Emotional support animals are animals that provide therapeutic support to a person with a mental disability. They can be dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs or any other type of pet. These animals provide unconditional love, affection and companionship and provide their owners with a sense of purpose. Many people with disabilities like depression and anxiety disorders benefit from emotional support animals.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities. As the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law explains, courts typically interpret that to mean that, in addition to other accommodations, landlords must allow tenants to have emotional support animals even if they typically do not allow pets if tenants are disabled and health care professionals recommend emotional support animals as part of their treatment. Tenants may be required to provide a letter from their treating physician saying they are disabled and that an emotional support animal is recommended.
Emotional support animals must be reasonably well-behaved and kept under control by their owners; they can’t damage property or disturb other tenants. Landlords cannot charge additional fees to tenants that need emotional support animals, but tenants are responsible for paying for any damage done to the property by their animals.
Airline regulations require airlines to permit people with mental health-related disabilities to fly with an emotional support animal in the cabin of the airplane if they have the appropriate documentation from their treating physician. A letter from the treating physician must state that the person in question has a mental health-related disability that is included in the DSM-IV (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used to diagnose mental illnesses), that the disability significantly limits one or more major life activity (things like seeing, hearing, walking, communicating and thinking), and that an emotional support animal is recommended as part of the person’s treatment.
Emotional support animals flying in the cabin of a plane must be well-behaved and not disturb other passengers or airline staff. Certain types of animals, including ferrets and reptiles, are usually not permitted to fly in the cabin even when designated as emotional support animals because they are considered a safety risk.
There are no laws that permit emotional support animals to accompany their owners into businesses where pets are not normally permitted. Federal law allows people with disabilities that use service dogs to take their dogs into most public places, including stores and restaurants, but emotional support animals are not the same as service dogs. Service dogs have been trained to perform specific tasks that mitigate a handler’s disability. If you want to take your emotional support animal into a store or other business that does not normally allow pets, you can ask the manager or business owner for permission. They are not required to allow you to bring your pet, however, and emotional support animals are generally considered to be pets.