Illinois Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Laws - A Complete Guide (2023)

Susana Bradford
August 31, 2023
April 18, 2023
11 minutes
Updated By
Expert Reviewed By:
Susana Bradford
April 18, 2023
11 minutes
Updated By
Expert Reviewed By:
If you have an emotional support animal in Illinois, you should be aware of the ESA rules. We’ll discuss the relevant ESA laws and what rights you have.

Having an assistance animal is a necessary part of life for many people who struggle with emotional or mental disabilities. These disabilities can negatively affect a person's life, and assistance animals can offer companionship to help ease the pain.

Support animals can help people who have endured emotional trauma by providing a comforting presence in daily life and major life activities. However, although ESAs are invaluable to their owners, they are not the same as service animals, as they have not completed the necessary training and do not perform specific work or tasks. While federal law protects the rights of service animals and their owners, the situation is more complicated for ESA owners. If you want to live and travel with your ESA in Illinois, it's a good idea to be familiar with Illinois emotional support animal laws.

Emotional Support Animal Laws Illinois: Housing

Illinois housing laws allow emotional support animals and service animals in any housing accommodations. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects tenants with disabilities from discrimination, including their assistance animals. Landlords and property owners are required to make reasonable accommodations to enable such animals.

If you live in Illinois and struggle with mental or emotional disabilities, you may benefit from the presence of an emotional support animal. We'll discuss everything you need to know about federal and Illinois ESA laws and how to get an official ESA letter for housing.

Interested in qualifying for an ESA letter? Find out how!

The Bottom Line 

  • What is an emotional support animal? An emotional support animal offers its owner a therapeutic relationship by providing comfort and emotional support to someone struggling with mental health concerns or emotional trauma, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 
  • Are ESAs considered pets in Illinois? ESA owners know that emotional support animals are more than pets. But since ESAs don't need to be individually trained and don't need to carry out practical tasks, they aren't considered service animals. For this reason, ESAs in Illinois are subject to most of the same rules and regulations as pets – except for housing.
  • How do I get an ESA letter in Illinois? To get an ESA letter in Illinois, you'll need to speak with a licensed mental health professional (in person or over the phone) who will assess your need for an emotional support animal. If they feel that an ESA would be a valuable asset to your mental health, they will write and sign an official ESA letter.
  • Do housing providers in Illinois have to accept ESAs? Housing providers must provide reasonable accommodation for emotional support animals and their owners as long as they have a valid ESA letter. Landlords can only deny accommodations to ESAs if they threaten the property or other residents.
  • Ready to get started? Get an official ESA letter for your support animal! The first step in the approval process is to take a brief assessment to tell us about your ESA needs.

Emotional Support Animal Laws in Illinois

Along with federal laws, emotional support animal laws in Illinois cover where you can and can't go with your ESA, including your home, public transportation, workplace, and other public areas. It's important to note that ESA laws regarding housing in Illinois differ significantly from those relating to traveling with your support animal or bringing it to a public place.

Illinois ESA Housing Laws

The federal Fair Housing Act sets out Illinois emotional support animal housing regulations. Individuals who rely on assistance animals (including service animals and emotional support animals) are protected from discrimination, and landlords must accommodate support animals and their owners. Landlords cannot deny you a place to live based on a disability.

You will need to give your official emotional support animal letter, which serves as your ESA documentation, to your landlord to prove that your animal is an emotional support animal.

According to federal law, a licensed healthcare professional must write and sign your letter for it to be recognized as an official emotional support animal letter. Your landlord cannot deny you and your emotional support animal housing unless your ESA threatens other residents or the property.

Illinois ESA Laws for Employment

Emotional support animal laws state that your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your need for an assistance animal. However, employers are not required to accommodate emotional support animals. Whether they decide to allow ESAs depends on each employer, as no employment laws specifically discuss ESAs.

You can show your official ESA letter to your supervisor or boss as an ESA owner. They may decide that it's acceptable for you to bring your ESA to work. On the other hand, some employers may refuse your request, and you will need to abide by their decision. Certain employers may request that your emotional support animal is thoroughly trained and well-behaved before you bring them into the workplace.

Did You Know?

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are exempt from pet rent, deposits, and fees with a valid ESA letter. Find out more

Illinois ESA Laws for Travel

No federal or state legislation guarantees your right to travel with your ESA. However, some airlines may accommodate emotional support animals on a case-by-case basis. If you choose to travel by air, call ahead and let the airline know you have an emotional support animal you'd like with you on your journey. They might say no, or they could ask for more information about your ESA, including its breed and size, and request a copy of your ESA letter.

It's worth noting that the Air Carrier Access Act protects service animals, including psychiatric service animals, that are trained to perform tasks specifically related to an individual's disability. However, it does not cover emotional support animals or other assistance animals. The airline may view your ESA as an ordinary pet, subject to their standard policies about bringing animals onboard.

In some circumstances, you may be able to bring your ESA on subways, trains, or buses, but you'll need to check with each transit company to find out about their travel rules. Some companies may not allow animals except for service dogs, while others may allow ESAs if they are small enough to go in a pet carrier or sit on your lap. 

Illinois ESA Public Access Laws

If you want to bring your emotional support animal to places like restaurants, stores, hotels, or libraries, you will need to check with the owner or manager of each establishment. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Illinois law protect service animals, there are no laws that guarantee emotional support animals access to these establishments.  

