Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter

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What Is an Emotional Support Animal Letter?

An emotional support animal letter is an important letter that everyone wishing to add an ESA to their treatment plan must obtain if they want to be able to request accommodations and take advantage of their protected ESA rights.

Requirements for who composes this letter, what the letter must state, and diagnosis criteria vary by state. However, you can expect the majority of states to require that a licensed mental healthcare provider writes this letter and attests to an individual’s need for an emotional support animal.

It’s important to note that fake or scam ESA letters are common these days, and you must do your due diligence before requesting a letter from anywhere. That being said, if you are already diagnosed with a mental health condition or disability and have regular treatment or meetings with a licensed mental healthcare provider, you can safely speak with them about adding an emotional support animal to your life.

How Do I Obtain an ESA Letter?

There are a few steps to obtaining an ESA letter, and these steps might vary based on the state that you are living in, as jurisdictions tend to have varying laws or regulations. Make sure to check for any specific regulations in your state as one of your first steps in this process.

  1. The majority of states require that any individual seeking an emotional support animal be diagnosed with a qualifying mental health condition or disability. So if you aren’t already diagnosed and working with a medical professional, your first step is to seek out a licensed mental healthcare provider to receive a diagnosis.
  2. Once you have your diagnosis, you will need to speak to your mental healthcare provider about the possibility of adding an emotional support animal to your treatment plan. They will discuss the pros and cons of this and evaluate if you are capable of providing proper care to your emotional support animal.
  3. After your mental healthcare provider ascertains that an ESA is the right choice for you, they will write you an ESA letter. This letter may contain varying language based on your state, but it will typically state your need for an emotional support animal and provide the contact details of your therapist, doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

As soon as you have your official ESA letter, you may start the process of adopting an emotional support animal or requesting accommodations as needed for your ESA that’s already in your care.

You can turn a pet that you already have a bond with into an emotional support animal by using your ESA letter and requesting accommodations to ensure you always live with your ESA and can have them by your side when possible.

Your Protected Emotional Support Animal Rights

While emotional support animals don’t have extensive public access rights like service animals do, they are still granted several federal rights that are often backed up by state laws and regulations. It’s important to understand your emotional support animal rights once you have one of these companions in your care so that you can ensure you have your ESA by your side as much as possible.

If you have questions about these rights or suspect that your ESA rights have been violated, your best option is to conduct state-specific research or reach out to a legal professional that specializes in disability rights.

What are the benefits of having an ESA letter?

You Can Live Nearly Anywhere With Your ESA

ESAs are exempt from no-pet policies in houses, apartments, and college dorms.

No Breed Or Weight Restrictions

Since an ESA does not require specific training, all breeds qualify.

Avoid Pet Fees and Deposits

ESAs are exempt from all pet fees, pet rent, and pet deposits.

Who Might Qualify for an ESA Letter?

Anyone that has a qualifying mental health condition or disability and can benefit from the presence of an emotional support animal can receive an official ESA letter from their mental healthcare provider that verifies their need and allows them to request the ESA accommodations that are provided to them by both federal and state law.

Examples of the mental health conditions or disabilities that might qualify for an ESA letter and benefit from an emotional support animal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Learning disabilities
  • PTSD
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Stress conditions or chronic stress

Of course, there are many other mental health conditions or disabilities that might qualify you for an emotional support animal.

The process of determining need and obtaining an ESA is highly personal, so speak with a licensed mental healthcare provider if you believe that you need a diagnosis or you want to speak about how an emotional support animal could improve an existing treatment plan.

Federal Rights

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a well-known piece of federal legislation that covers rights for service animals, but the laws set forth by this act do not cover emotional support animals. It’s important to keep this in mind, as the ADA is what grants service animals their rights to enter almost any business or facility with their owners, even ones that don’t typically allow pets.

For emotional support animals and their owners, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) is one of the most essential pieces of federal legislation to pay attention to. This act is designed to prevent discrimination when it comes to fair and equal housing, and a major part of this is ensuring that individuals can live with their emotional support animals or service animals as needed.

Under the FHA, individuals with emotional support animals can request accommodations to bring their ESA into their residence or rental property with them to live, regardless of whether or not the property allows animals regularly. These accommodations are typically requested by the individual providing their official ESA letter to the landlord or rental agency as needed, and reasonable accommodation requests must be honored.

Traveling Rights

Many individuals need to travel with their emotional support animals, and until recently, owners have been able to ensure their ESAs are treated like service animals aboard planes. However, updates to the Air Carrier Access Act passed in 2021 modified how airlines treat emotional support animals while upholding the protections that the act grants to service animals.

