ESA letters, or Emotional Support Animal letters, are becoming more common in the United States as more people realize the benefits of emotional support animals.
Obtaining an ESA letter may seem like a significant hurdle, but it’s a relatively accessible process. More important than the paperwork involved is your mental health and ensuring you have the support and companionship that ESAs provide.
This guide will discuss everything you need to know about ESA letters in Georgia, including who qualifies for one, who can write it, and what the letter contains. We also cover the benefits of having an emotional support animal letter and provide a step-by-step guide on how to get your ESA letter in Georgia.
Do You Qualify for an ESA Letter in Georgia?
To qualify for an ESA letter in Georgia, you must first be diagnosed with a mental or emotional disability by a licensed mental health professional. This professional must then determine that your disability significantly impairs your ability to live or work and that having an animal for emotional support would improve your condition.
Some examples of a mental or emotional disorder include:
- Bipolar disorder
- And more
You may qualify for an ESA letter if you have one of these conditions. They are typically valid for one year, after which you’ll need to get them renewed.
Who Can Write an ESA Letter in Georgia?
To be considered a legitimate ESA letter, it must be written by a licensed mental health professional. The LMHP could be a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, or any other type of mental health professional licensed in Georgia.
You won’t be able to get a letter from a doctor licensed in another state. If you already have a letter from a doctor elsewhere and have moved, you’ll be responsible for finding another doctor to verify your emotional support animal in Georgia.
Most people with qualifying mental health conditions already see a licensed mental health professional, so they may ask them during one of their appointments if they think an ESA would be beneficial. Others may have to seek out a doctor specifically for this reason.
Both options are allowed.
What’s Inside a Georgia ESA Letter?
ESA letters must include specific information to be considered valid, including:
- The name, address, and phone number of the licensed mental health professional who wrote the letter
- The date that the letter was written
- The type of license the mental health professional has
- Your name and address
- A statement from the mental health professional verifying that you have a qualifying mental or emotional disorder and that they are prescribing an emotional support animal as part of your treatment plan
Other things you may find in an emotional support animal letter, but aren’t required, include:
- The type of ESA you have
- Their name
- A photo of you and your ESA
Many people don’t have an ESA when they ask their doctor to write a letter, so this information isn’t required. However, if you already have a pet that will become your emotional support animal once your doctor writes the letter, this can be helpful to include.
Benefits of Getting an ESA Letter in Georgia
ESA letters offer a wide range of benefits to those who have them, improving the quality of life for those who have them—at home, while traveling, and on the go.
With your letter, you may be able to fly with your emotional support animal in the cabin of an airplane. The details on this are specific to each airline, following the TSA’s announcement that allowing emotional support animals was the airline’s decision.
With an ESA, you can live in a no-pets-allowed housing unit with your ESA.
You can often bring your emotional support animal into places where pets aren’t typically allowed, such as restaurants, stores, and hotels. The establishment’s owner may ask you about the animal’s status, and an ESA letter can quickly resolve these situations.
Emotional Support Animals Laws in Georgia
ESA laws in Georgia follow both federal and state laws. It’s essential to follow these guidelines carefully and know the rights you are entitled to because of them.
The Fair Housing Act states landlords must make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, including allowing them to live with an ESA.
In most cases, if you have an ESA letter, your landlord cannot refuse to allow you to live with your emotional support animal. They also cannot charge you more to have the ESA live on the property with you.
The relevant state guideline in Georgia is the state’s Service Animal laws, which define service animals and require businesses to allow access to all areas open to the public.
This law does not recognize emotional support animals as service animals. Still, some public places will honor the laws for ESAs as long as they aren’t disruptive or pose a threat to anyone in the area.
Another legal guideline you’ll need to follow is the Americans with Disabilities Act, similar to Georgia’s state laws on service animals but at the federal level.
This law requires businesses to allow service animals in all business areas open to the public. Again, this law does not categorize emotional support animals the same as service animals but offers guidelines for people with disabilities.
Getting an ESA Letter in Georgia: A Step-by-step Guide
Getting a letter in Georgia is relatively simple. You can complete the steps below in person or virtually.
Step 1: Find a Qualified Mental Health Professional
To get an ESA letter, you’ll need to see a mental health professional who can verify that you have a qualifying mental or emotional disorder and that they are prescribing an emotional support animal as part of your treatment plan. You can find a qualified mental health professional in Georgia by looking in the phone book or asking your primary care doctor for a referral.
You can also find online services, like the ESA Registration of America. Virtual services help move the process along by connecting you with a network of licensed medical providers in your state.
Step 2: Make an Appointment With a Mental Health Professional
Once you’ve found a qualified mental health professional, you’ll need to make an appointment for an evaluation. This evaluation will help the mental health professional determine whether or not you qualify for an ESA letter.
If you already have a mental health professional that you see regularly, you may not need to schedule an additional appointment just for this purpose. If that’s the case, try calling your doctor or bringing up the emotional support animal at your next appointment. They should have enough information about you and your mental health condition at this point to make a decision.
Again, the evaluation can also take place online, using telehealth services, or you can go in person to see your Georgia LMHP.
Step 3: Discuss Your Mental Health With a Mental Health Professional
During your evaluation, discuss your mental health history and any symptoms you’ve been experiencing.
It’s essential to be as honest as possible so the mental health professional can get a clear picture of your mental health and determine whether an ESA would benefit you.
Talk about the ways you’re struggling the most and how you think an emotional support animal would be able to make things easier. If they can see how having a dog or cat around would bring down your anxiety and eliminate panic attacks that keep you from going to work, for example, it could help them explain why an ESA would benefit you.
Step 4: Get Your ESA Letter
If the mental health professional determines that you would benefit from an ESA, they will write you a letter prescribing an emotional support animal. This letter should be on the mental health professional’s letterhead and include their contact information, your name, and the date they wrote the letter.
It should include all of the pertinent information listed above. If you already have an ESA, they may also like to include information such as the type of animal, the animal’s name, and a photo of you and the animal for easy identification.
Step 5: Keep Your Esa Letter With You at All Times
Once you have your ESA letter, be sure to keep it with you at all times. You’ll need to show it to your landlord or property manager when you move in, and you may need to show it to businesses when you’re out and about with your ESA.
It’s wise to either keep your letter folded up in your wallet or a photo-copied version of the letter. Another option would be to digitize the letter and ensure it’s easy to pull up on your phone whenever you need it.
Step 6: Renew Your ESA Letter as Needed
ESA letters typically last for one year, after which you’ll need to renew your ESA letter. Renewal means seeing the mental health professional again and having them write you a new letter.
It’s best to keep track of when your ESA letter expires so you can renew it promptly. If not, you could face some unwelcome consequences.
For example, suppose you let the ESA lapse, and your landlord is a stickler for rules. They could request that you remove the animal from their property until you have a new ESA letter that permits them to stay there.
Avoid the unnecessary hassle by setting a reminder about a month before your ESA letter expires so you can begin working on getting another.
The Impact of an ESA Letter in Georgia
An ESA letter in hand lets you enjoy all the benefits of having an emotional support animal in Georgia. From improved mental health to increased independence, an ESA can make a world of difference in your life.
If you think an ESA could be right for you, don’t hesitate to contact ESA Registration of America. Let us connect you with a mental health professional in Georgia and streamline the process of getting the ESA letter.