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ESA Letters by State

Emotional support animal (ESA) legislation is an ever-changing area of law and stipulations can differ by state. While ESAs are protected under federal law regarding housing, different states have different rules around obtaining ESA letters. In this collection of articles, we will unpack what ESA letters entail, highlight the accommodations they provide, and offer insight into the different legal regulations according to different states.

Author
Kristi Carignan
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February 12, 2024
Updated By
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February 9, 2024
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States

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a type of assistance animal that assists their owner with their mental disability by providing comfort and support. In order to qualify for an ESA you need to both have a mental disability and be prescribed an ESA letter by a mental health professional licensed in your state.

Which States Can I Get An Emotional Support Animal Letter In?

ESA letters can be obtained in all states, as long as you consult with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) within your home state. Certain ESA rights, including access to fair housing, are enshrined in federal law. Nonetheless, regulations regarding ESAs can differ by state. While some states are incredibly ESA-friendly, others have more stringent guidelines.

What is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter?

An ESA letter is an official document written by a licensed mental health professional that stipulates that a person needs an emotional support animal to function. The letter verifies that the individual has a mental health disability and confirms that the animal brings them therapeutic benefits. 

ESA letters can be presented to housing providers to ensure access to fair housing rights. They also allow for certain accommodations when it comes to travel. 

Mental health disabilities include an array of conditions, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar, OCD, and schizophrenia. While people with these conditions can also qualify for psychiatric service dogs (PSD), these differ from ESAs as they are trained to perform specific functions related to the disability. ESAs are legally different from service animals. While they bring huge therapeutic advantages, they are not necessarily trained to perform a specific disability-related task. All service animals and PSAs are allowed in any area where the public is permitted as per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This includes restaurants, public transport, shopping malls, schools, university campuses, and places of employment. 

Emotional support animals can be any domesticated breed of animal such as dogs, cats, rabbits, reptiles, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, ferrets, or birds. This differs from service animals, which under the ADA are recognized as dogs and in certain cases miniature horses.

ESAs - when owners have a legitimate letter from a licensed practitioner – will get accommodations for housing including waived pet rentals and deposits. 

Let’s explore ESA letter regulations by state.

Which States Can I Get an Emotional Support Animal Letter In?

You can get an ESA letter in any state. The professional who writes the letter must be licensed in the state in which you reside. Some states, such as California and Montana, have specific regulations that require you to have an existing relationship of at least 30 days prior to being issued an ESA letter.

Emotional Support Animals are Protected Federally

Emotional support animals have certain federal rights, especially regarding access to equal housing rights under the Fair Housing Act. (FHA). 

The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The Fair Housing Act of 1998 protects the rights of people with disabilities to live with their animals. This includes the protection of those with ESAs and safeguards them to ensure that they are not unfairly discriminated against by landlords. Under this law, landlords must make ‘reasonable accommodations’ for those with ESAs, even if the building specifically prohibits pet animals. ESAs are technically seen as medical aids or assistant animals rather than conventional pets, and as such, accommodations must be made for them. 

The FHA states that housing providers cannot discriminate against tenants with ESAs and cannot charge them pet rental tariffs as they would with conventional pets. Tenants with ESAs are also exempt from certain restrictions regarding the breed and weight of the animal. 

Nonetheless, there are a few instances where housing providers can deny an ESA. This includes:

  • The animal poses a direct threat to other tenants (for example, a vicious animal that is known to bite people or other animals.) The landlord must prove that the animal’s presence in the building will cause “undue hardship.” 
  • If the tenant does not have a valid ESA letter from a mental health practitioner in their state.
  • If a reasonable accommodation cannot be made for the animal. For example, building a stable for a horse within an apartment complex. 

Certain housing accommodations can also reject ESAs under this law, including:

  • Housing that is owned by private organizations that specifically limit occupancy to their members.
  • Buildings consisting of four or fewer units where one unit is owner-occupied. 
  • Private rental agreements where homeowners have not used a housing provider. (Owners cannot own more than three buildings for this law to apply). 

If an ESA letter is rejected by a housing provider, prospective tenants can file a complaint at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. While this won’t always guarantee that the rejection is revoked, it is a good place to access justice and state your case. 

How to Get an ESA Letter

ESA letters can only be written by an LMHP within the person’s home state. Professionals could be psychologists, counselors, therapists, social workers, or doctors. While this process can feel daunting, the steps are simple when you work with the Pettable team. We can arrange a consultation with a qualified practitioner in your state. 

Consult with a Licensed Mental Health Professional in Your State

Work with Pettable and set up your consultation with a qualified professional. The state in which you live will determine how many times you need to meet with the LMHP before getting your ESA letter. Some states require that patients and their health providers have a 30-day relationship before the ESA letter is written.

 It’s also imperative to consult with a mental health practitioner that is licensed in your home state as ESA letters written in other states might not be valid in other states. 

GO Deeper

How to Get an ESA Letter for Housing in 2024

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are protected for housing under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). In order to protect your rights as an ESA owner you need an ESA letter as proof. To get an ESA letter speak with a licensed mental health professional licensed in your state. At Pettable, we can help connect you with one.

