meaningful relationships with their loved ones.

Animal Therapy Works in Conjunction with Other Forms of Treatment

Therapists or counselors are becoming more aware that emotional support animals work in concert with other forms of treatment to overcome mental illness. It’s like advising patients to exercise and eat nutritious food to control the symptoms of a mental health problem or avoid depression.

For example, assistance animals, including emotional support animals, are used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). ESAs are also utilized for mindfulness techniques, to help patients find a sense of purpose, encourage people to spend more time outdoors (by walking their dog) and help individuals feel safe during highly stressful events. Whichever form of therapy works for you, you will find that It has proven to be successful when you incorporate an ESA into your treatment plan.

Psychiatric Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Animals

One essential factor to remember about any emotional support animal is that they are very different from psychiatric service animals. Understanding these significant differences is crucial to allow you to properly choose an animal that best satisfies your needs. Below are the major differences between emotional support animals and psychiatric service animals.

Psychiatric Service Dogs Are Specially Trained — A psychiatric service animal is specially trained to perform a function or job for an owner who has a learning or mental disability. An emotional support animal serves as more of an emotional companion for the owner to help with major life activities.

Psychiatric Service Dogs Are Protected Under the ADA — Psychiatric service animals are offered legal protections through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that an emotional support animal does not get. You can take a psychiatric service animal almost anywhere that you go and they legally cannot be denied access. On the other hand, an ESA doesn’t share the same legal protections and is only offered housing rights.

A woman sitting on a bench with her dog in her lap while on a laptop.

How To Get an ESA Letter

If you have an emotional or mental disability and think you may qualify for an emotional support animal, you need to get an official letter to ensure you get the legal protections you’re entitled to. If you are in treatment for your condition, your current medical provider may be able to write and sign a letter. However, you don’t have to wait for an appointment to open up with a local provider. You can get an official ESA letter online through Pettable.

Pettable is an online service that provides ESA letters or psychiatric service dog letters and training to qualified individuals. You must be diagnosed with a recognized condition and “prescribed” as needing an ESA to get a letter. With Pettable, it’s a step-by-step process:

1. Take our Free Online Pre-Assessment — Taking our online quiz will help us understand your specific needs and suggest the right ESA letter package for you. The quiz will also pre-assess your eligibility for an emotional support animal and help us match you up with the right mental health professional licensed in your state. The assessment only takes a few minutes and is entirely risk-free.

2. Schedule a Telehealth Appointment — Upon completing the quiz and pre-paying for your ESA letter package, you will be able to schedule an appointment with a licensed mental health professional in your state. Although pre-payment is required, if you aren't approved for an ESA letter you'll get 100% of your money back.

3. Receive Your ESA Letter within 24-48 Hours of Your Appointment — If you are approved, you will receive your ESA letter within a day or two of your appointment. All that's left from there is to present the letter to your landlord and acquire accommodation for your ESA. With Pettable you have the added assurance that if your landlord denies your ESA letter we will offer a full refund on your purchase.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can a landlord deny an emotional support animal?

Yes and no. Your landlord is prohibited from denying you and your ESA from moving into your new place. However, if your assistance animal threatens the safety or health of other residents, or damages the property, they may evict you and your ESA.

Do I need to register my emotional support animal?

No, you never need to register your ESA with a federal or private registry, nor are you required to hold any documentation beyond an ESA letter.

Who can write an ESA letter?

Any currently licensed medical professional with mental health experience can issue an ESA letter, including primary care providers, licensed mental health professionals, therapists, and psychiatrists.

Are online ESA letters legitimate?

Yes, as long as they are issued properly according to federal and state laws. In some states, you may need to establish a relationship with your LMHP for at least 30 days to ensure that you are properly diagnosed. Your online LMHP should be currently licensed in your home state, although this is not always required.

How do I know if an ESA letter is legitimate?

An ESA letter is legitimate if it is written by a certified LMHP on their official letterhead, which must include their currently valid credentials. It will have a diagnosis of your disorder and an affirmation of your need for an ESA, as well as the LMHP’s official signature.

How do I get a psychiatric service dog (PSD)?

If you want to get a psychiatric service dog (PSD) instead of an ESA, you will need to properly train your canine companion to perform specific tasks related to your mental health disorder. You should also be diagnosed by a state certified LMHP.

Meet the author:
Pettable Staff

Pettable is the legitimate option for authentic ESA Letters prescribed by real Licensed Mental Health Professionals. In addition to helping people acquire a diagnosis for an emotional support animals, Pettable also provides psychiatric service dog training programs, as well as training programs for puppies and adult dogs.

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