An emotional support animal (ESA) is a person’s pet that has been prescribed by a person’s licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist (any licensed mental health professional). The animal is part of the treatment program for this person and is designed to bring comfort and minimize the negative symptoms of the person’s emotional/psychological disability.
Under the federal Fair Housing Act, an emotional support animal is an assistance animal that belongs to a person with a disability-related need for that animal to relieve symptoms of that disability. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development requires the housing provider to make reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities, which includes the following stipulations:
- Housing provider must make exception to any “No pets” rules.
- Housing provider may NOT ask for medical records
- Housing provider may no delay the tenant request for reasonable accommodation
- Housing provider may not discriminate against breed, however can have the assistance animal evaluated individually
- Housing provider cannot charge a “pet deposit” for individuals who rely on assistance animals
- Housing provider may not inflict a pet number restriction or condition (visit your local HUD office for assistance)
The goal of the FHAct is to give disabled individuals and equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwellings like non-disabled individuals. Reasonable accommodations are a recognized means of achieving that goal.
The emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to a person with a verifiable disability. For more information, visit Michigan State University’s comprehensive FAQ on Emotional Support Animals in Housing.
The American Kennel Club also discusses the difference between a emotional support dog and a service dog. A service dog is trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. Normally, these are physical disabilities, such as blindness. This is different from an ESA, which requires no training, however, to be a well-trained animal that is suitable for public areas, the AKC also has recommended training for ESAs to best serve their handlers.