Do ESA Requirements Vary By State?

ESA law is constantly evolving, as such, requirements can differ between states. While ESAs are protected by certain federal laws, regulations might differ from state to state in terms of accessing ESA letters. 

Below, we will explore some state-specific specifications for ESA letters. 

States with Different Requirements for ESA Letters

Certain states have different requirements for ESA letters. Happily, knowledge is power, and understanding these nuances will ensure that you are fully equipped for your consultation and the ESA letter process in your specific state. 

California Law AB-468

California Law AB-468 changed in 2022 and now specifies that ESA owners whose ESA is a dog must establish a client-provider relationship with the LMHP 30 days before they can write an ESA letter. This was enshrined in law to mitigate the possibility of practitioners rushing the process of determining ESA needs. 

Furthermore, practitioners must include all their licensing details in the letter and must offer the client clear notice that ESAs do not qualify as service animals. Clients must know the difference between ESAs and service animals under this law. This same regulation also exists for people selling emotional support animals or any paraphernalia (such as harnesses or vests) related to ESAs. They must clearly state that the animal is an emotional support animal rather than a service animal. 

As a reminder, service animals are trained to perform specific disability-related tasks, rather than solely providing comfort and support. All service animals are protected under the ADA. 

Montana Law HB-703

This act revises certain ESA laws in Montana, allowing housing providers to request additional documentation for a tenant’s ESA request. However, landlords may not obtain private information which details the severity of the disability.

This new act also puts in place a similar requirement for a 30-day client-provider relationship with a licensed mental health professional prior to being written an ESA letter. The main difference is that this 30-relationship is required for all forms of ESAs, including cats, dogs, rabbits or any other emotional support animal.

Other Emotional Support Animal Laws By State

Several other states also have specific laws relating to ESAs

Florida Statutes Chapter 760

This piece of legislation acknowledges the legitimate need for ESAs and protects owners who need them. It also penalizes those who provide fake ESA letters or certificates or those who use them. This is ultimately an anti-fraud measure that seeks to ensure the legitimacy of ESA claims. 

Texas Fair Housing Act

While there are no specific laws related to ESAs in the Texas Fair Housing Act, emotional support animals are still protected under the federal FHA. This safeguards those with ESAs against discrimination from housing providers who must make ‘reasonable accommodations’ for their ESA. 

New York Human Rights Law

This law protects people against disability discrimination and includes individuals who rely on the support of ESAs. Under this law, housing providers in New York, including those who offer temporary or supportive housing (such as shelters) must make reasonable accommodations for ESAs. Much like the FHA, providers can refuse an ESA if it will cause “undue hardship to the housing provider.” 

GO Deeper

The Complete Guide to Emotional Support Animal Laws & Psychiatric Service Dog Laws

Are you wondering what rights you have as the owner of an emotional support animal or psychiatric service dog? Learn more in this comprehensive guide.

What Do California AB-468 & Montana HB-703 Mean?

California and Montana have specific stipulations around ESAs that affect the ESA letter consultation process. 

What Do California AB-468 & Montana HB-703 Mean?

Both laws aim to regulate aspects of ESA law. These laws safeguard against hurried letters and state that clients must have a 30-day client-provider relationship with the therapist before they can write the ESA letter. This means that before the LMHP writes the letter, they should have an existing relationship with the client and understand their mental health disability and their reason for needing an ESA. 

Montana's law provides further regulation that makes it possible for housing providers to obtain extra information when leasing a home to a tenant with an ESA and considering their request. 

How Do I Get an ESA Letter in California or Montana?

To get an ESA letter in California or Montana, clients must book a consultation with an LMHP. The practitioner must determine that the client has a mental health disability that would benefit from an emotional support animal.

The process is similar in California and Montana, clients must form a 30-day relationship with the LMHP before they can write the ESA letter. Pettable can easily connect you to LMHP in your state. As per the law, consultations can be conducted in person or remotely, either online or by telephone. 

What Qualifies as a 30-Day Client-Provider Relationship?

Any client-provider relationship that spans the full 30-day requirement qualifies under the California and Montana laws. This means that if you have a licensed mental health professional that you have consulted with over the span of at least 30 days the LMHP will be able to assess your qualification for and write you an ESA letter.

If you opt to acquire your ESA letter through Pettable this will mean that a 30-day relationship will need to be established with your assigned LMHP prior to receiving an ESA letter. As a result, if you live in Montana or California, you will attend two separate consultations, one thirty days after the other. On the second consultation, if the LMHP has deemed you to qualify for an ESA letter they will write you one. Unfortunately, this means we cannot offer an express ESA letter option in either Montana or California.

GO Deeper

What is California’s Emotional Support Animal Law AB 468?

California passed a law affecting emotional support animals that comes into effect starting January 1st, 2022. This law requires ESA dog owners to have a 30 relationship with their mental health professional prior to being eligible to receive an ESA letter from them.

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