Emotional Support Animal
All About Emotional Support Animals
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal is prescribed to the patient by a mental health professional and is intended to mitigate the patient’s emotional or psychological disability. The animal is designated as part of a treatment program for the patient and works to alleviate its owner’s symptoms.
Animals of any species can technically be considered as an emotional support animal, but common sense rules apply. For instance, while a dog would be considered an emotional support animal, it would not be reasonable to consider a goat as such.
A licensed mental health professional must find a need for the emotional support animal through the aid of therapy sessions. Emotional support animals are not required to receive any type of training in order to help minimize the owner’s symptoms.
Examples of Assistance Animals
An emotional support animal can be a cat, dog, bird, ferret, mini pig, rabbit, mouse, snake, or any other type of animal that can be kept in a dwelling. There are no age requirements in place for support animals, meaning that they can be kittens, puppies, or any other young animal. One requirement for emotional support animals is that they do not prove to be nuisance in the home or surrounding areas.
Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals are often confused with service animals, but they have their differences. Service animals provide a service that their owners are unable to do for themselves. These tasks may include alerting the owner to seizures so that preparation can be handled, providing sight services to the visually impaired, or pulling a wheelchair. Tasks performed by service animals are not limited and are trained to do work. Service animals are required to be admitted anywhere that the owner is able to attend including public buildings or modes of transportation.
Emotional assistance animals are designated to offer emotional support, but are not trained to perform certain tasks. Emotional support animals are not required to be admitted anywhere the owner is allowed entrance.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a law that prevents landlords from discriminating against tenants based on age, gender, religion, race, and disabilities. The Fair Housing Act rules for Emotional Support Animals allows tenants suffering from emotional disabilities the opportunity to mitigate anxiety or depression through the use of a support animal.
Under the FHA, landlords are required to make a reasonable accommodation for emotional support animals. This law prohibits breed, species, or weight restrictions. Landlords who have a “cats only” policy in place, must accommodate a service or emotional support animal. In addition, they cannot place restrictions on the animal’s breed or weight. In fact, if the emotional support animal is part of a restricted breed or weight, the landlord must make a change in the rules in order to accommodate the tenant as best as possible.
The FHA prevents discrimination against tenants because of disabilities.
What is the Air Carrier Access Act?
The Air Carrier Access Act is a law that prevents airlines from discriminating against passengers based on age, gender, religion, race, and disabilities. The Air Carrier Access Act rules for Emotional Support Animals allows passengers who are suffering DSM IV or DSM V related emotional disabilities to ride in the cabin of the aircraft with their animal at no additional charge.
Under the ACAA, airlines are required to make a reasonable accommodation for emotional support animals. Additionally, this law cannot prohibit a breed, species, or have weight restrictions for most animals. Dogs and Cats have no issues getting on board with their passenger. However, certain types of animals have not been allowed to board domestic and international flights in the past. Therefore, it is best to check with the airlines ahead of time. Snakes and other reptiles have been known to be barred from in-cabin air travel.
How to Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal
In order to qualify for an emotional support animal, the Fair Housing Act rules for Emotional Support Animals states that a licensed mental health professional must deem a person emotionally disabled. The therapist or psychiatrist must write out a prescription for the animal and it must state the following information:
The patient that is under his or her care
The patient is being treated for a mental or emotional disability
At least one life activity is limited by the disability
Treatment is prescribed through the assistance of an emotional support animal
For legitimacy, the letter must be on the mental health doctor’s letterhead, be signed and dated, and include the following information:
State of licensure
Date of licensure
State issuing licensure
If the patient does not have a licensed mental health professional, one can be found online to determine whether or not the need for such an animal exists.
Can Pet Fees Be Charged By Landlords or Airlines?
Pet fees cannot be charged to tenants or flight passengers who seek the assistance of an emotional support animal. In addition, landlords and airlines are prohibited from charging deposits or other surcharges to the tenant because of the support animal.
Legal Rights with Housing
Under the FHA, properties that prohibit dogs or other animals must make a “reasonable accommodation” for the emotional support animal.
Persons who have obtained service dogs as prescribed by a mental health professional have rights with regard to anti-discrimination. The FHA allows for certain accommodations to be met in order to allow emotional support animals in different dwellings.
The law applies to all public housing, with the exception of the following types of properties:
Rental apartments or homes with less than four units when one is owner occupied
Single family homes rented or sold without the assistance of a broker
Private owned housing by clubs or religious organizations that restrict occupancy to group members.
In order to have a dog, cat, bird, or other animal classified as an assistance animal, a letter from a therapist or physician is required.
Under the FHA, even if the landlord or property manager has a “no pets” policy, the service or assistance animal must be accommodated. Because of the difference in legal classification for assistance animals versus pets, pet fees and restrictions are waived.
