Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed in All Public Places?

An emotional support animal, ESA, provides emotional comfort to its owner. It can be any type of animal, and the way they provide emotional support varies from person to person. They play a significant role in the lives of their owners. Therefore, they should be allowed in all public spaces, right? 

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Whether an ESA is allowed in a public space depends on the situation. Parks, sidewalks, and other publicly owned outdoor areas have no restrictions against emotional support animals. On the other hand, restaurants, retail stores, and other privately-owned places can refuse entry to an ESA.  

Like we previously mentioned, details will vary depending on the situation. Each state or airline can have unique rules that apply to your emotional support animal. This guide will differentiate between ESAs and service animals and explain what rights your emotional support animal has.

What Rights Does My Emotional Support Animal Have and Not Have? 

Emotional support animals do not have all the rights that service dogs do. However, you should know that certain acts do encompass both service dogs and your ESA as part of their

The Air Carrier Access Act protects ESA air travel by requiring airlines to allow support animals to fly in the cabin with you. Airlines cannot charge you for your assistance animal, nor can they place a weight or breed restriction. Airlines can contact you 48+ hours before to ensure you’ve submitted all necessary paperwork, including an ESA letter and veterinary information. The only assistance animals protected under the act are dogs, cats, and miniature horses. Still, it is always essential to check assistance animal requirements for various airlines.

  • The Fair Housing Act or FHA ensures that landlords, property managers, and apartment complex owners provide you and your emotional support animal fair housing. The FHA protects all species as long as they have a valid ESA letter provided by a psychiatric service. This could encompass many mental health professionals, including therapists and counselors. Under the Fair Housing Act, no one can deny your application based solely on the fact that you have a support animal. A proprietor can deny you if, and only if, the ESA would impose an undue financial burden on the household.
  • The Americans With Disabilities Act or ADA prohibits all discrimination against people with disabilities. This ordinance is not limited to a singular department, rather encompassing many to ensure any person with a disability is treated fairly. The Department of Transportation ensures that reasonable accommodation is maintained on public transport for maximum accessibility. The Department of Justice enforces anti-discrimination state and federal law to prevent unfair treatment of those with a disability. Under this act, assistance animals can only be classified as emotional support animals if the owner has a diagnosed mental illness such as anxiety or depression, among other psychological disabilities.

Other private properties, such as individually owned business establishments, can deny entry how they see fit, though reasonable accommodation may be made for your ESA. This varies widely from business to business and is entirely the prerogative of the landlord or owner, which may be affected by state and local pets policy. Concern for customers and the safety of others may influence this decision.

Is My Emotional Support Animal Allowed in No-Pet Housing? 

Yes, because federal and local laws do not consider emotional support animals as pets. An ESA owner must undergo an evaluation by a mental health professional to be approved. After receiving the prescription approval letter, property managers and landlords cannot legally classify your animal as a pet.  

The home or building owner must make reasonable accommodations for you whether or not you have an ESA. When signing the lease, ensure that there are no weight, breed, or species restrictions in the fine print. All housing discrimination based on creature characteristics is illegal. 

Because of this, all charges, rules, and regulations that apply to traditional pets are not valid for support animals. If the landlord deems your animal a danger to the household, they can deny you housing with your ESA. Thus, ESAs have exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

Can the Landlord Charge a Pet/Security Deposit for my Emotional Support Animal? 

No, the landlord cannot charge you a pet deposit for your ESA. An emotional support animal is not a pet; therefore, no restrictions apply to them. So long as you have your valid evaluation ESA letter, your landlord cannot deny your living space, nor can they charge additional fees.  

If your animal causes damage to the home, the landlord can charge you. Otherwise, it is unlawful for someone to charge you a further deposit if you have an emotional support animal.  

Is My Emotional Support Animal Allowed in Public Stores? 

Unfortunately, public stores can deny access to your emotional support animal. Some stores will allow all pets in general, no questions asked. Others, however, will deny your ESA even if you show the paperwork. Business owners have every right to deny your entry to your ESA.  

With establishments that allow you and your emotional support animal in, you are responsible should any damage occur. Whether to merchandise or other patrons, if your ESA ruins anything, you can be kicked out of the place and sued for the losses.  

Why Do They Not Have the Same Rights as Service Animals?

Emotional support animals are not classified the same as service animals by the United States Government. A service animal is trained to do work or perform tasks, and help someone with a physical disability.

On the other hand, an emotional support animal provides therapeutic benefits to its owner, but they are not individually trained or specifically trained to perform tasks directly related to disability. The owner also does not have to claim a disabled status.

