Welcome to Emotional Support Animal Laws District of Columbia
A quick snapshot of ESA laws in the District of Columbia
- Emotional support animals (ESAs) are not service dogs
- Emotional support animals may be animals other than dogs
- Mental health professionals can write a prescription for an emotional support animal under the law to be utilized by someone with a disability or mental health condition
- Airlines are no longer required to accommodate emotional support animals in the cabin, but they can still fly as a pet
- ESAs are not given public access rights in the U.S. and can be excluded from public places and businesses
- Someone with an emotional support animal (ESA) can make a request for a “reasonable accommodation” to a housing and/or work environment and, if granted, the ESA will be allowed with that person in those environments
- Check out our blog Emotional Support Animals – the Ultimate Guide to learn more about ESAs in general
Table of Contents
What is an Emotional Support Animal in the District of Columbia?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is exactly what it sounds like, an animal that is helping somebody with emotional support, companionship, or comfort, with its mere presence.
Why ESAs Aren’t Service Dogs
ESAs are not service dogs because ESAs are not individually trained for a particular person’s disability like service dogs are.
Service dogs do certain work or tasks that are specific to a disability. Emotional support animals don’t normally do this work or tasks above basic dog training.
Does the District of Columbia recognize Emotional Support Animals?
The District of Columbia does not recognize emotional support animals (ESAs) for public access rights as it does service animals. This means emotional support animals can be denied access to public places.
However, ESAs may have rights when it comes to a reasonable request in a housing or employment situation, under the federal FHA (Fair Housing Act) and/or ADA laws for people who live with disabilities.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act
While Emotional Support Animals or Comfort Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, they are not considered service animals under the ADA. These support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.
Even though some states have laws defining therapy animals, these animals are not limited to working with people with disabilities and therefore are not covered by federal laws protecting the use of service animals. Therapy animals provide people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting, to improve their physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning.Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Network
Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA.ADA
The ADA is divided into five titles:
- Employment (Title I)
- Public Services (Title II)
- Public Accommodations (Title III)
- Telecommunications (Title IV)
- Miscellaneous (Title V)
To learn more about the ADA Titles, check out Ask Jan (Job Accommodation Network). This means that ESAs are still covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title I (Employment) as well as the Fair Housing Act for housing situations.
District of Columbia Emotional Support Animal Laws – Housing
Emotional support animals (ESAs) are not automatically exempt from a housing provider’s no-pet policies. Under the Fair Housing Act, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to make reasonable accommodations. This is so that tenants – including those with disabilities – can fully enjoy their homes. When landlords don’t allow pets in their rentals, it doesn’t apply to assistance animals.
What is an assistance animal under the Fair Housing Act?
An assistance animal is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability. An assistance animal is not a pet.U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development
What types of housing are covered?
The Fair Housing Act covers most housing.
In very limited circumstances, the Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with:
- No more than four units
- Single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent
- Housing operated by religious organizations
- Private clubs that limit occupancy to members
What is a disability?
Disability is defined under the Fair Housing Act as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
Requesting reasonable accommodation
Someone with a disability can request a “reasonable accommodation” for an ESA in a housing situation, and housing providers need to be accommodating unless they can show that allowing an ESA would be an undue burden on its operations
ESAs do not need to be specially trained in order to qualify for reasonable accommodation for a housing situation.
When accommodations are necessary to afford someone with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, housing providers must not refuse to make reasonable accommodations in their:
ESA for Housing May Require a Prescription
People with emotional support animals do not need to obtain a letter from the internet. They merely would need to speak with their doctor and obtain a prescription saying that the animal is necessary. No personal information about a disability is required to be disclosed to housing providers.
The Fair Housing Act requires a housing provider to allow a reasonable accommodation that meets all the following conditions:
- A request was made to the housing provider
- The reasonable accommodation request was supported by reliable disability-related information (if the disability and/or the disability-related need for the animal aren’t obvious, the housing provider may request this information)
- This documentation may need to be from a qualified professional (physician, psychiatrist, social worker) to prove someone has a need for the emotional support animal
- The housing provider has not demonstrated that:
- Granting the request would result in an undue financial and administrative burden
- The request would fundamentally alter the essential nature of the operations
- The specific animal in question would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others
- The request would not result in significant physical damage to the property of others
Examples of reasonable accommodations
A reasonable accommodation request for an emotional support animal may include:
- A request to live with an emotional support animal at a property where a housing provider has a no-pets policy
- A request to waive a pet deposit, fee, or another rule as to an emotional support animal
Can a landlord deny an ESA in the District of Columbia?
A housing provider can deny a request for a reasonable accommodation (or modification) for an emotional support animal or another assistance animal if:
- The request was not made by or on behalf of a person with a disability
- If there is no disability-related need for the accommodation or modification
- Providing the accommodation or modification would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider
- If it would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s program
- The determination of undue financial and administrative burden must be made on a case-by-case basis involving various factors
If an undue burden or fundamental alternation exists
If an undue burden or fundamental alteration does exist, the housing provider is still responsible to provide any other type of reasonable accommodation that may be possible, up to the point that would not result in an undue financial and administrative burden.
When a housing provider denies a request
When a housing provider denies a request, the provider should discuss options about whether there is an alternative accommodation or modification that might work.
Housing providers should recognize that the person requesting the accommodation is most familiar with his or her disability. People usually know what kind of aid or service will be effective. Perhaps there is a solution that would not result in an undue burden or financial hardship.
