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North Carolina Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Laws in 2024

In North Carolina, it's important to be aware of emotional support animal laws, such as the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act, which safeguard individuals with disabilities from discrimination in housing and travel. As an ESA owner, the Fair Housing Act grants you the right to reside with your essential support animal.

Susana Bradford
February 20, 2024
March 15, 2023
7 minute read
Updated By
Pettable Staff
February 20, 2024
Expert Reviewed By:
March 15, 2023
August 18, 2021
7 minute read
February 20, 2024
Discover your rights as an emotional support animal (ESA) owner in North Carolina. Learn about places you can take your ESA and the relevant rules in the article below.

The Bottom Line

  • What is an emotional support animal? — An emotional support animal has a comforting presence that helps mitigate mental or emotional disability symptoms.
  • Are ESAs considered pets in North Carolina? — No. Federal and state laws regard emotional support animals as assistance animals, not pets.
  • How do I get an ESA Letter in North Carolina? — With an online service, getting a North Carolina ESA letter that fits state and federal requirements is easy.
  • Do landlords in North Carolina have to accept ESAs? — Yes. Federal fair housing laws exempt an assistance animal like an ESA from pet-related restrictions.

Most pet owners consider their animals part of the family, but some animals are more than just furry companions. Emotional support animals offer a soothing presence that helps their owners cope with emotional or mental disability symptoms. If you have a cat, dog, or another animal like a miniature horse that lessens the severity of a mental condition like depression or anxiety and improves your well-being, you qualify for an ESA.

Emotional support animals significantly improve their owners’ quality of life, so the US government recognizes them as assistance animals. The federal government grants some protections to assist animals. They’re exempt from housing-related pet restrictions, such as additional fees.

Federal law protects your rights and disability rights to keep your emotional support animal in your home, even if you live in a place that prohibits pets. Find out more about where you can bring your emotional support animal to North Carolina.

North Carolina Emotional Support Animal Laws

North Carolina's emotional support animal laws, protected under the Fair Housing Act, grant individuals with disabilities the right to have emotional support animals in their homes and common areas of housing complexes, regardless of any 'no pets' policy in their lease. This crucial protection ensures that tenants and homeowners can enjoy the benefits of emotional support animals without facing discrimination or eviction based solely on their disability-related needs.

Emotional Support Animal Laws in North Carolina

Emotional support animals and their owners have legal protections in North Carolina. Learn more about ESA housing, travel, and public access laws.

ESA Housing Laws

The relevant law for emotional support animals in NC is the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). This law applies in North Carolina (and all other states) and prohibits housing providers from discriminating against individuals based on protected criteria:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation)
  • Familial status
  • Disability

The FHA requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. The Fair Housing Act applies to most housing types, although there are exceptions for private clubs, owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units, and single-family houses leased or sold by the owner. 

Under the FHA, emotional support animals don’t count as pets. Landlords can’t subject them to pet restrictions (including rules about breed and weight), and they can’t charge pet-related deposits and fees for them.

There are only a few cases where a landlord could deny an ESA. A housing provider can refuse to accommodate an emotional support animal that threatens the safety of other residents, causes property damage, or causes an “undue financial and administrative burden.” Unless the ESA displays aggressive or destructive behavior, landlords are not allowed to charge a pet fee.

ESA Laws for Employment

The FHA gives you the right to keep your ESA in your home, but there aren’t any similar state or federal laws related to employment. In North Carolina, employers can allow their employees to bring ESAs to the office.

Plan ahead if your employer says you can bring your emotional support animal to work. Make sure you have a comfortable and secure place to keep your emotional support animal in the office. It’s essential to ensure your ESA is potty trained, well-behaved, and calm, even in public. 

While employers are not obligated to allow emotional support animals in NC, they must accommodate service animals. Service dogs and miniature horses have special training to help their owners by performing tasks related to their owners’ disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to allow service animals. The only situation where an employer could reasonably deny entry to a service animal is when their presence would compromise the work environment. For example, a service dog would destroy the sterile environment in a clean room.

An ESA owner petting their emotional support dog.

ESA Laws for Travel

While federal law requires travel providers to accommodate service animals, emotional support animals don’t have the same rights. Air carriers and other travel providers can decide whether to allow ESAs.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) prohibits airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities. It requires air carriers to accommodate individuals with disabilities, including allowing their service animals to fly in the cabin for no extra fee. 

The Air Carrier Access Act initially protected emotional support animals and service animals. However, the Department of Transportation updated the language in 2020 and removed protection from ESAs.

If you want to travel with your emotional support animal, it’s best to contact the airline to learn its policies. If your ESA is a cat or a small dog, you might be able to bring them with you in the cabin if you keep them in a crate.

