Emotional support animals are a massive help for many people. The world can be overwhelming, and having a familiar companion makes it a little easier to handle.
ESA’s are not the same as service animals and are subject to different regulations than trained service dogs. However, they have some rights regarding pet policies and similar rules, such as those in place in certain condo associations.
If you live in Florida and you’re wondering about the process of registering an ESA, particularly how to get an ESA letter, read on. Our handy guide about Florida’s qualification process has all you need to know about the Fair Housing Act, the Air Carrier Access Act, getting an emotional support animal letter, and more.
Do You Qualify for an ESA Letter in Florida?
Many people can benefit from having an ESA. Whether you live with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or another debilitating mental illness, the comfort and security an ESA brings can’t be understated.
But how do you know if you qualify for an ESA letter in Florida?
Updates to federal and state laws require that people with emotional support animals visit a mental health professional and show that their mental illness has a substantial impact on their daily lives. Your mental illness must also be something within the DSM-V, which mental health professionals use for diagnoses.
People who qualify require emotional support animals for treatment of:
- Severe phobias
- Panic attacks
- Gender issues
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Sexual disorders
Your first step and best option are to talk to your mental health professional. Discuss the possibility of having an ESA, and why you believe it may benefit your treatment. The final say is up to them, but having the discussion will open up the possibility of ultimately getting an ESA letter.
Remember, though, an ESA may not strictly be a pet, but it is still an animal in your care. Understand the responsibility, both emotional and financial, that comes with having an animal. You may not pay fees to a condo association, but you’ll still have to buy food and pay for vet care.
Continued Visits with a Mental Health Professional
New guidelines in Florida state that therapists and licensed mental health professionals can only provide an ESA letter if they have personal knowledge of their client’s mental disability and have an “active therapeutic relationship.”
This means you’ll likely have to continue to go to therapy, and you need multiple visits for a proper diagnosis. Most online clinics that can provide this have updated their requirements and standards to reflect that change, but make sure you check it before you start your journey to an emotional support animal online.
Emotional Support Animal Laws in Florida That You Need to Know
Once you know you qualify to have an emotional support animal, you should know some of the important national and state laws before you get your letter. These laws let you know what you can and can’t do with your emotional support animal.
Emotional Support Animals are NOT Covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act
The most important thing to remember, which is true across the nation, is that the ADA – which covers trained service animals in public accommodations such as restaurants – does NOT cover emotional support animals. Service dogs and similarly trained animals have been specifically trained to perform certain acts for their owners, and said owners are usually physically unable to do specific tasks without them.
As such, while housing and condominium associations may allow your ESA to live with you without being subject to pet policies, public areas are not legally obligated to allow you and your ESA inside.
The Fair Housing Act DOES Cover Your Emotional Support Animal – To an Extent
The Fair Housing Act, which covers this in its scope, recently updated the requirements to issue an emotional support animal letter. A licensed mental health professional can only issue an ESA letter with “personal client knowledge” of their client’s disability and active commitment to therapy or counseling. Essentially, you need to attend multiple sessions.
If you are actively looking for a new place to live, or simply have a real estate agent on speed dial to discuss options, talk to your real estate agent about your emotional support animal. They likely have experience settling into a new place and getting any paperwork or forms sorted once you provide your ESA letter. Don’t let the details bog you down!
The Fair Housing Act also typically means that landlords and condo associations cannot charge your ESA’s pet fees. They are not subject to the same rules. However, there are exceptions, and landlords can object on certain grounds.
Be sure to check with your real estate agent if you’re moving and review your condo association’s rules and regulations.
The Air Carrier Access Act Covers Travel, With Stipulations
The ACAA is another federal regulation that allows both service animals and emotional support animals on flights. You’ll need legal documentation, like your legitimate emotional support animal letter. Individual airlines may have their unique requirements, but your ESA letter, signed by a licensed mental health professional, is the most important thing.
You must also provide your valid letter to the airline at least 48 hours before your departure. This ensures they can get everything processed, and also assign you the proper seats. Most emotional support animals are allowed to sit in your lap for your flight duration, as long as they are on a leash.
