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Emotional Support Animal Letters – Q&A

What is an emotional support animal (also called “assistance animal”)?

An emotional support animal is not a pet. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. The animal is viewed as a “reasonable accommodation” under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. An emotional support animal (ESA) can bring much-needed comfort to individuals with mental health disorders. To qualify for an ESA a licensed medical health professional must attest in an ESA letter that their patient benefits from having an ESA.

Fair Housing Act Emotional Support Animal: Section 504

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are animals that are specially designated for people suffering from mental or emotional disorders like anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD. They differ from trained service animals whose task is to help a disabled person with his or her day-to-day activities. Emotional support animals are not trained and are there just to provide a close, emotional, and supportive bond with their owner and to alleviate their mental and emotional disorders with sheer love and affection. Fair Housing Act for emotional support animals allows you to live with your pet hassle-free. All you need is an ESA letter for housing and you can experience living with an ESA without paying any extra charges.

How do I prove my emotional support dog?

The only proof you need is the ESA letter written by a licensed mental health professional stating your need for an emotional support dog. To be clear, if you do obtain an ESA letter, you are also not required to “register” your dog on any website.

What is the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal?

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. These tasks can include things like pulling a wheelchair, guiding a person who is visually impaired, alerting a person who is having a seizure, or even calming a person who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The tasks a service dog can perform are not limited to this list. However, the work or task a service dog does must be directly related to the person’s disability. Service dogs may accompany persons with disabilities into places that the public normally goes.

An emotional support animal is an animal (typically a dog or cat though this can include other species) that provides a therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship. The animal provides emotional support and comfort to individuals with psychiatric disabilities and other mental impairments. The animal is not specifically trained to perform tasks for a person who suffers from emotional disabilities. Unlike a service animal, an emotional support animal is not granted access to places of public accommodation. Under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), an emotional support animal is viewed as a “reasonable accommodation” in a housing unit that has a “no pets” rule for its residents.

Can animals besides cats and dogs act as emotional support animals/assistance animals?

Yes, an assistance animal is not limited to a cat or dog. HUD specifically states that “While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals.” A wild or exotic animal that poses a greater risk of attack or disease to other residents could be denied based on this individualized assessment. It should be noted that a case in 2015 considered the use of a miniature horse as an assistance animal under the FHA and a case in 2012 dealt with a guinea pig as an assistance animal.

Does an emotional support animal need specialized training? HUD defines an emotional support animal as an animal that “provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. These animals do not need specialized training. While training is not required for an assistance animal, one court has stated that an assistance animal must facilitate the disabled person’s ability to function.

Does the Fair Housing Act (FHA) apply to all housing?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) does apply to almost all housing types including those for sale or rent. This includes apartments, condominiums, and single-family homes.

Link to Florida Laws and Rules related to housing: https://www.legalteamusa.net/new-florida-law-sb-1084-on-emotional-support-animals-in-housing-effective-july-1/

What documentation do I need to provide to have an emotional support animal/assistance animal?

If a person needs an emotional support animal to help alleviate the symptoms of a disability, he or she must first make the request to his or her landlord. HUD states the following in its FHEO Notice: “Housing providers may ask individuals who have disabilities that are not readily apparent or known to the provider to submit reliable documentation of a disability and their disability-related need for an assistance animal.” Your ESA letter will provide all the necessary documentation. According to HUD, a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional can provide documentation that the animal provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of an existing disability.

Can a landlord or housing provider ask details about my disability?

While a landlord or housing provider may ask for documentation of the disability-related need for the assistance animal, he or she may NOT ask for personal medical details. HUD states that a housing provider “may not ask an applicant or tenant to provide access to medical records or medical providers or provide detailed or extensive information or documentation of a person’s physical or mental impairments.”

What other areas of my housing complex can I take my emotional support animal/assistance animal? HUD indicates that an assistance animal is allowed “in all areas of the premises where persons are normally allowed to go.

Can a landlord or housing provider ban my emotional support animal/assistance animal based on breed?

According to HUD, “breed, size, and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal.” Instead, a housing provider may only determine if the specific assistance animal in question poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. For example, if a dog has been previously declared a dangerous dog, this may indicate that the dog poses a direct threat in an individualized assessment. However, breed alone will not result in this determination