Fact checked

How to Get an ESA Letter for Housing in 2024

For those who qualify, getting an ESA letter requires just a consultation from a licensed mental health professional. This will ensure that you will be legally protected when it comes to living with your pet in all permanent housing situations – regardless of landlord policies.

Author
Susana Bradford
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at
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February 13, 2024
September 18, 2023
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24 minute read
Updated By
Pettable Staff
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February 12, 2024
Expert Reviewed By:
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September 18, 2023
August 18, 2021
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24 minute read
·
February 12, 2024
If you own an emotional support animal, this is the perfect guide for you to learn more information on getting a proper ESA letter for housing in 2023.

The Bottom Line

  • What Is an ESA Letter? - An ESA Letter proves that your pet is an assistance animal. This means you have the legal right to keep them in your home, even if your housing complex prohibits pets.
  • How To Get an ESA Letter for Housing? - An ESA Letter is similar to a prescription – it’s a recommendation from a licensed mental health professional for an emotional support animal. At Pettable, we work with a network of licensed therapists and other mental health professionals who have the authority to write ESA Letters.
  • How Do You Qualify for an ESA? - To get an ESA Letter, you must be evaluated by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) to determine if you have a qualifying mental or emotional disability, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, or PTSD.
  • How To Get Started? - See if you qualify for an ESA by taking our 3-minute quiz.

Pets offer unconditional love and a kind of comfort and support that you can’t get anywhere else. Most people consider their pets members of the family, so housing-related pet restrictions can be devastating. Fortunately, there are legal protections for pets that are emotional support animals (ESAs). Your pet may be an ESA if you find comfort and support in their presence, especially if they help you feel less anxious, worried, or depressed. 

Fortunately, the U.S. government understands the importance of ESAs for individuals with mental health issues. Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), housing providers are prohibited from discriminating against tenants with disabilities. Additionally, the law requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for assistance animals, including ESAs.

In most housing situations, emotional support animals are exempt from pet restrictions. The documentation you need to prove that your animal is an ESA that deserves accommodation is an ESA Letter for housing. This document is similar to a prescription – it’s a treatment recommendation from a licensed medical professional. With a legitimate ESA Letter, you have the proof you need to request accommodation for your ESA. 

With Pettable, you can get a legitimate ESA Letter online. Our process is safe, secure, and compliant with all federal and state laws. By working with us, you don’t need to find a local mental health professional and wait for an appointment to open up. Getting an online ESA Letter for housing is quick, simple, and affordable.

What is an ESA Form?

An ESA form, also known as an ESA letter, is a document that verifies a person's need for an emotional support animal. It must be signed by a licensed mental health professional and is required to obtain certain rights under federal law, such as being able to travel with the animal and live in no-pet housing.

Image of a woman sitting with a dog in her hands on a couch on a balcony. She is holding the dog's nose a few inches from her face and is making a kissing gesture towards it. A sunset is in the background. The text reads: "Get your official ESA Letter consultation from a trusted therapist. Get Your ESA Letter"


The Fair Housing Act and Assistance Animals

The Fair Housing Act is designed to protect people from discrimination from housing providers. Individuals with disabilities are protected under the FHA, which means that landlords can’t discriminate against them based on their disabilities. Additionally, the FHA requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. One of these accommodations relates to assistance animals.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for enforcing the FHA. According to the HUD, assistance animals are protected under the FHA, and the definition of “assistance animal” includes emotional support animals. This means that landlords are required to accommodate ESAs in most housing situations.

There are a few circumstances that are exempt from FHA rules, but most housing complexes must honor a request for accommodation of an assistance animal such as an ESA. However, you may have an easier time getting your request approved if you have an emotional support dog or ESA cat instead of an exotic animal such as a miniature horse or ferret.

How To Get an Emotional Support Animal Letter for Housing

emotional support dog sitting on bed

Getting an official emotional support animal letter isn’t that hard, especially with Pettable. The process is fairly simple.