Do ESAs need training?

In short, no. Do Service animals require training? Absolutely. This is the fundamental difference between a service animal and an emotional support dog. This is also why an ESA does not qualify as service animals.

Because of the lack of training, public establishments such as restaurants or retail stores can prohibit the entry of emotional support animals. However, landlords, apartment complexes, and property managers cannot ban ESAs due to being untrained, nor can they charge you additionally. The laws and restrictions for emotional support animals vary depending on the state.  

Check with your local government to see if any rules or regulations apply to you. Even after making sure with the authorities, bring your paperwork when you go out in case of emergencies.  This could include an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional.

Beyond Training, What Else Separates Emotional Support Animals from a Service Animal?

An emotional support dog is a form of assistance animal, but they are very different from service animals. Emotional support dogs require much less training than service dogs (as we covered above), but they are far from being just another pet. This means they do not fall under restrictions put in place by the pets policy in various businesses and institutions.

The ADA defines a service dog as an assistance animal that is trained to do or assist with tasks on behalf of an individual with a disability. Service dogs are usually made up of similar breeds, such as golden retrievers as guide dogs, and provide a person with a disability a heightened quality of life. Service dogs are protected by the ADA on a federal level.

On the other hand, emotional support dogs are defined as any breed that helps to alleviate the symptoms experienced by a person with a disability. The definition of an emotional support dog is not as specific as the definition for a service dog. Still, some of the laws surrounding them are similar.

For instance, while the ADA does not protect ESAs, the FHA does. This means that it is against the law for housing or accommodation to be denied to the owner of an ESA purely on those grounds. Similar housing law is in place for the legal protection of those with a service dog.

However, a significant legal difference between an emotional support dog and a service dog is where you can take them. Emotional support dogs face restrictions on where they can go. A service dog does not. This is especially relevant to airlines. A service dog is permitted on airlines, whereas this is not always the case with emotional support animals. This can vary depending on the airlines in question, so it is worth checking ahead of time.

How Can I Get an ESA Letter From a Licensed Mental Health Professional?

The easiest way to acquire an ESA letter is to pay a visit to your usual licensed mental health professional. A letter can often be provided following your initial claim or if the professional in question referred you for an ESA in the first place. You may also receive a letter following registration.

ESA letters play a significant role in the documentation of your new companion. They may be required when you apply for housing as part of the legal process, depending on the laws of your city. Thankfully, receiving your letter is not a complicated process. It is even possible to obtain a letter online, but we largely recommend that you go through a professional.

Psychiatrists, counselors, therapists, and doctors are all qualified to provide you with your letter. ESA letters should be acquired as soon as possible, as a lack of paperwork could seriously hamper your ability to find housing or prove your companion’s eligibility to live with you. Registration alone is not legally recognized. Only a letter can provide that assurance.

What Conditions Could Benefit From an Emotional Support Dog?

There is no specific requirement to qualify for an emotional support animal, ESA, though generally speaking, they are usually associated with mental disability or illness. This could include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many others that an emotional support dog could help with.

In terms of qualifying for an emotional support dog or assistance animal, there are some questions you will need to answer. You can find a full list here, but examples include:

  • What is the nature of your disability?
  • How long have you had this disability?
  • How does the disability affect your daily life? 

A medical professional will present these questions and then determine if an emotional support animal may help. The majority of emotional support dog claims are made to support anxiety, depression, or general stress, but there is no strict law on who can qualify. Whether you are eligible for an emotional support dog will largely rely on the guidance of your relevant medical professional.


An emotional support animal can help make your life less burdensome, especially if you are struggling with a mental illness. Your support animal will not have the same rights as a service animal but will still benefit your well-being and livelihood. If you have considered acquiring an ESA, look into local city rules that could change your situation.  

Know that individuals might not be as hesitant to pet your animal if they are an ESA rather than a service dog. For those who need the primary attention of their creature, an option is getting professional training following registration. There are also patches, vests, and other indicators to let others know.  

Though they are not required, we recommend getting an ESA identification vest for your animal. Not only does it make it easier for you when traveling, but it also cuts down explanation time when you’re in public. When you are going out, carry your prescription ESA letter with you. Both of these tips will minimize potential harassment and unnecessary explanations.  

If you are looking to register an emotional support animal and would like to know more information, contact the ESA Registration of America. Note that registration alone does not automatically make your companion into an ESA. Registration will simply keep you in the know when it comes to legal changes and ESA-specific products. An ESA letter from a licensed mental health provider distinguishes a support animal from an ordinary pet.