Are ESA Laws Changing?

If you’re a service dog or emotional support animal owner, staying current with assistance animal laws is essential. Rules and regulations change on the local, state, and federal levels on a not-infrequent basis.

While ESAs will never be afforded the same protections as service dogs, they do have rights. Read up on what’s entailed in those rights and where they can be exercised.

What Are the New Esa Laws?

Three central bodies of legislation touch on emotional support animal ownership at the federal level. They are the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Air Carrier Access Act, and the Fair Housing Act. The first governs general mobility and access to public spaces, the second regulates air travel, and the third governs housing rights.

One must understand the particulars of these national laws before reading up on state laws that generally have much more influence over the mobility of ESA owners.

Department of Transportation Rule: Traveling by Air With Service Animals

An amendment to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) in 2020 gave airlines the right to ban emotional support animals from air travel. Most major U.S. airlines chose to opt into this privilege, meaning they no longer allow ESAs to accompany their owners on board. Those airlines include: 

  • Southwest Airlines
  • Alaska
  • Frontier
  • JetBlue
  • American Airlines
  • United Airlines

There are international airlines that continue to allow ESAs on board. Generally, they ask that you fill out an application to bring your ESA on board or at least notify the airline within 48 hours of your departure that you plan to bring an animal on board. Airlines that do permit ESA travel include: 

  • Asiana Air
  • China Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Volaris
  • Latam Airlines

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act was established in 1968 to fight discrimination against renters and tenants on the basis of protected identities such as race, sex, and national origin. Those protections also extend to ability. 

Unlike the ADA and now the ACAA, the Fair Housing Act does not distinguish between service animals and emotional support animals. Both are allowed to move in with their owners, even in no-pet units, if the owner has their proper paperwork.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA was the first law to distinguish between service dogs and emotional support animals. According to the ADA, because service dogs perform vital physical tasks on behalf of their disabled owners, they are entitled to a set of rights and protections that ESAs, who only help with emotional and psychological ailments, are not permitted to.

State Laws

California State Law AB-468

A law passed in 2021 in the state of California aimed to crack down on the sale of false ESA letters and on individuals falsely claiming their pets are ESAs. 

This law does not interfere with the Fair Housing Act residence protections. Still, it does reinforce the distinction between service dogs and ESAs, and makes misrepresenting ESAs as service dogs a crime.

New York City Human Rights Law

NYC’s Human Rights Law protects the right of not just renters and tenants to live with their ESAs, but those living in shelters and other forms of temporary and supportive housing. Housing providers are required to give individuals “reasonable accommodations” for their disabilities, and that includes ESA ownership.

Texas Human Resources Code

Under Governor Greg Abbott, Texas has declared that business owners and proprietors are not obligated to treat ESAs the same way they treat service dogs. They are allowed to kick ESAs out of their businesses, even if they are well-trained and clearly helping their owners.

Florida Statute §760.27

In a surprisingly progressive turn for a state like Florida, the state legislature recently upheld the rights of individuals to live with ESAs in any kind of housing, regardless of landlord pet policies.

Who Is Impacted by the New Regulations?

All ESA owners are impacted by these new regulations in the case of air travel. ESA owners can no longer bring their companions on board most U.S. airlines and many international airlines. 

In the case of housing, all states in the union continue to uphold the protections for ESAs enshrined in the Fair Housing Act. The FHA defies the terms laid down by the ADA that distinguish service dogs from emotional support animals. Under the FHA, both are protected when seeking housing. 

Am I Still Able To Travel With My ESA?

The 2020 amendment to the ACAA enabled all of the major U.S.-based airlines to ban ESAs from their aircraft once and for all. That has made traveling domestically with your ESA virtually impossible. But international travel is still possible.

Check with international airlines before you book, as many still allow ESAs on board with the right paperwork. Airlines like China Air and Lufthansa have relatively painless processes for approving ESAs to fly. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed on Planes in 2023?

Emotional support animals are allowed on some planes, and not allowed on other planes. A 2020 Air Carrier Access Act amendment allowed airlines to opt out of allowing ESAs to fly. All the major U.S. airlines, from Delta to United to Southwest, opted out.

But you are still able to fly with your ESA on some international airlines. 

Can Airlines Deny Emotional Support Animals?

Airlines can deny your emotional support animal if they take the ACAA up on its offer to blanket ban ESAs from flying. Not all airlines did this, however. You can still submit applications to fly with an ESA to many international airlines. 

Register Your ESA Today!

If you have questions about obtaining an ESA letter, how ESA ownership can benefit you, and laws governing living with your ESA, get in contact with ESA Registration of America. We are an industry-leading resource for information on ESAs, ESA letters, and laws surrounding ESA ownership, and we’re here for you 24/7.