An emotional support animal is a crucial lifeline and best friend to many Americans who are suffering with mental health problems. This reality is acknowledged by the US government and laws exist that recognize the important role these animals play in their owners’ lives.
In order to qualify for an ESA, a person must provide a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating that an ESA is necessary and improves the patient’s symptoms in some way. Once this letter is provided any animal (within reason) can qualify as an ESA.
Three laws in particular are highly relevant to people who depend on an ESA:
Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act exists to protect renters from landlord discrimination. It prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to tenants based on factors such as race, gender, religion, age or disability. For individuals with mental health problems a safe and secure place to live is very important. The FHA requires property owners to make “reasonable accommodations” to tenants with mental health disabilities. Under the FHA, ESAs are not seen as pets but instead as assistive aids. ‘No pets’ rules must be waived by any authority or landlord receiving federal financial assistance when the ‘pet’ is an ESA.
No ‘pet deposit’ may be charged in advance, however, on vacating the premises the tenant may be liable for any damage done to the property by the ESA while they lived there. Property owners with rules restricting breed, size or species must make reasonable accommodations to these policies to allow people to live with their ESA. Property owners cannot demand to know details of a person’s disability and must respect the information provided on the patient’s ESA letter. If an ESA behaves inappropriately, such as being vicious, threatening or loud, a property owner can express concern, seek legal advice and if necessary evict a tenant.
Americans with Disabilities Act
Emotional support animals are not as protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act as Service Animals. Under the ADA Service Animals are allowed into public places such as theatres, restaurants and bars, provided they are “individually trained”. Since ESAs are not specifically trained, they do not receive the same protections. Therefore, although many businesses and organizations will have a policy of allowing ESAs, a public place is entitled to deny an ESA admission at their discretion.
Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act allows air passengers to travel with their emotional support animal so long as they have the relevant documentation and the ESA is not a danger or excessive nuisance to other passengers. ESAs are not required to be caged during flights and a person can not be charged money for bringing an officially documented ESA onboard.
It is important for emotional support animals owners to know their rights and to understand how they are protected under the law.