Emotional Support Animal Laws in Washington State: Explained (2023)
There are no state-specific emotional support animal laws in Washington State. If you live in Washington, the two federal laws you need to know about are the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act, which rule over whether emotional support animals are allowed into housing or on airplanes.
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Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) play a vital role in providing comfort, companionship, and therapeutic benefits to individuals with diagnosed mental disabilities. In Washington State, specific laws and regulations have been established to protect the rights of individuals who rely on emotional support animals. This comprehensive guide aims to shed light on Washington's ESA laws, covering key aspects such as housing rights, legal requirements, and the process of obtaining an ESA letter. Whether you're a current ESA owner or seeking to understand your rights, this article will provide you with a detailed understanding of Washington's Emotional Support Animal laws.
Emotional Support Animal Washington State
Washington State emotional support animal (ESA) laws provide legal protection for individuals with diagnosed mental disabilities. These laws allow qualified individuals to have their emotional support animals in housing and enjoy certain accommodation rights. The laws emphasize the importance of reasonable accommodation and non-discrimination based on disability status.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
The American Kennel Club defines an emotional support animal as one that is prescribed or recommended by a qualified mental health professional to someone with a disabling mental health condition.
A patient’s therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist must decide that an animal benefits their mental health in some way. For example, a pet cat might ease someone’s anxiety or a pet dog may help someone with depression feel less lonely.
An emotional support animal can assist with numerous conditions besides anxiety and depression, including the following:
- Panic Disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
- Attention Deficit-Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Cognitive Disorders
- Learning Disorders
Technically, any condition that causes mental or emotional distress could qualify one for an emotional support animal.
Emotional support animals are legally recognized under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a federal law that fights housing discrimination. As a result of this law, emotional support animals are allowed to accompany their owners in their primary residence, regardless of “no pet” policies. The only requirement is that the individual consults with a licensed mental health professional and is prescribed an ESA letter.
How to Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal in Washington State
Every state, including Washington state, has unique laws regarding emotional support animals — specifically when it comes to bringing them into public spaces or keeping them in apartments or other rental properties that don’t typically allow pets.
In Washington state, you must obtain an ESA letter from a mental health professional licensed in that state. Their letter verifies that your animal does offer some kind of mental health support.
An ESA letter will include the license and contact information for the prescribing mental health professional. It also states your specific mental health needs and explains briefly how an ESA helps to alleviate your symptoms. These details allow the person reviewing the letter to verify that it’s for you.
Here is a quick explanation of how to get an ESA letter in Washington:
ESA vs. Service Animals
Some people assume that emotional support animals and service animals are synonymous and have the same rights and protections. That’s not the case, though.
An emotional support animal offers support or comfort to their owner. However, they don’t have specific training and typically don’t perform specific tasks.
Service animals, on the other hand, go through rigorous training and perform tasks to help people with disabilities.
For example, a service dog may guide an owner with vision impairments. A psychiatric service dog (PSD) may also provide deep pressure therapy to someone having a panic attack or retrieve medication.
Because they perform specific tasks that keep their owners safe and healthy, service animals are granted protections and permissions that don’t apply to other animals — including emotional support animals.
Service animals are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s important to note, too, that the ADA only covers dogs. Other animals would fall under the ESA umbrella rather than the service animal umbrella.
Benefits of Having an Emotional Support Animal
Although emotional support animals don’t have the same protections and qualifications as service animals, they still provide valuable benefits to their owners. The following are some of the most significant ones:
- Reduced anxiety (interactions with animals have been shown to lower the stress hormone cortisol and lower blood pressure)
- Improved mood (time with animals contributes to the production of oxytocin, a hormone associated with a positive mindset, bonding, etc.)
- A Greater sense of purpose (caring for an animal helps people create structure in their lives and develop a greater sense of purpose)
- Increased mindfulness (caring for animals requires presence and mindfulness; in other words, it may help to interrupt rumination and obsessive thoughts)
- Sense of Security/Protection (having an animal in the house can provide a sense of safety)
If any of these benefits sound appealing to you, you might want to talk to a professional about getting an emotional support animal.
How to Get an ESA Letter
If you want to get an emotional support animal, you’ll need an ESA letter. This letter is especially important if you’re trying to rent an apartment in Washington that doesn’t typically allow animals.
Getting an ESA letter is pretty straightforward if you work with a company like Pettable, which helps to simplify the process.
To obtain an ESA letter through Pettable, you’ll go through the following steps:
Take our Brief Online Assessment
To begin the process of getting your ESA letter, take our short 3-minute assessment. In the assessment, we will pre-screen your eligibility for an emotional support animal and determine your specific needs. At the end of the process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional licensed in Washington or your current state.
