How to Get an ESA Letter in Michigan: A Complete Guide2022-10-08
Getting an ESA letter in Michigan is the first step to ensuring you can bring your emotional support animal into places that might not otherwise allow pets. However, obtaining the letter is often a daunting task. It is especially true if you don’t know where to start.
In this guide, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about getting an ESA letter in Michigan, including who can write one, what it needs to include, benefits, the laws for ESAs, and what steps to take. By the end, you’ll be ready to start the process!
Do You Qualify for an ESA Letter in Michigan?
The first step in getting an emotional support animal (ESA) letter is determining if you qualify. To qualify, you must have a mental or emotional disability recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
This manual helps mental health professionals diagnose mental disorders. It's updated regularly and managed by hundreds of licensed experts in all fields of mental health. The comprehensive manual defines mental health disorders to support the process of diagnosis, treatment, and mental health research.
Certain medical conditions outlined in the DSM could qualify someone for an ESA letter, including:
- Anxiety Disorder is characterized by fear, nervousness, or worry that's severe enough to interfere with day-to-day activities. Anxiety can make it challenging to complete daily tasks, presenting high levels of distress.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder characterized by problems paying attention, excessive activity, or impulsiveness that's inappropriate for a person's age.
- PTSD is a condition that can develop after someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. Events can vary from a natural disaster to a car accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or violent personal assault. PTSD patients often struggle with flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) leads to symptoms in which intrusive, compulsive thoughts make someone fearful or uneasy.
- Depression is a mental disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest. Depression may also include low energy levels, a loss of appetite, trouble focusing, and insomnia.
If you have any of the above conditions, you may qualify for an ESA letter.
Suppose you have a mental or emotional disability that the DSM does not recognize. In that case, you may still be able to get an ESA letter if your disability causes significant impairment in one or more major life activities. Examples of major life activities include, but are not limited to, sleeping, eating, walking, talking, and learning.
Whether your mental health disorder is in the DSM or not, you'll need to make an appointment with a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker, for an in-depth evaluation. If you receive a diagnosis and the medical professional believes an emotional support animal would benefit you, that's when you know you qualify.
Your medical professional will write your ESA letter, allowing you to bring your support animal into certain public places and rental homes, even if the landlord has a no-pet policy.
Who Can Write an ESA Letter in Michigan?
The only way to get an ESA letter is by visiting a licensed mental health professional. A psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker has the authority to determine whether you qualify.
The professional must have experience diagnosing and treating mental disorders. They’ll need to write a detailed letter that outlines how having an emotional support animal would help you cope with your disability.
What if you don't have a mental health professional with whom you have an established patient relationship and see regularly? Visit your primary care physician for a referral to a mental health professional. However, know that not all doctors are familiar with emotional support animals or the process of writing an ESA letter.
What's Inside a Michigan ESA Letter?
A legitimate ESA letter should always be on the mental health professional's letterhead to show its validity. It should include the following information:
- The date when the LMHP wrote the letter
- The type of license the mental health professional has (should be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker) with their credentials listed
- The name, address, and phone number of the mental health professional
- A statement that the patient is currently under the care of the professional for their mental health condition
- The type of animal prescribed (an ESA may be a domesticated animal, including a dog, cat, or bird)
- The date when the therapeutic relationship began between the patient and medical professional
- A statement saying that in the opinion of the professional, the patient would benefit from having an emotional support animal and the specific reasons why
While letters and their structures may vary, including these critical points in your ESA letter will make it easier for landlords, travel agencies, or businesses to read and understand.
Providing as much information as possible removes any doubt about why you need an ESA, whether your doctor relationship is legitimate, and what role the animal serves.
Benefits of Getting an ESA Letter in Michigan
There are a few key benefits that come along with having an emotional support animal.
The Emotional Support Benefits of an ESA
First and foremost, an ESA provides companionship and helps reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation. They can also help ease anxiety and provide comfort in times of stress.
In some cases, an emotional support animal may also provide practical assistance, such as fetching things or providing stability when walking. However, not all emotional support animals have the training to do this, and it's not a requirement.
Access to Pet-Free Housing
As for the more technical and legal benefits, an ESA letter allows you to bring your animal into your home, even if the landlord has a no-pets policy.
Allowed on Flights and in Public Establishments
In some situations, the letter also allows you to fly with your emotional support animal in the cabin of an airplane as long as they sit at your feet without obstructing other passenger seats or the aisle. However, bringing the animal into the airplane cabin limits ESAs on planes to smaller dogs like petite dogs and cats.
Note that since the Department of Transportation made a significant change to the Air Carrier Access Act in 2020, airlines are not legally required to allow your ESA. However, many airlines have policies that will allow ESAs on flights.
Some businesses may also allow you to bring your ESA inside, but they are not legally required to do so.
Emotional Support Animals Laws in Michigan
While some laws are in place to protect the rights of people with emotional support animals, a few laws aim to prevent abuse of the system.
Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that prevents landlords from discriminating against tenants with disabilities, including those who require an emotional support animal.
With this law in place, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to you solely because you have an emotional support animal. Even if they typically keep a no-pet policy, they can't deny your support animal access to your space. They also cannot charge you a pet deposit or fee for having an ESA.
Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act is a federal law that requires airlines to accommodate passengers with disabilities, including those who travel with a service animal. Until 2020, this law stated that airlines couldn’t charge a fee for passengers traveling with an emotional support animal, as long as the passenger has a valid ESA letter.
However, a 2020 update to this law no longer recognized emotional support animals as service animals, so the protections no longer apply to ESAs.
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including at work. This law does not explicitly mention emotional support animals, but some courts have ruled that it applies to them.
How to Get an ESA Letter in Michigan: A Step-by-Step Guide
Getting an ESA letter in Michigan doesn't have to be a confusing or lengthy process. By following the steps below, you'll find out if you qualify for an ESA and receive your ESA letter so you can start taking advantage of the many benefits it provides:
Meet with a Mental Health Professional
If you think you could benefit from having an emotional support animal, the first step is to consult with a mental health professional.
A suitable LMHP may be a psychologist, therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist. They'll assess your needs and determine whether or not an emotional support animal would benefit you.
Receive a Diagnosis
Suppose your mental health professional diagnoses you with a mental health condition recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or bipolar disorder. In that case, you're on track to getting your ESA letter.
Receive ESA Letter
If they determine that an ESA would be helpful for you, they'll write an ESA letter that outlines your need for an emotional support animal. Use this letter to prove your status as an ESA owner to landlords, airlines, and businesses.
Double Check for Validity
There are a few things to know about getting an ESA letter. First, a mental health professional licensed in the state of Michigan must be the one to write the letter.
Second, the letter must be on their official letterhead and include their license number. Finally, the letter must be dated within the last year.
Take Advantage of ESA Benefits
Once you have your ESA letter, you'll enjoy all the benefits of owning an emotional support animal. These benefits include living with them in pet-free housing without paying a fee and flying with them free of charge as long as they can fit beneath the seat in front of you.
Wrapping Up: Joining the Ranks of Other ESAs in Michigan
Emotional support animals are a great way to improve your quality of life if you suffer from a mental health condition. If you think an emotional support animal could help you, reach out to a mental health professional today to get started on the process of getting an ESA letter in Michigan.
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