esa cat on blanket

Understanding Maryland ESA Laws and Rules

If you’re a resident of the Old Line State and you’ve got an ESA by your side, understanding the local laws and regulations can be overwhelming. But not only does it ensure that your furry, feathered, or even scaly friend can stay by your side in Maryland, but it also keeps you out of legal hot water.

Maryland’s approach to ESAs is unique, blending federal guidelines with state-specific rules to create a comprehensive framework. Whether you’re wondering about your rights in housing, public spaces, or employment, getting a clear picture of these laws will make your life—and your ESA’s—a whole lot easier. 

Protections Under Maryland ESA Laws

Housing Rights for ESA Owners

Under Maryland law, you enjoy specific protections when it comes to housing with your emotional support animal (ESA). Your ESA is allowed to live with you in most types of housing due to the Fair Housing Act, which Maryland adheres to. This act requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for you and your ESA, even in buildings that generally prohibit pets.

Landlords can ask for documentation from a licensed mental health professional which certifies that you need your ESA as part of your treatment plan. However, they cannot demand detailed medical records or a specific diagnosis. If a landlord believes an ESA poses a direct threat to the safety or health of others, or would cause substantial physical damage to the property, they may deny accommodation. They must base such decisions on tangible evidence of a specific animal’s conduct, not on breed or size stereotypes.

Access to Public Spaces and Transportation

Navigating public spaces and transportation with your emotional support animal in Maryland can be more challenging compared to service animals. ESAs do not have the same broad legal rights to access public areas as service animals do. For instance, restaurants, stores, and most other public venues can legally deny access to an ESA.

However, when it comes to public transportation, regulations can vary. Local transit authorities may have their own policies regarding ESAs. It’s essential to check with them before you plan your travel. In most cases, if your ESA is well-behaved and you can provide the appropriate documentation proving your ESA’s role in your treatment, transit officials are more likely to allow access.

Navigating Complexities in ESA Regulations

In Maryland, ESA owners often find themselves in a maze of legal standards. They must navigate not only state-specific mandates but also integration with federal laws. Primarily, confusion arises distinguishing between ESAs and service animals — a critical point as rights and regulations differ significantly for each. If your ESA is perceived as a nuisance or threat, landlords and other entities can legally deny access. While ESAs are granted housing rights under the Fair Housing Act, public spaces pose more of a challenge because these animals do not enjoy the same rights as service animals. For instance, ESAs are generally not allowed in restaurants, shopping centers, or on certain forms of public transportation, which can significantly limit your daily activities.

To certify your ESA in Maryland, securing documentation from a licensed mental health professional is essential. This documentation must confirm that the ESA is part of your treatment plan and that you have a diagnosed disability that benefits from the animal’s support. This isn’t a one-time process; updates might be needed to maintain the validity of your ESA’s status, especially if you’re moving or traveling to different jurisdictions. Certifying your ESA properly ensures that you can leverage the Fair Housing Act’s protections, potentially avoiding complications with landlords and housing boards. If you’re considering certifying your ESA, it’s advisable to consult with a professional who understands Maryland’s specific requirements and can guide you through the process seamlessly.

Legal Precedents Affecting Maryland ESA Rules

Legal precedents play a pivotal role in shaping Maryland’s ESA (Emotional Support Animal) rules. Cases decided by courts often redefine or clarify existing statutes, influencing how emotional support animal laws are applied within the state.

One significant case is Tracey v. Solesky (2012), which, though primarily focused on breed-specific legislation, indirectly affected ESA regulations by highlighting the liability issues landlords face when accommodating animals under Maryland law. The court ruled that landlords could be held liable if they allowed “inherently dangerous” animals on their properties. This case has made landlords more cautious about accepting tenants with ESAs that might be perceived as dangerous, altering the landscape of ESA accommodations.

Another impactful case is Fair Housing of the Dakotas, Inc. v. Goldmark Property Management, Inc. (2013). While this case is not specific to Maryland, the principles it established are relevant. The court found that requiring additional deposits for ESAs violated the Fair Housing Act. This precedent ensures that Maryland residents cannot be charged extra fees for having ESAs, upholding their rights under federal law.

Resources and Support for ESA Owners in Maryland

Maryland offers several avenues for assistance, ensuring you and your ESA can enjoy a safe and accommodating environment.

Online Communities and Forums

Engage with online platforms such as Maryland ESA Support Forums, where users share experiences and offer advice on managing life with an ESA in Maryland. These forums often feature sections dedicated to legal advice, housing options, and emotional support.

State-Sponsored Support Services

Maryland’s Department of Health provides links to mental health services, which include support for individuals with ESAs. They guide on certification processes and connect you with licensed professionals who can validate your need for an ESA.

Legal Assistance Programs

Several non-profit organizations in Maryland offer legal counseling specifically for ESA owners. These services can help you understand your rights under the Fair Housing Act and the specific state laws in Maryland. They can also assist in cases where your rights have been challenged.

Veterinary and Behavioral Specialists

Maintaining your ESA’s health is key. Maryland hosts a network of veterinary services that are familiar with ESAs and their roles in mental health. Behavioral specialists are also available to help address any challenges that might arise with your ESA’s behavior, ensuring they remain a positive presence in your life.


Navigating Maryland’s ESA laws requires a clear understanding of your rights and responsibilities. With the proper documentation and knowledge of the distinctions between ESAs and service animals you’re well-equipped to advocate for yourself and your emotional support animal. Remember the wealth of resources available—from online communities to state-sponsored programs—that can provide support and guidance.