Emotional support animals (ESAs) play a crucial role in providing comfort and therapeutic benefits to individuals living with mental or emotional disabilities. These animals offer invaluable support to their owners, and laws exist to ensure that they are protected from discrimination in housing, travel, and other aspects of day-to-day life.

Navigating ESA laws, particularly in rental properties, is essential for both tenants and landlords to ensure compliance with regulations and to uphold the rights of individuals with disabilities. Laws can vary between state lines, so it’s important to understand what nuances and protections apply in any given location and situation. This post details what ESA laws are on the books at the federal and state levels and how tenants and landlords can best navigate them.

Understanding the Basics of Emotional Support Animal Laws

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are furry companions that provide therapeutic benefits to individuals living with psychiatric disabilities. Unlike service animals, which are trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers, ESAs primarily offer comfort and support. Both federal and state laws contain statutes that govern ESA rules.

At the federal level, legislation exists to allow individuals to request reasonable accommodations in order to live or travel with their emotional support animals. Most states also have laws on the books that outline the rights and responsibilities of individuals with ESAs, as well as the obligations of entities such as property managers and businesses when it comes to such support animals.

ESA laws are most often referenced in housing situations. Landlords, for example, are generally required to make reasonable accommodations for tenants living with ESAs. Such accommodations often include waiving pet fees or allowing the animal in housing units with no-pet policies. Tenants, on the other hand, must provide proper documentation from a qualified practitioner to support their need for an ESA and ensure that their animal behaves appropriately in shared spaces.

Federal Laws Governing Emotional Support Animals

Multiple laws exist at the federal level that specify the rights and responsibilities of individuals carrying and living with ESAs. Namely, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) allows tenants with qualifying disabilities to live with emotional support animals without fear of discrimination. Specifically, the FHA defines such disabilities broadly to include physical or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities. Those living with such impairments can legally request reasonable accommodations from landlords to allow ESAs in housing units that have “no pets” policies. Pet-related fees, deposits, and other limitations can also not be imposed on such tenants.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is another federal law that deals with ESAs. Previously, this law ensured that individuals living with disabilities were permitted to travel by air with ESAs free of charge. Effective January 2021, however, the act was amended to classify emotional support animals as normal pets, separate from service animals trained to perform specific tasks. Airlines can now charge passengers standard pet fees for carrying ESAs under the law.

Variations in Emotional Support Animal Laws Among States

Local laws governing ESAs often vary across state lines. Some states have chosen to enact specific regulations that supplement federal law to ensure further protections for disabled individuals and certain entities. Wisconsin and California are two states with notable ESA legislation on the books.


The Golden State has enacted robust legislation that protects individuals with ESAs from discrimination in their homes and in public spaces. Notably, California has also placed restrictions on ESA owners as well. Recently, the state enacted legislation that requires a 30-day relationship between an individual and their mental health professional before ESA paperwork can be drafted.


Wisconsin has specific state legislation on the books that largely mirrors federal regulations regarding ESAs and the protection of individuals living with disabilities. However, the state has recently taken action to limit who can draft documentation pertaining to an ESA request. Specifically, only a health professional licensed in Wisconsin and “acting within the scope of his or her license” can provide ESA letters on behalf of residents. 

Understanding the nuances of state-specific ESA laws is essential for individuals navigating ESA ownership within their respective states. While many states have laws mirroring federal protections for individuals with disabilities and ESAs, there are variations in the specifics of these laws.

Tips for Navigating Emotional Support Animal Laws in Rentals

Navigating emotional support animal (ESA) laws in rental situations can be complex, but there are strategies that can help individuals and landlords ensure compliance. First, it’s always important to understand the federal and state laws that apply in any given housing situation. Laws can vary among states, and requirements can be imposed on either tenants or landlords in specific circumstances. If any questions arise, seeking help from a legal professional who specializes in housing or disability rights is always a good idea.

Property managers should also look to establish clear, legally-sound policies regarding ESAs in their rentals. This can help alleviate disputes or grievances between tenants and landlords once an ESA is brought into a housing unit or community. This includes outlining what documentation and verification is required in order to appropriately house a support animal. Third-party ESA verification services such as OurPetPolicy can help streamline this process and ensure that documentation is screened in accordance with the law. 

Ensuring Compliance With the Law

The landscape of emotional support animal laws varies significantly across states. Whether you’re an ESA-owning tenant searching for a new apartment or a landlord looking to protect the interests of your residential community, it’s important to understand what regulations and protections are available to you. Significant fines and legal consequences can be imposed if laws are not appropriately adhered to. 

This is especially true for property managers. If there’s any doubt about the legitimacy of an ESA living on your property, it's essential to take action. Questionable documentation can not only lead to legal ramifications but also undermine the legitimacy of ESA accommodations for those who genuinely need them. Take action by seeking the advice of a legal expert or simply utilize a verification service. Platforms such as OurPetPolicy make it easy to verify documentation and ensure compliance with local and federal regulations.

By staying informed, proactive, and committed to compliance, residents and landlords can navigate the complexities of ESA laws with confidence.

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