Who Can I Talk to for ESA Legal Advice?2020-04-21
So, you've thought of getting an emotional support animal (ESA). Emotional support animals are for people suffering from mental illness or emotional distress. It's important to know the legal process and rights surrounding your therapy animal. They provide different aid than service animals, however they have their own rights and set of laws that protect them.
To qualify for an ESA, first you'll need a qualifying letter from a licensed mental healthcare provider. Some examples are a psychologist, psychiatrist, nurse practitioner, social worker or counselor. This letter is crucial in order to receive legal protection that surrounds ESA's.
Emotional support animals are different from pets and receive certain rights. They have the right to travel with their owners in airplane cabins. They can accompany their owners in housing, even if the building has a no-pet policy. The Fair Housing Act and the Air Carriers Access Act protects these rights.
However, there are a lot of stigmas surrounding mental illness. That's why it's important to make yourself aware of ESA laws and who handles them. That way, you'll know what to do and where to turn if you encounter discrimination.
Are there people who work specifically with ESA Law?
ESA's provide emotional assistance differently than pets or service animals. They give people the chance to travel and enjoy housing with the same ease that non-disabled people can. ESAs help with illnesses that are mental, not physical, which is why there is more room for discrimination given the lack of visual cues.
Thankfully, there are certain ESA laws to protect you in those situations. Since they provide comfort instead of service, ESAs aren't allowed everywhere. ESAs may not be welcome in movie theatres, cafes, shops, or other non-essential locations. They receive legal protection in two areas: housing and travel.
Fair Housing Act rules allow people with mental and emotional disabilities to have their ESAs at home. This gives them equal opportunity to enjoy their living situation. An emotional support animal can be used to soothe anxiety, phobias, or depression. Many people have found tremendous therapeutic benefits from the companionship of an ESA in the home.
Airlines and landlords cannot discriminate against an ESA because of their breed. They also can't charge you extra fees for accommodation. However, it is possible that very large ESA’s or ESA’s that are exotic animals can be banned from certain locations.
If you run into any discrimination regarding your emotional support animal, there are two departments you can contact for help:
1. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Housing providers may not deny a reasonable request for an ESA because they are unsure of the validity of the owner's disability. This is a violation of the Fair Housing Act. We'll go more into specifics of the Fair Housing Act below.
If you have encountered any legal issues or discrimination regarding housing and your ESA, please contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
They can be reached by phone (1-800-669-9777) or you can go online to file a complaint. Please note that it might not be considered a reasonable request to have an exotic or potentially dangerous animal as an ESA.
2. Department of Transportation
Airlines are not permitted to change any stipulations around ESA travel policies or charge you extra fees for your ESA to fly in the airline cabin. This is a violation of the Air Carriers Access Act. Still, they can ask for documentation from a veterinarian and have a traveler sign a waiver explaining that the ESA has been properly trained.
If you have encountered any legal issues or discrimination regarding airline travel with your ESA, please contact the U.S. Department of Transportation.
They can be reached by phone (202-366-2220), or you can go online to file a complaint.
Where do I go to find out about laws surrounding ESA's?
To find out more about ESAs as protected by federal law, you should become familiar with The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and The Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) :
The Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act restricts discriminatory behavior in housing, such as:
- Landlords may not impose breed, weight, and size restrictions on ESAs.
- Landlords may not charge extra fees or deposits related to ESAs.
- Landlords may not request additional medical information outside of your qualifying letter.
- Landlords may not ask to contact the health provider that issued your ESA letter.
- Landlords may deny an ESA if it would impose a major financial burden or if they believe the ESA poses a threat to the health and safety of other tenants in the building.
The Air Carriers Access Act
The Air Carriers Access Act places these regulations around airport behavior and ESA travel:
- The airline may not charge extra fees for your Emotional Support Animal (ESA)
- The airline cannot place their own restrictions on weight and breeds of ESA dogs, cats, or miniature horses.
- The airline may require you to contact them at least 48 hours before your flight to make sure all of the necessary forms are submitted.
- The airline may request forms from your veterinarian about your ESAs health.
- Airlines are permitted to deny exotic or unusual animals such as snakes, spiders, rodents, etc.
Obtaining Legal Protection
In order to receive legal protections from the laws stated above, it is important that you get a valid, Emotional Support Animal qualification letter from a licensed therapist. The letter must state that you receive therapeutic benefits from an ESA.
You must schedule an assessment with a valid licensed mental health care professional to receive your ESA letter. This can be done in person or via an online consultation. It is important to first check that the state you reside allows for an online consultation.
You can find more information and advice on ESA law through online research, or by visiting The ESA Registration of America's website.
If you're considering the therapeutic benefits of an emotional support animal, it's important to become familiar with the legal process surrounding ESAs.
First, obtain a qualifying ESA letter from a licensed mental health care professional. Once you've done that, familiarize yourself with ESA laws such as the Fair Housing Act and Air Carriers Access Act.
Although ESAs receive fewer freedoms than service animals, they still qualify for protection in housing and air travel. If you are seeking advice or have been subject to discriminatory behavior, contact the United States Department of Housing and the United States Department of Transportation. You can contact both departments by phone or file a complaint online.
ESA Registration of American Blog
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- The Difference Between Emotion Support and Therapy Animals: FAQs
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