ESA Public Access Laws

What protections do emotional support animals have in public places in North Carolina? There are many types of public accommodations:

  • Museums
  • Libraries
  • Convention centers
  • Sports stadiums
  • Parks
  • Amphitheaters
  • Houses of worship
  • Stores and rental locations
  • Restaurants
  • Theaters

Emotional support animals in NC dont have access rights to public settings. As such, it’s up to the owners of public accommodations to determine if they want to allow ESAs. Before taking your emotional support animal to a public place, asking permission and looking into the local law is best.

On the other hand, service animals can accompany their owners in public. The ADA requires owners of public accommodations to allow service dogs and miniature horses. However, an owner can remove a service animal that’s out of control, not housebroken, damaging property, or threatening the safety of others.

An example graphic of an ESA letter written by a licensed mental health professional.

How to Get a Legitimate ESA Letter

Do you need an ESA letter? With Pettable, you can get one in just a few simple steps:

1. Complete Our Assessment

The first step is to take our online pre-screening quiz to determine if you’re a good candidate for an ESA. Once you finish the questionnaire, you can choose your ESA letter package, including options for express delivery (24-48 hours), and book an appointment time.

2. Consult With a Therapist

After completing our assessment, you can schedule a telehealth consultation with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). They will evaluate you to determine if you are a person with a disability who qualifies for an emotional support animal.

3. Get your Emotional Support Animal Letter

If the licensed mental health professional believes an ESA would benefit you, they will write an official ESA Letter. Choose rush service to get your letter within 24 hours (California residents excluded).

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What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal helps relieve the symptoms of its owner’s mental health conditions or disability. ESAs provide a comforting presence and unconditional love that can mitigate the effects of many disabilities:

  • Social anxiety
  • Autism
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Panic disorder

Any animal can be an ESA, but dogs and cats are the most common. ESAs don’t need special training. However, ensuring your ESA is well-behaved and potty trained is essential, especially if you plan to take them out in public.

What is a Service Animal?

A service animal isn’t the same as an emotional support animal. Service animals have special training and perform specific tasks for their owners:

  • Reminding their owner when it’s time to take medication
  • Guiding a blind owner
  • Sensing and warning of an impending panic attack
  • Alerting a deaf owner

These are just some of the tasks a service animal, such as a psychiatric service dog, can perform. The US government only recognizes two types of service animals: dogs and miniature horses. Service dogs and mini horses can accompany their owners in most public places. A service animal can also offer the same support as an ESA.

Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Animal

Any animal can be an ESA, but only dogs and miniature horses can be service animals. Additionally, service animals have specialized training so they can perform tasks to assist their owners. ESAs don’t need skills beyond basic manners and potty training.

Service animals and ESAs have different legal rights. The ADA protects service dogs and mini horses and requires most public places to accommodate them. An ESA has housing rights under the Fair Housing Act, but ADA protections don’t apply to an assistance animal.

Frequently Asked Questions about North Carolina ESA Laws

Wondering how to get an ESA or what you need to do to keep them in your home? Get reliable answers to these common questions and more.

Do I need to pay for ESA registration in North Carolina?

No, you do not need to register your emotional support animal in any state. ESA registration is entirely optional, a service that some organizations offer, but provides no actual legal protection for you or your ESA.

Do I have to tell my landlord I have an ESA?

Yes. You must inform your landlord of your animal’s ESA status if you want to avoid pet fees and restrictions. Be sure you have a copy of your ESA Letter for housing ready.

Can a landlord deny an emotional support animal in NC?

Usually, no. Landlords can only deny an emotional support animal that damages property, threatens the safety of other residents, or creates an “undue financial and administrative burden.” 

When do I tell my landlord about my ESA in North Carolina?

If your housing provider restricts pets, you must inform your landlord that you have an emotional support animal and provide documentation (your ESA Letter) if they request it.

Can a landlord in North Carolina charge a fee for an emotional support animal?

No. Federal law prohibits landlords from charging pet fees and deposits for assistance animals, including emotional support animals. However, you are liable for any damage your ESA causes.

Can you have more than one ESA in North Carolina?

Yes. However, your landlord may request documentation for each emotional support animal. Make sure your ESA Letter specifies that you need all your ESAs.

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

A landlord can deny an ESA that would fundamentally change the nature of their business. For example, they could deny your request to convert a common outdoor area into a stable to accommodate your emotional support llama.

What animals can be emotional support animals in NC?

Any animal that is traditionally kept as a pet can be an emotional support animal and must be accepted by a landlord, within reason. Common ESAs include dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, reptiles, fish, or turtles. Excessively large or dangerous animals are likely to be denied, however.

Do I have to pay a pet fee for my emotional support animal?

No, emotional support animals in NC are not considered pets, but assistance animals, so are not eligible for any additional fees. If your landlord is charging additional fees inform them of this and be sure to have your ESA letter as proof of your assistance animal’s legitimacy.

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.

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