What are your legal protections and rights?

The Americans with Disabilities Act does not have legal protections for emotional support animals (ESAs) or comfort animals, as they are not specially trained to assist physical disabilities. Your pet helps alleviate depression or anxiety and relieve loneliness to improve emotional and social functioning. There is no law that permits ESAs to access public places, so there are no legal protections or rights for taking your pet where dogs are not allowed.

The Air Carrier Access Act 49 U.S.C. 41705, Dept. of Transportation (Title 14 C.F.R. Part 382) and Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAct) of 1988 are the laws that protect an emotionally disabled person and his/her ESA.

The legal protections an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) has are to:

1. Fly with its emotionally or psychologically disabled handler in the cabin of an aircraft without being the handler being charged a pet fee.
2. Qualify for no-pet housing (that also includes limited size, breed, or species housing) without the handler being charged a pet fee.

No other public or private entity (motels, restaurants, stores, trains, taxis, buses, theaters, parks, beaches, libraries, zoos, etc.) is required to allow your ESA to accompany you. In all other instances, your ESA has no more rights than a pet. That doesn’t mean these places won’t let you, it just means that they are not legally required to accommodate your pet.

Housing Rights with your Emotional Support Animal

Your emotional support animal is an important residential companion to alleviate the symptoms of your disability. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) can provide some legal protections and rights to ensure your ESA continues to provide therapeutic benefit for your emotional disability, particularly as an apartment renter.

There are some exclusions and limitations to your rights under the law, so be sure to check the documentation for your situation. For example, the law applies to almost all housing types, unless the building has fewer than 5 units, with the landlord living in one, as well as other membership-occupancy organization exclusions. If your housing community, condo or apartment has a “no pet” restriction, the landlord must comply with the FHA, allowing you to be accompanied by your pet, without any additional pet deposit or fees.

In order for your housing provider to consider reasonable accommodation for your emotional support animal, you must make the request in writing to your landlord. They also have a right to ask:

  1. Do you have a mental impairment or disability that substantially limits any major life activity?
  2. Does your disability or disorder require emotional support to alleviate the effects of that disability?

If the answer is “yes”, the FHA requires your housing provider to make an exception to a “no pets” rule.

Your landlord has the right to request reliable documentation of your disability-related need for an emotional support animal from a psychiatrist or mental health professional.

Your landlord does not have the right to ask for medical details or records.

You have the right to take your animal in all housing areas where you are normally allowed to go, unless it alters or burdens services. This means common tenant areas, but does not include public areas.

The FHA provides for legal protection against animal quantity, size and breed discrimination, provided that your pet is not a threat to health or safety of others. It is best to have well-trained pet(s) for your protection and the protection of others. It is also your responsibility to clean up after your pet, or pay for excessive wear and tear as any other tenant.

For more information on emotional support animals, visit our Emotional Support Letter FAQ, or purchase your ESA Letter for Housing from our clinical psychologist.

Transportation Rights for your Emotional Support Animal

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities. Some of the legal protections provided by this act include:

  • Airlines may not refuse transportation to people with disabilities. If a person is excluded from a flight for safety reasons, the carrier must provide written explanation of the decision.
  • Airlines may not require advance notice that a person with a disability is traveling, however, may require 48 hours notice for reasonable accommodations (wheelchairs, respirators, etc.).
  • Airlines may not require a disabled person to be accompanied by another person. There are some exceptions to this rule.
  • Airlines may not assign seat based on disability, except in exit row seating situations that require functioning of emergency evacuation procedures.
  • Newer aircraft must have accessible seating and lavatories, including priority space for in-cabin wheelchair storage (depending on the seating capacity of the aircraft).
  • Airlines are required to provide assistance with boarding, deplaning and in-cabin.
  • Assistive devices must be FAA compliant, but do not count against any carry-on baggage number of pieces. (Batteries for wheelchairs must be packaged in airline-provided hazardous material packaging.)
  • Carriers may not ask about your disability.
  • Carriers may require documentation of untrained support animals necessity for the emotional well-being of a passenger.
  • US Carriers are not required to transport unusual support animals (snakes, ferrets, spiders, etc.).
  • Carriers may require documentation that an animal will not relieve itself during the flight, or the use of a doggie diaper.
  • Carriers may require passengers to check in one hour in advance, as well as 48 hours advance notice of emotional support animal travel arrangements.
  • Emotional support animals are not required to be harnessed or leashed.
  • A passenger may not be denied boarding if their support animal is denied transportation.
  • Carriers can limit the number of service animals to three (although this is not a part of the law, the Aviation Enforcement Office will not take action if a complaint is filed).
  • Carriers are required to allow service animals and support animals to accompany their handlers, but they are not required to permit a service or support animal into the cabin for delivery to a disabled person, or while in training.

For more information on the Air Carrier Access Act, visit the US Department of Transporation Aviation Consumer Protection page on Passengers with Disabilities or download the Service Animal Definition Matrix [PDF] to compare the ACAA, ADA and FHA definitions and applicable guidelines.