Examples of assistance animals include a dog that helps its owner cope with anxiety or depression, a cat who alerts its owner to oncoming seizure, or a bird that alerts its hearing impaired owner to sounds around its owner.
Persons with emotional support animals do not receive the same protections while utilizing hotels, motels, stores, or restaurants. The FHA does not consider these places dwellings for the application of laws protecting emotional support animals and their usage. In the listed places, the emotional support animal is treated like a pet and does not grant further rights.
Rules Regarding Training
Under the FHA, emotional support animals are not required to be trained. In fact, their presence alone acts as a mitigating factor in helping the owner cope with depression, anxiety, or other emotional impairments.
What Documentation to Provide to Landlords
The patient must provide a letter to the landlord stating that the animal is prescribed as part of a treatment program to aid in alleviating the patient’s symptoms. Without such letter, presenting the animal as an emotional support animal for the purposes of forgoing pet restrictions is a violation of federal law.
Landlords and property managers have the right to request verification from the mental health professional confirming the disability. If verification is received, the landlord must accommodate the tenant’s request to have an emotional support animal. Not doing so violates federal law because the landlord would be discriminating against a person who is disabled.
What Landlords Can and Cannot Do
Under the FHA, landlords are prohibited from certain actions:
They cannot ask the tenant to pay a deposit or pet fees because the animal is not considered to be a pet.
They cannot request that the emotional support animal have any training in order to be considered an emotional support animal.
They cannot require the animal to wear an identifying harness or collar.
They cannot ask questions about the specific disability or ask for medical records.
They cannot refuse accommodations due to insurance policy provisions.
Use fears of specific breeds as a means of denying the applicant’s need for an emotional support animal.
Landlords can do the following:
Charge fees for damages caused by the emotional support animal.
Evict a disabled person with an emotional support animal if the person is unable to properly manage the animal.
Determine if a certain breed of dog is a direct threat to other residents by assessing the animal’s conduct instead of generalized statements on the breed as a dangerous one.
In the event that the landlord’s insurance company restricts certain breeds, then the reasonable accommodation must be made on a case specific basis. If the insurance company involved would increase the landlord’s rates or cancel the policy altogether, HUD dictates that it might place an undue financial burden upon the landlord. All claims of undue financial burdens put upon landlords must be verified with the insurance company in question.
If the insurance provider does not have a provision allowing for emotional support animals, they may be investigated for potentially discriminating against persons with disabilities.
Proper Clean up Following Tenancy
While landlords cannot charge deposits or pet fees for emotional support animals, if they require a deposit from all tenants, even those with emotional support animals must comply. Tenancy with any landlord requires proper use and maintenance of the property with regard to clean up. If the emotional service animal damages the property in any manner, the landlord has a right to recoup the damages through the security deposit.
Owners of emotional support animals are required to take care of the clean up after their animals, just as pet owners would. Costs of repairs may be recouped if the animal has damaged the dwelling or common area above what is considered to be normal wear and tear.
Filing a Complaint
If the tenant’s rights have been violated with reference to their request for an emotional support animal, they have the right to seek legal remedies. First, ensure that the landlord is fully aware of the law as it applies to the emotional support animal. Since the law is new, many landlords and property managers are unfamiliar with the legalities involved. Many landlords violate the law simply out of ignorance for the law, but that is something that the Justice Department does not take into consideration.
In the event that a landlord or property manager refuses to comply with the law, a complaint should be filed with the United States Justice Department. To do so, the client must report the landlord to the Justice Department and file a discrimination complaint. In addition, the client may seek litigation against the landlord for discriminatory practices which could result in punitive damages.
Another way to file a complaint is through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. A HUD discrimination form may be printed and sent in order to bring a complaint against the landlord or property manager.
Many mental health professionals recognize the need for patients to have the companionship of an emotional support animal. Under the terms of the FHA, landlords and property managers are prohibited from discriminating against those persons with such disabilities. Persons benefiting from the assistance of an emotional support animal are not subject to pet deposits or fees. In the event that the landlord is ignorant of the facts, it does not preclude them from abiding by the law. Federal laws regarding discrimination prevent landlords from rejecting tenancy applications to those persons who need ESAs in order to live a comfortable life. Violation of the federal law is punishable by filing a complaint and seeking legal action against the landlord or property manager.
Emotional support animals bring many benefits to patients and because of that, the patients should not be penalized in the form of extra fees or deposits. Landlords may place restrictions on specific public areas accessible to emotional support animals, but they are prohibited from discriminating on a person’s medical need to request such an animal.
Do You Need to Register Your Emotional Support Animal?
NO, you don’t need to register your ESA in any ESA registry. However, there are many websites that offer to register your ESA in their data base in exchange for a fee. Registering your ESA in an online database will not provide legal protection in a dispute between you and your landlord or an airline. In other words, don’t waste your money! All you need is an ESA approval that you can get right now at the DOGtor.