Some other things airlines may ask for include:
- Additional forms
- Added doctor’s note
- A guarantee of behavior form
- Veterinary documentation
Some airlines also have size limits due to the aircraft’s capacity, so make sure you discuss it well in advance! However, you will not be charged a fee for your emotional support animal.
Other Rules And Coverage You Should Know
- ESAs are not required to be specially trained in Florida, which is why they are not considered the same as service dogs. However, some basic behavior training is never a bad idea! This is especially true in traveling situations, and can also help deal with condominium associations or homeowners associations.
- Misrepresenting pets as emotional support animals, service animals, and providing a fake document now qualifies as a misdemeanor crime in Florida, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Be sure to obtain your letter from legal sources, and only if you qualify.
- Emotional support animals are not covered in workplace laws, so even a valid ESA letter may not be enough. However, employers may allow them in the workplace at their discretion. Talk to your HR department to see if they’ll allow your emotional support animal in after you give them a copy of your ESA letter or a discussion with a mental health professional.
Florida’s recent crackdown on fraudulent ESA letters includes the following:
- Updates to the Fair Housing Act are in full effect
- Emotional support animal “registration” products like patches, vests, etc., do not make an animal into an ESA.
- Licensed mental health professionals need to have personal knowledge of a client’s mental disability and be actively counseling or treating them
- Out-of-state mental health clinicians must have provided in-person care
- Emotional instability must have some significant impact on the life of the client seeking an ESA
How to Get an ESA Letter in Florida: A Step-by-Step Guide
So now that you know the rules and requirements, and you believe you may qualify for an emotional support animal letter, what do you need to do to get your ESA letter?
The tricky part is avoiding the scam websites where you can buy an ESA letter without contacting a licensed mental health professional. Unfortunately, these sites are very common, and it may be challenging to determine a true mental health clinic from a phony certificate provider. We’re here to help you navigate it!
Remember that emotional support animals are not service animals. They may not be subject to condo associations’ rules, but they are also not legally allowed in spaces to the same extent as a trained service dog. Know the rights that having an emotional support animal gives you before you start your journey towards getting a letter!
Step One: Visit a Licensed Mental Health Care Provider
The world has evolved, and many providers can make telehealth appointments for those who can’t go out. However, it’s always good to see a therapist in person if you can. Establishing a relationship with a mental health care provider is the first step to qualifying for an emotional support animal.
Remember to verify with your therapist, whether you have an established relationship or not, that they are individually licensed by the state of Florida to issue ESA letters. In particular, condo associations are likely to dig deeper into the validity of your letter if you find that they’re legally allowed to and are willing to, onto step two!
Step Two: Determine Eligibility
With your therapist’s guidance and knowledge, you’ll need to determine your actual eligibility for an emotional support animal in Florida. A common list of disorders treated by emotional support animals was listed above, but what else do you need to be eligible, and what does your letter need to be valid?
- Your mental disability must be in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V)
- Your mental disability must significantly impact your life
- The recommendation and signature of your therapist on their official letterhead
- The issue date and license details of your therapist
If your therapist determines that you are eligible and can create your letter, the next step will be receiving the prescription. Registering your animal on state and national database is not required or necessary, but can provide real time information about legal changes.
Step Three: Receive Your Letter
Letters are typically good for a year, and charges may vary to “renew” it for airlines. Organizations that ask for astronomical fees may not be legitimate, so be careful before you pay. Research wisely, and remember to keep rules and laws in mind!
The process seems long and convoluted, but it’s ultimately for your protection. Now that you understand the regulations, rights, and requirements for emotional support animals, your next step is to reach out to a licensed professional to get started.
If you’re still lost, don’t worry. Our ESA Registration team can help you navigate these laws and decide whether registering an ESA is right for you. Contact us today to learn more about what we offer!
US Service Animals – https://usserviceanimals.org/blog/emotional-support-animal-laws-in-florida/