An ESA Letter for housing lets you keep your emotional support animal with you wherever you live. Find out how to get a legitimate letter online.
Emotional Support Animals

How to Get an ESA Letter for Housing in 2021

Susana Bradford
November 1, 2021

The Bottom Line

  • What Is an ESA Letter? - An ESA Letter serves as proof 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.

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 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.

Step 4: 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?

woman with her emotional support dog

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 diagnosis along with your medical provider’s “prescription” for an emotional support animal. You should provide this document to your landlord if they request proof of your disability and right to have an ESA. However, once you have provided a legitimate ESA Letter, your landlord is prohibited from asking for more information about your condition.

There is not technically an expiration date on an ESA Letter for housing, but it’s a good idea to make sure your letter is fairly recent. A landlord may find it suspicious if you provide an ESA Letter that’s several years old. It’s generally a good idea to update your letter every year or so, especially if you plan to move in the near future.

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. There are numerous mental and emotional conditions that 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.

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.

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

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.