Step 1: Choose a Provider

You can find several different providers of legitimate ESA Letters online. Before you pick one, it’s a good idea to compare them to make sure you choose the one that’s best for your circumstances and budget. 

You may want to choose a provider based on the pricing or their services of the advertised time it will take to get your letter. But it’s important to pick a company that requires you to attend a telehealth consultation with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP), because this is required for your letter to be legitimate. 

Avoid companies that promise to give you a letter instantly or that use the results of an online quiz to diagnose your condition. At Pettable, we only use your pre-screening quiz to assess whether you may be eligible for an ESA Letter. The final determination is made by the LMHP who conducts your telehealth evaluation.

It’s also a good idea to steer clear of providers that sell ESA certification or registration. These things aren’t legally required, and they usually point to a scam service. Despite what some websites say, there is no official registry of ESAs, nor is there any law that requires certification.

Step 2: Go Through the Pre-Screening Process

While you do need to complete a live evaluation before getting your letter, most online providers allow you to go through a pre-screening process first to see whether there’s a chance that you’ll qualify for an ESA. With Pettable, you will take an online quiz with questions relating to your mental health and your symptoms. 

It may seem like an extra step to do the pre-evaluation questionnaire, but it can prevent you from spending money on a letter and then having to ask for a refund if you don’t qualify. Additionally, taking the questionnaire may help you feel more comfortable and prepared for the questions in the live evaluation.

Step 3: Complete a Live Consultation

If your answers to the pre-screening quiz indicate that you may be a good candidate for an emotional support animal, you can move on in the process. You purchase your letter at this point, because what you are essentially paying for is the telehealth consultation.

Once you’ve purchased your letter, we’ll send you some official forms to sign (e.g. HIPAA information). After you’ve returned the paperwork, you will be able to schedule your telehealth evaluation with a licensed mental health professional. Pettable automatically matches you with someone licensed to practice in your state. 

Your consultation may happen over the phone or in a video call. Either way, you’ll discuss your symptoms with the LMHP so they can diagnose your mental or emotional disability (if you have one). If you meet the requirements for an emotional support animal, you will usually find out at the end of the consultation.

Receive Your ESA Letter

If you are eligible for an ESA Letter, the LMHP will write one for you and sign it. With Pettable, you can get your letter fairly quickly after your evaluation. Your initial copy will be a digital one, but you can request a hard copy through the mail.

Make sure to check over your letter once you receive it to make sure all the details are accurate. It should be written on the provider’s letterhead and include their license number. Once you have it, you are all set to request FHA accommodations for your ESA from your housing provider. At Pettable, we offer ongoing legal support so you can have your landlord contact us directly if there are questions about your letter.

What Is an ESA Letter for Housing?

An example graphic of a legitimate ESA letter with the clinicians license information clearly stated.

An ESA Letter for housing proves to your landlord that your dog, cat, gerbil, bird, or other animal is more than just a pet. An ESA Letter indicates that you have a mental or emotional disability that’s been diagnosed by a licensed professional. It also states that your mental health provider recommends an emotional support animal as part of the treatment plan for your condition.

With an ESA Letter for housing, you have the evidence you need to request accommodation for yourself and your ESA under the Fair Housing Act. A landlord doesn’t need to automatically allow an ESA – they have the right to ask for evidence of your disability and your official recommendation for an ESA. Your ESA Letter is the proof you need to provide to your landlord.

An ESA Letter for housing should be personalized for you. It needs to include your name and the acknowledgment of your mental health condition that impacts your daily life. Your medical provider's recommendation for an emotional support animal is crucial. While specific diagnosis details are not necessary, it should affirm that you have a mental health condition that qualifies as a disability under the ADA. 

Once you have provided a legitimate ESA Letter, your landlord is prohibited from asking for more information about your condition. While there is technically no expiration date on an ESA Letter for housing, it's advisable to ensure it is fairly recent. A landlord may find it suspicious if you provide an ESA Letter that’s several years old. Therefore, it’s generally a good idea to update your letter every year or so, especially if you plan to move soon.

