Emotional Support Animal

Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter

Emotional support animals (ESA) are a great help for many people. The world can be overwhelming at times, and having a familiar companion makes it a little easier to handle.

ESA's are not the same as service animals and are subject to different regulations than trained service dogs. However, they have some rights regarding pet policies and similar rules, such as those in place in certain condo associations. Updates to federal and state laws require that people with emotional support animals visit a mental health professional and show that their mental illness has a substantial impact on their daily lives. Our licensed, experienced, and qualified mental health professionals are often able to provide appropriate documentation within 2 weeks after meeting with clients. We require at least 2 meetings.

If you live in Florida and you're wondering about the process of registering an ESA, particularly how to get an ESA letter, we hope that the following information will provide you with a guide to doing so.

Qualifying for an Emotional Support Animal Letter in Florida

The requirements you need to meet in Florida to qualify for an emotional support animal letter are similar to other states. You will need to get a letter from a Florida licensed mental health professional in order to qualify.

These are the basic Florida emotional support animal letter requirements for ESA owners:

A licensed mental health professional needs to determine that you have an emotional disability.

Your mental disability is in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders- Fifth Edition

The identified condition substantially limits your ability to participate in at least one major life activity.

  • The professional has to determine that an emotional support animal would help treat the condition or ease your symptoms.
  • You need to get an emotional support animal letter which can be thought of as a prescription for an ESA.
  • The letter must come from a licensed mental health professional.
  • Your letter must be on your therapist’s official letterhead.
  • The letter must include your therapist’s license details, issue date, and state.

Florida ESA Laws

An emotional support animal registration is not required in Florida. All you need is a legitimate ESA letter.

Once you have fulfilled ESA requirements and you have received your letter, you have certain rights. However, there are two major limitations:

  1. An ESA doesn’t have the same public access privileges as service animals.
  1. If your animal is not a domestic animal, if it misbehaves or is a danger to anyone, you can lose your privileges.

So where are you covered?

In Florida, individuals with mental or emotional health disabilities have the right to live with their ESAs. If you’ve fulfilled the Florida emotional support letter requirements and you can provide proof to landlords, they cannot deny accommodation unless they have a valid exemption, such as if your ESA poses a danger to others. Denying accommodation of your ESA could get them in trouble under the federal Fair Housing Act and state laws.

Landlords can verify your ESA by asking you to produce a valid ESA letter. If you are able to do so, they cannot deny access, charge a pet deposit or a fee.

Emotional Support Animals in Florida Condos

By law, Florida Condo Associations cannot deny your emotional support dog.

With the growth in using animals as comfort animals, many Florida Condo Associations have been making it difficult for ESA owners to live with their emotional support animals. Some Florida Condo Associations have attempted to deny legitimate emotional support dogs by claiming that ESAs do not have rights or call them “fake service dogs.”

Emotional support animals have rights to live with their owners in Florida Condos that normally do not accept pets. The Fair Housing Act gives you the right to live with your ESA, regardless of your condo association’s rules. ESA laws always trump condo association laws.

Do You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal in Florida?

Of course, the final answer to this question needs to come from a licensed mental health professional. However, you can see right now whether you meet the basic criteria for an ESA.

You might qualify for an ESA in Florida if you have one or more issues listed below:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Sleep issues
  • Learning difficulties
  • Phobias
  • Panic disorders
  • Personality disorders

Please note that this is not an extensive list; This is just an overview of the major conditions present in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. If you have one of these common issues and believe that an animal can give you comfort and help ease your symptoms, you might meet Florida emotional support animal letter requirements.

Americans With Disabilities Act

Emotional Support Animals are NOT Covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act

The most important thing to remember, which is true across the nation, is that the ADA - which covers trained service animals in public accommodations such as restaurants - does NOT cover emotional support animals. Service dogs and similarly trained animals have been specifically trained to perform certain acts for their owners, and said owners are usually physically unable to do specific tasks without them. As such, while housing and condominium associations may allow your ESA to live with you without being subject to pet policies, public areas are not legally obligated to allow you and your ESA inside.

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act DOES Cover Your Emotional Support Animal - To an Extent

The Fair Housing Act, which covers this in its scope, recently updated the requirements to issue an emotional support animal letter. A licensed mental health professional can only issue an ESA letter with "personal client knowledge" of their client's disability and active commitment to therapy or counseling. Essentially, you need to attend multiple sessions.

The Fair Housing Act also typically means that landlords and condo associations cannot charge your ESA's pet fees. They are not subject to the same rules. However, there are exceptions, and landlords can object on certain grounds. Be sure to review your condo association's rules and regulations before moving in.

The Air Carrier Access Act Covers Travel, With Stipulations

The ACAA is another federal regulation that allows both service animals and emotional support animals on flights. You'll need legal documentation, like your legitimate emotional support animal letter. Individual airlines may have their unique requirements, but your ESA letter, signed by a licensed mental health professional, is the most important thing.

You must also provide your valid letter to the airline at least 48 hours before your departure. This ensures they can get everything processed, and also assign you the proper seats. Most emotional support animals are allowed to sit in your lap for your flight duration, as long as they are on a leash.

 Airlines may also ask for:

  • Additional forms
  • Added doctor's note
  • A guarantee of behavior form
  • Veterinary documentation

Some airlines also have size limits due to the aircraft's capacity, so make sure you discuss it well in advance!

 Other Rules And Coverage You Should Know

  • ESAs are not required to be specially trained in Florida, which is why they are not considered the same as service dogs. However, some basic behavior training is never a bad idea! This is especially true in traveling situations, and can also help deal with condominium associations or homeowners associations. 
  • Misrepresenting pets as emotional support animals, service animals, and providing a fake document now qualifies as a misdemeanor crime in Florida, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Be sure to obtain your letter from legal sources, and only if you qualify.
  • Emotional support animals are not covered in workplace laws, so even a valid ESA letter may not be enough. However, employers may allow them in the workplace at their discretion. Talk to your HR department to see if they'll allow your emotional support animal in after you give them a copy of your ESA letter or a discussion with a mental health professional.

Avoid Scams!

So now that you know the rules and requirements, and you believe you may qualify for an emotional support animal letter, the tricky part is avoiding scam websites where you can buy an ESA letter without contacting a licensed mental health professional. Unfortunately, these sites are very common, and it may be challenging to determine a true mental health clinic from a phony certificate provider.

Contact Us to Start the Process!

The process may seem long and complicated, but it's ultimately for your protection. Now that you understand the regulations, rights, and requirements for emotional support animals, your next step is to reach out to us and schedule an appointment with one of our licensed professional.