Federal Laws and Emotional Support Animals: Benefits of Obtaining an ESA Letter
Emotional support animals (ESAs), not to be confused with service animals, are animals that are specially designated to assist individuals with emotional or psychological disabilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA), ESAs and service animals, and their respective purposes, can be distinguished in the following ways:
Individuals who are blind, deaf, restricted to a wheelchair, or suffer from seizure disorders can benefit immensely from the aid of a service animal. Service animals are dogs or miniature horses that are specially trained to perform tasks and recognize medical conditions.
Emotional Support Animals
It is important to note that ESAs are more specifically chosen as companions to individuals who are psychologically or emotionally disabled. These companions may include a variety of animals and maybe a current pet. ESAs are not trained to perform tasks or recognize particular signs or symptoms but are distinguished by the close, emotional, and supportive bond between the animal and the owner.
Who Can Obtain an ESA Letter?
Individuals with disabilities who believe they would benefit from an ESA must have a psychological diagnosis as a disabled person from a licensed mental health professional.
Emotional and psychological disabilities applicable to an ESA letter may include:
- Stress Disorders
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Depressive Disorder
- Panic/Anxiety Disorders
- Personality Disorders
- And Many More!
While ESAs may become like members of an individual’s family, they should not be confused with traditional pets. ESAs provide a very specific service as an emotional support, and very specific laws govern their use.
For legal purposes, ESAs are considered companions offering mental and emotional support, as well as sometimes being trained to recognize specific symptoms and emotional occurrences.
Federal Laws and ESAs
It is important that anyone considering obtaining an ESA letter be aware of the laws that apply to owners and what they should expect from business owners under the law.
A brief summary of federal laws and ESAs can be found by reading on:
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA provides specific guidelines for how businesses and organizations should treat individuals with ESAs. The ADA guidelines are applicable in all 50 states, and it lists specific guidelines for businesses and ESA owners.
The Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act was passed in 1986 and works alongside the Department of Transportation rules prohibiting discrimination of disabled individuals traveling by air. According to the Air Carrier Act provisions, airlines are not allowed to refuse transportation, limit, or require advanced notice before offering service to individuals who are disabled.
Airlines may require advanced notice for certain accommodations, such as medical equipment or electric wheelchairs, and may require notice for ESAs, depending on the individual airline guidelines.
The Air Carrier Act requires that airlines accommodate ESA owners who have verified identification. ESA owners are not required to sit in any particular location unless the animal is large enough to obstruct an aisle that must remain unobstructed.
The Air Carrier Act also restricts airlines from charging fees for accommodating disabled persons with an ESA.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, commonly known as FHA, requires apartments and housing communities that ordinarily restrict pets to make a reasonable accommodation for ESAs. In short, that means that verified ESA owners cannot be denied housing, just as individuals in a wheelchair or with a disability cannot be denied housing based on their condition.
In order to be protected by FHA laws, the ESA owner must have a diagnosed disability and provide documentation to the property owner or housing representative.
The benefits to FHA laws include the fact that property owners cannot charge an advance deposit or fees for ESAs. ESA owners should note, however, that if significant damage is done, or if it becomes apparent that the animal is being neglected, the property owner might be able to recoup fees later.
Property owners also cannot question the disability, require the animal to wear identification as an ESA, or refuse housing. In short, FHA laws protect verified ESA owners who properly care for the animal but may not protect owners who are negligent or destructive.
ESAs Are More Than a Man’s Best Friend!
Emotional support animals are not restricted to dogs. In fact, ESAs can be most any variety of animals. What is important is that the ESA and the owner have a special relationship that genuinely offers emotional support and well-being.
Obtaining an ESA letter requires more than just a psychological diagnosis; it also requires compliance with standards, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s standards, which includes demonstrating that the animal provides a service that supports the diagnosis.
The journey to a happy, healthy ESA/owner relationship may already have begun, but disabled individuals may not realize it. Individuals who already have a pet that brings them comfort and emotional support can apply for an ESA letter, which will provide them with the protections discussed in this article and benefits that are immeasurable.