Who Can Write an ESA Letter for Housing?

The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to accommodate assistance animals for individuals with disabilities. Mental and emotional disabilities are valid just like physical disabilities. To prove that you have an assistance animal, not a pet, you need to show proof of your disability and of a medical professional’s official recommendation for an ESA.

To be legitimate, your ESA Letter needs to be written by a medical or mental health professional who is licensed to practice in your state. Additionally, the LMHP must have completed a “live” evaluation of you to diagnose your condition and determine whether an ESA would help you. A live consultation may be completed in person, over the phone, or through an online video call.

Here are some examples of licensed mental health professionals who could write a valid ESA Letter:

  • Licensed counselor
  • Licensed social worker
  • Licensed nurse practitioner
  • Physician
  • Psychiatrist
  • Licensed therapist

You can’t write your own ESA Letter. It’s also important to know that there are some online services that offer to give you an instant ESA Letter based on the information you provide by filling out an online form. This type of document is not a legitimate ESA Letter because it’s not written by an LMHP and it isn’t based on a live evaluation of your condition.

If you are already seeing a doctor or licensed therapist for your mental or emotional disability, you may ask them to write you an ESA Letter. However, some primary care physicians may not be familiar with the format of this document because they don’t specialize in mental health. For many people, it’s easiest and fastest to use an online service to get an ESA Letter after a telehealth evaluation.

How Do You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal?

emotional support dog with happy owner

The eligibility requirements for an assistance animal, such as an ESA, are that you have a diagnosed emotional or mental disability and that an emotional support animal would be an effective part of your treatment plan. Numerous mental and emotional conditions may be eligible for an ESA:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anorexia or bulimia
  • Social anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Depression

There are many other mental or emotional disabilities that an emotional support animal may be able to help. The key is to get your condition diagnosed by an LMHP or physician and to discuss your symptoms with them to determine whether an ESA would help. 

To get a diagnosis for your mental health issue, you need to be evaluated by a licensed medical professional. An ESA Letter is similar to a prescription for a controlled medication. You can’t just write it yourself – it needs to be written and signed by a licensed physician or mental health provider.

The other part of eligibility for an emotional support animal is the relationship between the ESA and your condition. To qualify for an ESA, your medical provider or mental health professional must believe that an assistance animal would effectively help you cope with or reduce your symptoms. If your LMHP determines that an ESA would benefit you by providing comfort and support for your condition, they will officially recommend an emotional support animal by writing and signing an ESA Letter.

woman with a dog on sofa

Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal?

In most cases, a landlord cannot legally deny an ESA. The FHA applies to most housing situations, and the law only gives housing providers a few potential exemptions:

  • If the type of housing is an owner-occupied building with four or fewer units
  • If it’s a single-family house sold or rented by the owner without an agent
  • If the housing is operated by a religious organization or private club that limits occupancy to members
  • If the housing provider can prove that accommodating the ESA would “impose an undue financial and administrative burden”
  • If doing so would change the essential nature of the housing operation
  • If the ESA in question would be a threat to the health or safety of other tenants

As you can see, in most cases, the FHA requires landlords to accommodate ESAs. If your housing provider tries to deny your ESA and you don’t think the situation fits the exemption rules, you can file a complaint with the HUD.

When to Tell a Landlord About Your Emotional Support Animal?

According to guidance in the FHA, you do need to ask your landlord to accommodate your assistance animal. You can request accommodation verbally or in writing. While there isn’t a specific time that you need to make your request, it’s usually best to be up front and honest as much as possible. 

For example, if you are moving into a new residence that has pet restrictions and you want to have your ESA with you in your new home, it’s probably best to make your request before you move in. You don’t, however, need to ask about your ESA before you sign the lease. Remember that assistance animals are exempt from pet fees, so it’s important to make your request before you start making your rent payments to avoid paying unnecessary fees.

