Federal Laws and ESAs

Two federal laws apply to ESAs and their owners: the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act. Understanding these laws is essential for anyone who owns an ESA or is considering obtaining one. Companies required to make accommodations must also be aware of this legislation. Find out about these laws below:

Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, protects people with disabilities from discrimination when they are renting, buying, or securing financing for housing. Thus, landlords cannot deny housing to people with ESAs, even if a “no pet” policy is in place.

 

To be protected by the FHA, an ESA owner must formally request a prospective property owner to provide

accommodation. The request should include documentation of the person’s disability as provided by a mental health professional, including an explanation about why the ESA helps mitigate symptoms of the person’s disability.

Property owners can neither ask for details about the person’s disability nor require the ESA to wear identification or have specialized training.

Most types of housing are protected under the FHA, both for sale and for rent, including apartments, condominiums, and single family houses. Buildings with four or fewer units where the landlord lives in one of the units are not protected. The Act also excludes private owners who don’t own more than three single family houses, don’t use real estate agents or brokers, and engage in discriminatory advertising practices.

Property owners can’t charge a pet-related advance deposit or fee for ESAs. They also can’t exclude animals based on species, breed, weight, or size—so long as they’re domesticated, don’t pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others, don’t constitute an “undue financial burden” on the landlord, and don’t cause a fundamental alteration to the premises. In either case, the animal must undergo an individualized assessment to determine its allowance in a particular dwelling.

A disabled person may be charged for damages caused to the premises by their ESA. Also, the person may be evicted if he or she does not properly manage his or her ESA that is unruly, aggressive, or disturbance-causing.

Hotels and motels are places of public accommodation and, therefore, aren’t protected under the FHA.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1896, enforced by the U.S. Department of Transportation, protects people with disabilities from discrimination when traveling with domestic and foreign air carriers. It allows people to be accompanied by their ESAs on flights to help them fly safely and comfortably.

To be protected under the ACAA, disabled persons must notify the air carrier of their need for an assistance animal at least 48 hours prior to scheduled departure time. They must also provide personnel with correct documentation of that need. 

This documentation must be provided on letterhead from a licensed mental health professional and state that:

  • the passenger has a mental health-related disability,

  • the ESA is necessary to assist the passenger with that disability, and

  • the person is under the care of the mental health professional.
     

In some cases, airlines may also require the documentation to include the date and type of the mental health professional’s license (e.g. psychiatrist, psychologist) and the state where it was issued. Passengers may be required to fax it to the air carrier within this 48-hour time frame. The letter may not be more than one year old.

To prevent abuse from passengers, some airlines may call the licensed mental health professional’s office to verify the letter and its contents.

Air carriers are neither allowed to charge those traveling with ESAs additional fees, nor can they ask passengers details about their disability.

Each airline has different cabin rules, seating options, cabin/size restrictions, and extra requests or requirements for passengers traveling with ESAs. Click here for a comprehensive list of requirements for most major airlines.