When trying to travel with your emotional support animal, the airline is now allowed to decide how they treat the ESA – they may allow you to register them as an ESA and avoid any applicable fees for traveling with an animal, or you may need to register your ESA as a pet and pay a fee for them to fly in the cabin with you.

It’s important that you check with the airline’s specific rules regarding emotional support animals before purchasing a ticket, as you need to know ahead of time if that airline accepts ESAs or cabin pets and what the process is for registering your companion animal to bring aboard with you.

State ESA Laws

While many states have specific laws and regulations surrounding service animals, emotional support animals typically aren’t granted additional protection. However, all states must adhere to federal emotional support animal protections, which is the right for an individual to live with their ESA as needed, regardless of whether or not the property accepts animals.

However, some states, such as California, do have additional laws that protect the right of individuals to bring their emotional support animal to the workplace and provide additional information about the sales of items that might identify an emotional support animal. Check with your state government website for more legislation information detailing emotional support animal rights in your jurisdiction.

Frequently Asked Questions

An emotional support animal is different from a service animal, though many individuals might accidentally use these terms interchangeably.

Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks that are directly related to an individual’s disability. They fall into the three main categories of mobility and guide service dogs, medical alert service dogs, and psychiatric service dogs, and they are permitted wide-reaching public access rights so that they may accompany their owner everywhere the owner needs to go.

On the other hand, emotional support animals are not trained in any specific way, and they are not permitted to access public or private facilities in the same way as service animals. They are granted some federal and state protections, such as the right for individuals to live with their emotional support animals. Still, you cannot bring ESAs into places such as restaurants, grocery stores, or other retail facilities where you may see service animals from time to time.

Additionally, service animals are exclusively dogs or miniature horses, while emotional support animals may be any kind of animal, such as a dog, cat, bird, or hamster. As long as the ESA provides some type of benefit to their owner’s mental health condition, they are allowed to be an emotional support animal.

Numerous scientific studies have been carried out on the positive effects that pets bring to their owners, and, more recently, studies that focus specifically on the benefits that emotional support animals might bring to those suffering from certain mental health conditions or disabilities are becoming more prevalent.

Through these studies, it’s been shown that emotional support animals help to decrease the stress levels of their owners and boost oxytocin hormones after the individual and their pet have an extended interaction. Emotional support animals are also highly beneficial when it comes to relieving symptoms of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and stress, and they provide a consistent routine for their owners as they care for their ESA, which further helps reduce the negative symptoms of a mental health condition.

Over time, emotional support animals help relieve the symptoms of a mental health condition or disability with their presence and allow individuals to lead a higher quality of life day after day.

Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not required to complete specific disability-related tasks to be considered service animals. You will not need to train your emotional support animal, and they do not need to be able to perform any kind of skill or disability-related task for you to receive accommodations for them.

That being said, many emotional support animals will pick up on habits or routines you have and might become more sensitive to your needs over time as your bond strengthens. They may come to you when you are feeling down or anxious, or they may insist on cuddling you when you are dealing with strong emotions.

It’s also a good idea to ensure your emotional support animal does have basic manners training, if applicable, and is comfortable accompanying you in public when needed and allowed by state or federal law.

You do not need to identify your emotional support animal, and many states are developing new legislation surrounding the purchase of service animal vests or other identification items for emotional support animals. You are not legally required to put a vest, marked leash, or harness on your ESA, and you do not need to carry certifications or ID cards for them – the only item you need to receive accommodations for your ESA is the official ESA letter you received from your mental healthcare provider.

However, some individuals prefer to identify their companion as an emotional support animal when out in public. This helps set expectations and allows others to know that your animal is a supportive companion. It may help reduce instances of individuals attempting to pet your animal or interrupting your animal’s focus.

Make sure that you do not purchase service animal identification items and put them on your emotional support animal, as this is misrepresenting your ESA as a service animal. Not only can this be dangerous, but it may be considered a crime in your jurisdiction.

Your accommodations request may be denied by a landlord or rental property if the request isn’t reasonable, such as bringing several large dogs into a small studio apartment, because you would not be able to provide the animals with adequate care in a situation such as this. You might also find your accommodation request is denied if your animal provides a direct health or safety threat to anyone else on the property or if the animal is causing significant destruction that poses a financial burden on the landlord or rental agency.

On an airline, your accommodations request may be denied for a variety of reasons, and you may need to pay a pet fee to have your ESA with you in the cabin as you travel. Changes to the Air Carrier Access Act make it acceptable for airlines to accept emotional support animals or cabin pets on a case-by-case basis, and you should check directly with the airline you wish to travel with for more details.

If you believe that your ESA rights have been violated, you should speak with a legal professional in your jurisdiction that specializes in accommodations and disability law.