However, plenty of places will accommodate you if you call ahead and check on their rules for emotional support animals. These establishments may ask to see an official ESA letter and will likely expect your ESA to be well trained and under your control. 

Your emotional support animal is essential for your mental health, so it's a good idea to bring a copy of your official letter when you leave home with your ESA. This will give you the best chance of your ESA being admitted to the places you want to go.

How to Get a Legitimate ESA Letter in Illinois

If you already own an emotional support animal and want to make it official, you can follow a few easy steps to get an ESA letter. Here is the step-by-step process you'll need to complete to get your letter.

Complete Our Assessment 

Before getting your letter, you will need to complete an assessment to tell our team a little more about you, your needs, and your concerns. This quick assessment is meant to help evaluate your specific situation. Next, you'll select the type of emotional support animal letter you need. You can choose to get a housing letter, a travel letter, or a combination of the two.  

Consult With a Therapist 

After you complete the assessment, you will need to fill out some privacy and consent forms before meeting with the licensed mental health professional you've been matched with. The privacy and consent forms authorize our clinicians to work with you.

After you've completed your documents, you'll get a link in your email to book a live consultation with a mental health professional. During your consultation, your therapist will assess your need for an emotional support animal to help with mental illness or disability symptoms.

Get Your Emotional Support Animal Letter

After completing your consultation, the licensed mental health professional can accurately determine if you have a disability-related need for an ESA. If your healthcare professional decides that an ESA should be part of your mental health treatment plan, they'll write and sign an official ESA letter on letterhead for you.

Your ESA letter is a legally recognized document you'll need to show your landlord to prove that you have a disability-related need for a support animal. You should also bring it with you when you go out and about with your ESA, as it may help you enter certain establishments with the permission of the venue owner or manager.

We care deeply about your satisfaction with our services. We'll provide a full refund if your letter does not meet your needs.

What Is an ESA?

An emotional support animal is an assistance animal that helps a person cope with emotional or mental disabilities, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or phobias. A support animal doesn't need any specialized training to offer comfort and companionship to its owner. Support animals are protected under the Fair Housing Act and must be accommodated by landlords – as long as you have a valid ESA letter. However, there aren't any laws guaranteeing ESAs the right to enter establishments such as restaurants, cafes, or shopping malls – nor are they automatically allowed on public transportation.

Emotional support animals are usually dogs, but they can also be cats, rabbits, miniature horses, or other animals, as long as their presence provides therapeutic benefits to their owners.

What Is a Service Animal?

A service animal is an assistance animal specially trained to perform specific tasks for its owner. Service animals are almost always dogs, and they are considered working animals instead of pets. A service animal performs duties to help its owner live a more independent life.

Guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility dogs, medical alert dogs, and psychiatric service dogs are well-known examples of service animals. A service dog must be individually trained to meet its owner's specific needs. Service animals typically perform tasks such as reminding their owners to take medications, alerting them to an alarm or doorbell, calling for help, or assisting them in navigating public spaces.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on a disability. This law guarantees that people with disabilities have access to equal opportunity and protects their fundamental human rights.

According to the ADA, service animals must be given access to public places alongside their owners. They are not required to wear identifying materials like vests or tags.

The Difference Between Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals

There are some notable differences between emotional support animals and service animals.

One of the most obvious is that service animals are nearly always dogs. Emotional support animals can be any creature, including dogs, cats, turtles, miniature horses, and other animals. 

Another difference between service dogs and emotional support animals is that service dogs require individualized training to perform specific tasks that help people with a physical or mental impairment. In contrast, emotional support animals don't need specialized training to assist their owners. 

The Air Carrier Access Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act protect service animals in public places, including commercial air travel. The federal Fair Housing Act covers service animals and emotional support animals, allowing all assistance animals to live with their owners.

Frequently Asked Questions About Illinois ESA Laws

There are many things to remember when you have a support animal. Here are a few frequently asked questions about Illinois ESA laws.

Do I have to tell my landlord I have a support animal in Illinois?

It's best to show your landlord your ESA letter to clarify your situation and your right to live with an emotional support animal. This will also ensure they won't charge extra pet fees or deposits.

Can a landlord deny an emotional support animal in Illinois? 

According to Illinois law, landlords and other property owners must make reasonable accommodations for you and your support animal unless your animal directly threatens other tenants or the property.

When do I tell my landlord about my support animal in Illinois?

You can give your landlord your letter before or after signing your lease. It's best to tell your landlord about your ESA (and show them your letter) as soon as possible so they can make the necessary arrangements before you move in. 

Can a landlord in Illinois charge a fee for an ESA?

According to Illinois law and federal law, if you have an official letter verifying your need for an ESA, your landlord cannot demand additional rent or charge extra fees or pet deposits.

Can you have more than one ESA in Illinois?

You can have more than one support animal in Illinois. However, in official letters, a mental health professional must attest to your need for multiple emotional support animals.

What restrictions can my landlord place on my emotional support animal in Illinois?

The Fair Housing Act provides ESA owners with certain protections. Your landlord must offer you reasonable accommodation, and they cannot ask you to put any identifying vests, tags, or materials on your animal. However, you should use common sense about the size and breed of your ESA, and your ESA must not cause damage to the property or threaten other residents. 

Get your ESA letter!

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.