If you are already living in a place with pet restrictions and decide to get an ESA, you should inform your landlord about your new assistance animal. Making your request sooner rather than later may prevent complaints from neighbors or frustration from your landlord if they think you were trying to sneak your ESA in.

Do Emotional Support Animals Count Towards a Pet Limit?

Under the Fair Housing Act, assistance animals are not considered pets, so they are exempt from a housing provider’s pet rules and restrictions. If you are living in a housing complex that allows a certain number of pets, your ESA should not count toward that limit. For example, if your apartment complex allows each resident to have one cat but no dogs, you may have a pet cat and an emotional support dog as long as you have a legitimate ESA Letter for your dog.

In general, a housing provider can’t limit the number of assistance animals you have, provided you have proper documentation for all of them. But it’s a good idea to approach your housing situation with common sense. 

As an example, if you have five pit bulls that are ESAs and you want to keep them in a studio apartment, a landlord may be able to make a successful argument against letting you do so. In this circumstance, the landlord could likely make the case that accommodating your ESAs would present a safety hazard, cause property damage, and/or cost them a lot of money. 

Can Apartments Charge for Emotional Support Animals?

Because emotional support animals aren’t considered pets under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers cannot apply pet fees to ESAs. That means that an apartment complex may not charge you additional fees to keep your ESA in your unit. 

A housing provider also can’t charge fees based on breed or size. For example, if your apartment complex generally charges an extra monthly fee for pet dogs over 65 pounds, that policy wouldn’t apply to your emotional support dog no matter what size they are.

While a landlord cannot charge “pet rent” fees or standard cleaning fees for your emotional support animal, you may still be liable if your ESA causes property damage. If your ESA puppy ruins the carpet because it isn’t reliably potty trained, your landlord will likely keep your security deposit.

How to Make Sure Your ESA Letter is Legitimate

how to make sure your esa letter is legitimate

While there are many legitimate online providers of ESA Letters, there are some scams out there too. Before you spend money on a service or present your letter to your landlord, it’s important to make sure it meets all the requirements for ESA documentation. Here are the signs of a legitimate emotional support letter:

  • It’s specifically written for and about you and includes your name and diagnosis
  • It’s written on the LMHP’s official letterhead and includes the address of their practice
  • It lists the LMHP’s license number and/or includes their official seal
  • It’s signed and dated
  • It includes a recommendation for an emotional support animal in order to treat your mental or emotional disability

These are some of the hallmarks of a legitimate ESA Letter. Along with knowing what the letter should look like, it’s important to understand the eligibility requirements to get one.

To qualify for an ESA Letter, you need to have a mental or emotional disability that is diagnosed by a licensed medical or mental health professional. You must complete a live evaluation with this LMHP to get your diagnosis and letter. Be wary of ESA Letter providers that don’t require you to attend a telehealth consultation with an LMHP. A diagnosis and letter solely based on the results of an online quiz or self-diagnosis are not legitimate.

Protect Your Rights With an ESA Letter for Housing

If you rely on an emotional support cat, dog, or other animal to help you cope with the symptoms of a mental illness, you know how important it is to keep your ESA in your home. Fortunately, the Fair Housing Act protects your right to do so.

In order to request accommodation under the FHA, you need to be able to prove to your landlord that your animal is an ESA. This means you need documentation of your mental or emotional disability from a medical provider along with their recommendation for an ESA. An ESA Letter can serve as this proof as long as you get a legit letter from a reliable source.

At Pettable, we make it easy and fast to get an ESA Letter online if you qualify for one. Our service connects you with an LMHP for a telehealth consultation and provides you with a signed ESA Letter if you are eligible for one. Getting your ESA Letter online is the first step toward ensuring that you can keep your emotional support animal with you wherever you live.

What Is An Emotional Support Animal?

If you’re considering obtaining an emotional support animal of your own, it’s important to understand exactly what emotional support animals are. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an emotional support animal is an animal companion that offers comfort, friendship, and sentimental assistance to those struggling with a mental or emotional disability. 

