Unlike for service dogs, the laws for emotional support animals (ESAs) aren’t as straightforward. Since these not considered to be service animals, many landlords might dispute their presence. This is where an ESA letter for housing comes in. The following guide contains everything that you need to know about ESA letters and how to get one.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
ESAs provide soothing benefits to people diagnosed with mental or emotional disorders. While they can be cats and dogs, other animals that are frequently kept as ESAs include birds, rabbits, fish, and even miniature ponies.
What Is an ESA Letter for Housing?
An ESA letter for housing proves that your ESA is necessary for your mental health and prevents a landlord from denying you housing due to your pet’s presence.
Landlords aren’t allowed to discriminate against ESAs due to the Fair Housing Act, but they do have the right to ask for proof of your need for an ESA. This is where the ESA letter comes in. While there aren’t any legal requirements for registering an ESA, there are times when you may need to prove that you qualify for one.
Supplied by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP), a legitimate ESA letter will include your name and diagnosis. It will enable you and your pet to live in housing that doesn’t otherwise allow animals, exempt you from pet-related deposits, and protect you from discrimination.
An ESA letter is the only piece of evidence that you need to provide to your landlord to prove that your need for an ESA is legitimate. They shouldn’t ask for information about your mental health or disability that qualifies you for an ESA.
How to Get an ESA Letter for Housing (4 Steps)
1. Choose a Legitimate ESA Letter Provider
With ESAs becoming more popular, there’s an increasing number of companies that provide ESA letters for housing. Unfortunately, not all of them are legitimate.
Legitimate ESA letters are always written by LMHPs, which is why you can’t write your own. These professionals personalize the letter for you, your mental health, and the type of ESA that you own.
If you don’t already consult with a licensed therapist or doctor who can write an ESA letter for you, your next best option is to find a provider online. Watch out for places that claim to provide letters immediately, though. While the speed is convenient, they’re unlikely to tailor the letter to your needs.
Part of finding a legitimate provider also means paying attention to your budget. Compare several providers to find the best one for you.
2. Make Sure You Qualify
A legitimate ESA letter provider will make sure you qualify for an ESA before you purchase the letter. This is one way that you know that the provider is legit and will ensure that you’re eligible for an ESA in the first place.
If you have a therapist whom you visit regularly, you’ll be able to discuss your options with them. In the case of an online provider, you’ll likely take a pre-screening quiz that will ask questions about your mental and emotional health and the symptoms that you have.
This helps protect you against needing a refund if it turns out that you don’t qualify for an ESA and prepares you for the official consultation in the next step.
3. Consult a Licensed Mental Health Professional
After you’ve completed the pre-application and qualified for an ESA, your next step is to organize a consultation with a LMHP. This can be your regular therapist, or the provider you’re requesting an ESA letter from will match you with an LMHP in your state.
The consultation usually happens over the phone or via video call. You’ll discuss your symptoms and mental health to help confirm that you need an ESA and personalize your ESA letter to your needs as an individual.
4. Receive Your ESA Letter
Many ESA letter providers claim to give you a letter immediately. However, this isn’t considered a good practice. You should only receive your ESA letter after going through the application process and live consultation.
To be considered valid, your ESA letter needs to be personalized to you and your needs. It also has to mention the type of ESA that you have, whether it’s a dog, cat, or another pet.
The LMHP whom you speak to during the consultation will prepare your letter, sign it, and then send you a digital copy. They’ll likely also send a hard copy to your mailing address if you request one. It may take a few days or weeks to get your ESA letter, depending on when you can schedule the consultation.
Can a Landlord Reject an ESA?
Due to the Fair Housing Act, in most cases, landlords can’t reject you just because you need an ESA. However, there are exceptions to this rule and there are ways that landlords can be exempt from accepting an ESA.
More often than not, this exemption comes into play for the type of ESA you have. While dogs, cats, and other small pets might be readily accepted, if you have a miniature pony as an ESA, your landlord might be warier about the potential damage that their presence will cause.
If your ESA also poses a risk to other tenants in the building or causes undue financial costs, your landlord may also refuse to house them.
You can argue if you think that your landlord isn’t following the proper exemption rules. When you move with your ESA or first qualify for one, make sure you brush up on your knowledge of all the exemption rules so you’ll be better prepared.
How to Qualify for an ESA
To qualify for an ESA, you have to be diagnosed with an emotional or mental condition by a licensed professional. There are too many conditions to list here, but a few of the most common ones are:
Once you have been diagnosed, you should discuss whether an ESA will help you as part of your treatment plan. While they do help many people, you must consider whether you’re up to the challenge and responsibility of taking care of them in return.
ESA letters for housing are how you prove that you have a diagnosed mental or emotional disability that requires an emotional support animal as part of your treatment plan. Written by a licensed mental health professional, a legitimate ESA letter is personalized to your needs. It also prevents a landlord from refusing you accommodation due to your need for an ESA under the Fair Housing Act.
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