Attend Your Remote Consultation
During your consultation, a licensed mental health professional will determine your mental health condition and whether an emotional support animal could support that condition. If they find you eligible, they will issue you an ESA letter stating your need for an ESA.
Present Your ESA Letter to Your Landlord
The final step after acquiring your ESA letter is to present it to your landlord, who is then legally required to accommodate you and your emotional support animal. If you are worried about this interaction or are having issues with your landlord, your assigned mental health professional will be able to provide support. If your landlord illegally denies your ESA request, we will offer you 100% of your money back.
Why Is an ESA Letter Necessary in Washington?
Obtaining an ESA letter in Washington can make it easier for you to get approved for an apartment or other rental property that wouldn’t typically allow pets to live there.
This letter can also make it easier for you to fly with your pet in the cabin or bring them with you into certain public spaces.
Washington Emotional Support Animal Laws
Washington’s emotional support animal laws align with federal ESA laws, particularly when it comes to housing.
Up until recent years, emotional support animals were protected for air travel in Washington under the federal Air Carrier Access Act. The law was revised in 2021 and no longer caters to ESAs to the same extent. Instead, only service animals are recognized under the law, and therefore able to accompany their handler on any airline.
Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)
While emotional support animals were once eligible to fly on all airlines in The United States free of charge under the ACAA, this is no longer the case. In 2021, the US Department of Transportation revised the act and put in place new regulations regarding emotional support animals. With this new ruling, airlines are no longer required to accept ESAs on their flights. Service animals, on the other hand, are still legally protected and must be accomodated.
Since this new rule, most airlines have changed their rules and now treat ESAs as normal pets without any special rights or privileges. While some airlines still accept ESAs, you will likely have to adhere to airline pet policies when traveling with your assistance animal. Alternatively, if you have a dog ESA, you may be able to train them as a psychiatric service dog, a type of service animal for those with mental disabilities. Psychiatric service dogs remain protected under the ACAA.
ESA Housing Laws
Washington landlords are allowed to create their own service dog and ESA policies. However, their policies must also align with federal housing regulations.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) differentiates between pets, emotional support animals, and service animals, noting that ESAs and service animals work, provide assistance, perform tasks, or provide emotional support.
The FHA states that landlords must accept service animals and ESAs (even if they don’t regularly allow pets) as long as the owner meets these requirements:
- They made a specific request to live with their service animal or ESA
- Their proposal included reliable disability-related information (an ESA letter qualifies as reliable information as long as it’s provided by a licensed mental health professional)
Can a Landlord Reject My ESA?
Under the FHA, a landlord can reject an ESA in certain circumstances, including the following:
- Allowing an animal would impose excessive financial or administrative burdens
- Allowing the animal would fundamentally alter the essential nature of the landlord’s operations
- The assistance animal poses a direct threat to others’ health or safety (despite reasonable accommodations)
- The assistance animal could cause significant physical property damage (despite reasonable accommodations)
If you think you’ve been unlawfully denied an assistance animal, you can file a complaint with Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO).
ESAs in Student Housing
ESAs are not automatically granted access to student housing facilities (service animals are). Emotional support animals on college campuses are usually approved on a case-by-case basis. They’re also not allowed on parts of the campus where pets are usually prohibited.
Places to Take Your Emotional Support Animal
While establishments are not required to accept ESAs, you can take your animal to many places in Washington state, including shopping centers, department stores, hardware stores, hotels, pet-friendly restaurants, and parks.
The following are some Washington-specific locations known to welcome ESAs:
- Warren G. Magnuson Park Off-Leash Dog Area
- Olympic National Forest
- Howarth Park
- Norm’s Eatery and Ale House
- Engine House 9e
- The Tipsy Cow
- Alexis Hotel
- La Quinta Inn & Suites
- Ocean Crest Resort
In general, if a place is pet-friendly, it is ESA-friendly. Businesses are allowed to distinguish between trained service animals and ESAs, though. However, it never hurts to call ahead and explain your situation, some locations may be willing to accomodate you. Having a legitimate ESA letter can provide additional proof and assurance that your assistance animal is no average pet.
Get Your ESA Letter with Pettable
Now that you know more about the emotional support animal laws in Washington state, are you ready to move forward with obtaining an ESA letter?
If so, work with us at Pettable. Our team makes it easy for you to get a letter from a licensed mental health professional.
Get started today and get approved right away (or get your money back).