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

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 emotional support cat, horse, bird, or any other animal or pet they feel connected to can turn into their official emotional support animal.

What Laws Protect My Emotional Support Animal?

With a valid ESA letter, emotional support animals are only mentioned under two federal laws: the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). However, service animals, including psychiatric service dogs, are completely covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means they can travel anywhere with their owner, even in public places that don’t typically allow pets, and owners are entitled to reasonable accommodation.

Housing

The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects residents in any U.S. state who have an emotional support dog as long as they have a legitimate ESA letter signed by licensed mental health professionals. The act prevents landlords or housing providers from discriminating against anyone with a disability and ensures that individuals with an emotional support animal have equal access to housing. However, if your emotional support dog appears aggressive or disruptive, landlords have the right to evict you.

Transportation & Air Travel

Since emotional support dogs are not protected under federal law like service dogs, they can be refused entry on public transportation such as buses or trains. However, many transportation services allow small pets, so depending on your animal's size and the service's policies, you should be fine on most forms of public transport.

When it comes to air travel, emotional support animals are also not allowed. With the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), emotional support animals were once permitted to fly in the cabin of airplanes. However, as of 2021, the ACAA has been modified so that only service animals are offered protection when flying since emotional support animals are now considered pets.

Employment

While employment is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, only service animals are protected under this law.

If you have an emotional support animal letter signed by a licensed mental health professional and believe you need their presence in the workplace, you could still make a case with your employer. While this decision is up to the discretion of your workplace, they may be accommodating to your requests. However, if your employer strictly decides against having an emotional support animal in the workplace, there isn't anything you can legally do to combat their choice.

Public Access

In most states, emotional support animals are not allowed to accompany their owners in public areas that are otherwise off-limits to pets. Only service animals have complete access. Both federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state law specify that a person with a mental or emotional disability can use a service animal in establishments such as restaurants, retail stores, and other businesses. However, the ESA laws do not protect using an emotional support animal in public places.

Misrepresenting an emotional support animal as a service animal is not only unethical but also illegal in many jurisdictions. However, the fines or penalties for doing so can vary depending on local laws and regulations. In the United States, for instance, misrepresenting a pet as a service animal may result in fines or other consequences, but these penalties can differ from state to state.

In some states, such as California, it is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to six months in jail. Other states may have similar or different penalties. Additionally, individuals who falsely claim their pet as a service animal may face repercussions such as being denied access to certain establishments or services in the future.

It's essential to understand the distinction between emotional support animals and service animals, as misrepresenting one as the other can have serious legal and ethical implications. Service animals are specially trained to perform tasks that assist individuals with disabilities, while emotional support animals provide comfort and emotional support to individuals with mental health conditions but are not trained to perform specific tasks.

Emotional Support Animals vs Service Animals

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

Service Animals Perform More Tasks Than ESAs

Many people believe that emotional support animals and service animals are interchangeable, but these two types of animals are trained for separate tasks. A service animal is specially trained to perform a function or job for an owner that has a physical, intellectual, or emotional disability. An emotional support animal serves as more of an emotional companion for the owner to help with major life activities. A service animal may still be able to provide the comfort of an emotional support animal, but it has been trained to complete tasks that a support animal will not, such as checking blood pressure or alerting others if their owner’s health or well-being is in danger.

Service Animals Are Protected Under Federal Law

Service animals are usually needed more frequently as they help the owner with physical tasks. Therefore, they are offered legal protections through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that emotional support animals do not get. You can take a service animal almost anywhere that you go and they legally cannot be denied access. On the other hand, an emotional support animal doesn’t share the same legal protections. It’s important to understand that if you have an emotional support animal, they may not be allowed into areas that a service animal will. Legal protection of an emotional support animal is limited to housing and air travel. However, there may be businesses that will allow you to bring your emotional support animal inside, so you’ll have to check with them beforehand.