Filing a Housing Complaint in the District of Columbia
If you believe you have been unlawfully denied a reasonable accommodation for an emotional support animal or have otherwise experienced discrimination in housing, you can file a complaint with FHEO.
If the person who was denied accommodation files a complaint with FHEO, HUD (or the state or local agency receiving the complaint) will review evidence in light of applicable laws and will assess whether the housing provider violated any laws.
ESAs in Rental Units in the District of Columbia
Federal, as well as District of Columbia fair housing laws, protect the rights of people with disabilities to make sure they can keep “assistance animals” (this includes emotional support animals) in their homes.
- An emotional support animal can be any breed or size, or it may be another animal besides a dog
- It might wear specialized equipment such as a backpack, harness, special collar or leash, but this is not a legal requirement
- The animal may have had some sort of specialized training, but this too is not a legal requirement under fair housing laws
Some people may have “hidden disabilities” such as:
- Chronic pain
- Seizure disorder
- Mental or psychological conditions
Animals other than dogs
Animals other than dogs may also function as emotional support, therapy, or assistance animals in housing situations under the Fair Housing Act.
What a landlord may not require:
- Details about a disability (Only limitations that result from a disability)
- Medical records beyond those necessary to verify the individual’s limitations and need for the emotional support animal
- Certification or documentation about an emotional support animal other than documents showing that the animal has been licensed where required by law
- A landlord cannot lawfully require insurance or an additional deposit because a tenant or applicant for housing has an assistance animal
The tenant is responsible for the actions of the animal. The tenant must comply with:
- Any established policies such as cleanliness and maintenance of the rental unit
- Health and safety rules
- Any leash requirements
- Noise guidelines
If a tenant doesn’t abide by reasonable rules, the landlord may lawfully require that the emotional support animal be removed.
Payments & fees
Payment may be required for any specific damage done to the premises by an ESA.
It is illegal to charge someone with a disability an extra fee to keep a guide or service dog or an emotional support, therapy or assistance animal (ESA).
Housing providers cannot ask a tenant who requires an assistive animal to pay a pet deposit or fee for their animal. The housing provider cannot require special training for assistive animals. Finally, the provider cannot inquire about the nature or the severity of the tenant’s disability.
Air Travel & Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals are no longer included in the ACAA (Air Carrier Access Act) definition of service animal, therefore…
ESAs may not travel in the cabin of a plane with their human under the ACAA; although, individual airlines may vary. ESAs may still travel through the air as a pet.
Recently, the ACAA or Air Carrier Access Act has been updated to exclude emotional support animals
Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) a service animal means a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Animal species other than dogs, emotional support animals, comfort animals, companionship animals, and service animals in training are not service animals.U.S. Department of Transportation
Emotional Support Animals & Access to public places
Emotional support animals are not covered by the ADA for public access rights, so they can be denied access to public places, although individual businesses may vary.
ESAs can still visit “pet-friendly” public accommodations with their handler.
Emotional Support Animals & Employment
ESAs can be requested as a reasonable accommodation in an employment situation under the Americans with Disabilities Act Title I.
Practical steps for processing a request to bring an emotional support animal into the workplace:
Someone requesting to bring an emotional support animal into the workplace (as an accommodation) falls under the category of modifying a workplace policy. This is assuming a workplace has some kind of animal policy, perhaps a no-animals policy.
Taking a look at policies
Employers need to take a look at their policy and ask themselves if it can be modified. The answer usually depends on the employee’s particular job and the work environment.
Asking for medical documentation
If the no-animal policy can be modified, employers may ask for medical documentation. This is to make sure the disability and need for accommodation are already verified.
Employers may request medical documentation when an employee requests an accommodation. Under the ADA, employers only have to consider accommodations that are needed because of a disability.
Once the need for accommodation is established
The next step is determining whether the emotional support animal is trained to be in a work environment. It will need to be under the employee’s control at all times.
Under the ADA, employers do not have to provide any accommodations that pose an undue hardship. One factor in determining undue hardship is whether the accommodation will be unduly disruptive to other employees or to the ability to conduct business.
One option is to allow an employee to bring an emotional support animal to work on a trial basis and see how it goes.
Employers who do this often make a written agreement with the employee that:
- There will be a trial period
- How long it will last
- What factors might end the trial period early
If the emotional support animal shows any sign of aggression or if the employee cannot keep the animal quiet or under control, the employer will immediately end the trial period and deny the request.
The use of animals to help overcome disability-related symptoms seems to be a growing trend, and it’s not just dogs that are being used as emotional support animals; it’s all types of animals.
Emotional support animals do not need to be registered for any reason. No legitimate ESA registration system exists. Websites selling ESA papers online are not recognized by the Department of Justice nor the ADA, and purchasing one of those pieces of paper from the internet does not give someone any special rights.
What is needed for housing and/or employment is a letter from a doctor or other medical professional merely stating the animal is required. Check out our blog Which Service Dog Registry is Legimitate to learn more about why registration is not required.
Emotional support animals can benefit many people, especially in this complicated world that we live in nowadays. While they don’t have public access rights under the ADA laws, nor air travel rights under the ACAA (air travel) laws, emotional support animals can be requested as a reasonable accommodation in housing and workplace environments.
Housing providers and employers will need to be accommodating unless there is a valid reason to avoid the accommodation. ESAs do not need to be specially trained, as they provide comfort and emotional support through their presence to people who need it.