Do you want to have a pet but your landlord doesn't allow it? Have you ever considered getting an emotional support animal (ESA) instead? Emotional support animals are prescribed for patients for a number of emotional and psychological disorders. This practice is generally regarded as very effective.

ESAs can’t be denied in public or private housing. You don't have to deal with annoying pet fees or deposits. You can also take your emotional support animal on an airplane free of charge and more… But the most precious thing is that your pet friend will be able to support you when you need it the most.

Isn’t it wonderful when you have someone at your side who can lift your spirits? When there is someone for you to love and take care of? We are so often lonely in a desperate moment that a bit of affection from our four-legged friends gives us solace and strength to go on. Their antics bring joy and relief. 

In this article, we’ll overview laws and regulations that apply in Pennsylvania and tell you how to get an ESA letter.

Let’s overview laws regarding ESA in Pennsylvania!

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act requires accommodations for service animals and support animals. Service animal (SA) is a specially trained and certified animal that performs a specific function for disabled people. The keyword here is trained. The definition of a support animal is somewhat vague. It can be applied to animals trained to alert an owner about an upcoming epileptic seizure or to calm down a person with PTSD. Or to ESAs that do not require special training. It is important as ESA and service animals are two distinct terms.

The Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is only applied to specially trained assistance and service animals. But the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Airline Carrier Access Act do apply to ESAs. These laws have a difference in definitions, as a result, ESAs are granted the same protection regarding housing and travel as service animals do, but they are not protected in public establishments and workplaces. 

Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act uses different verbiage when it comes to clauses about housing and public access with service and support animals. In the clauses related to housing, it doesn't specify the physical nature of the handicap of support animal owners. It doesn't specifically cover ESAs but doesn't restrict them in any way either. However, it is written in such a way as to allow the state government to review ESA requests and comply with federal law regarding ESA. It is possible to file a complaint with either a state or a federal government if you feel you are discriminated against due to an ESA ownership.

Pennsylvania has recently enacted a bill that renders false ESA and SA claims Illegal. For instance, falsely claiming that your pet is an ESA or a service animal or claiming that your ESA is a service animal can be considered a summary criminal offense punishable by a fine up to $1,000. So please don't rush to buy a support dog vest for your pet. Be very exact with definitions and make sure you don't claim that your ESA is a service or a guide animal. Also, make sure you get a legitimate ESA letter. We will talk about it later in the article.

Housing rights for ESAs in Pa.

A right to have an ESA at your dwelling is covered by two pieces of legislation. Sec. 504 for government-funded housing and FHA for any type of housing. Under the FHA and Sec. 504 housing providers have to provide reasonable accommodation to a person with physical or mental disabilities. Reasonable accommodation, regarding to an ESA, includes waiving “no pets” policy, pet deposit or fee. Also, a landlord might have to allow some modifications to a property to accommodate an animal, but to an extent, of course. If a property has a common area, an ESA must be allowed there, too.  

When asking a landlord to accommodate your emotional support animal, he or she might ask you to provide proof that you actually have a condition and a prescription of an ESA, made by a mental health professional. Here is where an ESA letter might come in handy. 

If for some reason a landlord denies, try to explain his or her obligations under the law or refer him or her to the Department of Housing and Urban Developments guidelines on it. And if you can’t peacefully resolve this matter, try to make a complaint to HUD or Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. You also have grounds for a discrimination lawsuit. 

There are, however, legitimate reasons why your request might be denied:
— If your animal is uncontrollable, dangerous or poses a danger to other occupants;
— If an insurance company would raise the rate on the property due to particular ESA;
— If accommodating a particular ESA would require large scale modifications to the property; 

These cases are rare but it is something to consider anyway.

Other benefits and some responsibilities of owning an ESA

Owning an ESA is also a responsibility. As the owner, you are still responsible for an animal, the mess it makes, and the damage it might cause. Vaccination, dangerous and vicious animal regulations are still applied. But there is an area where ESAs have a distinct advantage. ESAs circumvent any bans on dangerous dog breeds your locale might have. Yes, Pit-bull mommies and daddies, you’ve heard me right!

There are also other benefits to having an Emotional Support Animal, apart from the housing. The Airline Carrier Access Act provides an ability to take an ESA to your seat in the plane free of charge. There are some limitations when it comes to animal type and size. These limitations differ from carrier to carrier so make sure to inquire about it in advance.

Public establishments like cafes, restaurants, hotels, etc don't have to allow ESAs in but many of them do regardless. Same goes for workspaces, many employers allow ESAs despite a no pet policy. Universities and colleges generally allow ESAs, but most of them have their regulations about it. For Instance Pen. State University can allow students to take their ESA to classes and other non-public facilities with prior approval by Student Disability Resources.

What type of animal can be an ESA

Pennsylvania's ESA alligator Wally and his owner Joie Henney made it to the global news recently. While everyone was touched by the friendship of a gentile alligator and an elderly man, many wondered whether any animal can be an ESA. In short — yes. There are no restrictions on bread or species when it comes to ESAs. However, the HUD decides on whether to grant an ESA application on a case by case basis. And while you can have a king cobra as an ESA, it is suggested that well-established domestic animals and breeds get a preference. The Department of Transportation has allowed air carriers to prohibit emotional support snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders, and spiders from the plane cabin. So, for convenience's sake, it's suggested to get more traditional pets as an ESA.

How do you qualify for ESA in PA?

So how do you get an ESA? You need your condition diagnosed by a mental health professional (LPC or M.D.), licensed in Pennsylvania. There are a lot of disorders that warrant a therapeutic prescription of a support animal, including a number of psychiatric conditions, PTSD, ADHD/ADD, depression, bipolar, OCD, anxiety, panic attacks, and many more. After you’ve been examined and diagnosed, ask a licensed mental health professional to prescribe you an ESA for a condition you have. And don't forget to ask for a letter proving you've been prescribed an ESA. 

So, do you feel you need emotional support? Have a hard time keeping yourself on the top of your emotions? Do you feel like an animal can bring back joy to your life and help you to handle yourself? Get yourself an ESA! We hope that this article will help you to get through the bureaucratic red tape and enjoy a happy life with your little animal helper.