For many people, emotional support animals (ESAs) are far more than “just a pet,” and leaving them at home while you go on vacation would be like leaving behind a member of the family. Unfortunately, many hoteliers and vacation-rental owners don’t see it the same way – but what are the rules on bringing your furry friend with you? And do you have the same protections as you would at your own home?
What Are ESAs, Who Are They for, and Who Can Apply?
An emotional support animal is a companion and crucial coping mechanism for people suffering from an emotional disorder or mental health issue. They are most commonly dogs, but people also have cats, birds, and a whole range of other animals. In order to qualify for an ESA, a person must have a letter from a licensed mental health professional showing that the presence of the animal alleviates their symptoms. In most cases, in order to obtain a letter, a person must have a verifiable affliction that seriously impacts major life activities, with common reasons being severe depression, anxiety, or panic attacks.
What Are the Laws Surrounding ESA Ownership?
It’s important to draw a distinction between emotional support animals and service animals, since the latter benefit from a much wider range of legal protections. Most important is their distinction under the Americans With Disabilities Act, as this is what allows service animals into public places such as bars and restaurants. Since ESAs don’t fall into this category, it is left entirely to the business owner’s discretion. The distinction is made mainly because service animals have specialized training and ESAs don’t (or, more accurately, aren’t required to).
However, some laws are more accommodating of ESAs, such as the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
What Is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act is designed to protect buyers or renters from landlord/property-owner discrimination. Its core principle is that an owner can’t refuse to lease or sell a property to someone based on that person’s inclusion in a protected class – i.e. discriminating based on race, religion, sex, disability, familial status, etc.
ESAs in the FHA
Unlike the Americans With Disabilities Act, the FHA gives special dispensation to ESAs in the same way as service animals. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who oversee and enforce the FHA, argue that that an ESA is an assistance animal, and thus recognized as a “reasonable accommodation” for a person with a disability. HUD argues that an assistance animal is not a pet, and therefore cannot be barred by no-pet policies, nor be required to have a pet deposit. This is regardless of an animal’s species, breed, size, or weight. That said, animals will undergo an individual assessment to determine whether they are a direct threat to the health and safety of others, and can be barred on the basis of this.
Does the FHA Cover Vacation Rentals?
While the Fair Housing Act does protect a person’s right to have an emotional support animal when renting or buying property, it doesn’t necessarily extend to vacation rentals. This is due to the fact that the FHA covers all “temporary or permanent dwellings,” but not accommodation classed as “transitory.”
And unfortunately, many short-term vacation rentals are transitory. This classification is not based solely on the amount of time that a person plans on spending at the property, but also on factors such as their intent to return, the absence of another residence, and the extent to which the occupant treats the property as “their home” through activities such as cooking and cleaning. That said, it is unlikely that a short-term vacation rental, which is closer to a hotel room than a full-time lease, will be covered by the FHA.
However, the line between transient and temporary is a fine one, with courts ruling timeshares and summer houses to which you regularly return as temporary dwelling, thus covered under the FHA. Moreover, some vacation rental platforms have their own protections, such as Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policy that means hosts may not “Charge more in rent or other fees for guests with disabilities, including pet fees when the guest has an assistance animal (such as a service or emotional support animal) because of the disability.”
When it comes to ESAs in vacation rentals, it is most frequently judged on a case-by-case basis with a variety of factors taken into consideration. However, there are plenty of alternatives for you and your ESA to go on vacation.
What Are Some Alternatives for ESA Owners Looking To Go on Vacation with Their ESA?
The simplest solution can be to find animal-friendly accommodation. Many short-term rentals welcome animals (pets or otherwise) without any extra fee, and most booking platforms allow you to filter your options with this in mind.
Alternatively, rather than looking for a property that will accommodate an animal, you can find one that is designed specifically for animals. Books such as the Ruff Guide To The United States: 365 Of The Best Places To Stay and Play With Your Dog In All 50 States can help you find the perfect trip for you and your ESA (assuming they are a dog). When you start looking you’ll find that there are plenty of options, such as the famous Dog Bark Park Inn B&B in Idaho.
Finally, you could kennel your emotional support animal near to your vacation rental, allowing you to spend the days with them and parting only to sleep. This may not be the perfect solution, but it could be the best option if you have your heart set on a no-animal property but don’t want to leave your ESA at home.
While the Fair Housing Act doesn’t explicitly cover ESAs in vacation rentals, it is often judged on a case-by-case basis, so it’s worth checking when preparing for your trip. But if it’s a no-go, then there are still plenty of other options out there for you and your furry, feathered, or even scaly companion.