Service Animals Require Proper Certification

To obtain a service or emotional support animal, they must be certified. Any animal can become an official emotional support animal, however, only dogs or horses are allowed to become certified service animals as long as they have a letter written and signed by a licensed mental health professional. A service dog agency will help to find a specially trained dog to assist with a person’s mental health disability. The person looking to acquire certification needs to have a disabling mental illness diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional and receive an emotional support animal letter or service animal letter stating how the animal will be of benefit. Additionally, service dogs are required to wear distinctive vests or collars distinguishing them as service animals, but it’s not necessary for ESAs. Both animals don’t need to go through specific training, however, personally training your emotional support animal or service dog to perform tasks and behave well in public can be greatly beneficial.

Emotional Support Animals vs Pets

It’s been proven that animals can help make people calmer, happier, and even more fulfilled. But are emotional support animals different from a beloved pet? So far, research from professionals remains inconclusive. While some suggest that ESAs may produce positive effects, support for the therapeutic effectiveness of emotional support animals tends to be scant.

For example, research has not been able to demonstrate that support animals provide significant benefits over what any regular pet would provide. According to a 2016 study published in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, it is not clear whether emotional support animals have any therapeutic effects beyond the positive benefits that animals provide in general. It states, “Little empirical data exists to support the conclusion that ESAs are effective in mitigating psychological disorders and related problems, and empirical research that does exist is inconsistent, sparse, and emerging.”

While exact research cannot prove the mental benefits of having an emotional support animal, many people and psychologists will argue that the presence of an emotional support animal is very important to the emotional and mental well-being of its owner. Taking their companion with them to run errands or go out of town can make many people’s lives better and more meaningful, rather than keeping a pet at home and isolated.

FAQs on ESA Letters

You may still have some questions about emotional support animals and ESA Letters. Read on to get expert answers on the most commonly asked questions.

Can a landlord deny an ESA Letter for housing?

In most cases, no. There are only a few situations where the Fair Housing Act allows landlords to refuse to accommodate an emotional support animal. Some landlords aren’t aware of the FHA laws relating to ESAs. Here at  Pettable, we will speak with your landlord directly if there are concerns about your letter.

Do landlords verify ESA Letters?

Legally, all you need to get accommodation under the Fair Housing Act is an ESA Letter written and signed by a licensed mental health provider. A landlord may look up your LMHP’s license number, but they can’t ask for your additional details or documentation about your disability. 

Can an apartment deny an emotional support animal?

In most cases, no. The FHA only includes a couple of exceptions. If the apartment building has no more than four units and the owner lives in one of them, FHA rules don’t apply. A landlord may be able to deny your ESA if they can prove that accommodating them would create a significant financial burden or pose a health and safety risk to other tenants.

Do landlords have to accept emotional support animals?

In general, yes. The only time a landlord may deny your ESA is if they can prove that your emotional support animal poses a threat to health, safety, or property. A landlord may also get an exemption if they can prove that accommodating your ESA would be an undue financial burden or fundamentally change the nature of their operations.

What does an ESA Letter for housing look like?

A legitimate ESA Letter for housing should be written on your provider’s official letterhead and include their license number, signature, and the date. 

What does an ESA Letter for housing need to say?

For your ESA Letter to be official, it must be written about you specifically and include your name, diagnosis details, and a recommendation for an ESA to help treat your mental or emotional disability. It needs to be written and signed by a mental health professional who is licensed to practice in your state.

How long is an ESA Letter good for?

There is no “official” expiration time on an ESA Letter for housing. However, many landlords want to ensure that your need for an ESA is current when you are applying for housing. It’s best to ensure that your letter is no more than one year old.

Can you get an ESA Letter online?

Yes! Many people find it easiest to work with an online provider to get their ESA Letter because it’s quicker than waiting for an in-person appointment to open up at a local LMHP’s office. With Pettable, it’s quick and affordable to get a  legitimate ESA Letter for housing.

Meet the author:
Susana Bradford
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Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.

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