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Emotional Support Animal Registration: What You Should Know

Emotional support animals are a lifeline for many struggling with mental health problems. That is why, across the United States, they are shielded from pet prohibitions in residential buildings. 

This article will shed light on whether you need to register your ESA, the difference between registration and ESA letters, and how an ID card can be a handy tool for ESA owners.

Basics about ESA Registration

ESA registration involves adding your emotional support animal to a database, which often provides an ID card as proof of registration. This act just by itself, however, doesn’t confer legal rights or protections to your animal. 

The important thing is to note that the only document that provides legal recognition for an emotional support animal is an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. Registering an ESA is a voluntary add-on for people who already have ESA letters. 

Be aware that there is no government-run national registry for ESAs. If you’re proceeding with ESA registration, choose a private organization like Service Dog Certifications, which is known for having high ethical standards. 

According to HUD, a registration by itself is not “sufficient to reliably establish that an individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal.” However, HUD notes that proof of an ESA can come in the form of ESA letters from “licensed health care professionals [that] deliver services remotely, including over the internet.”

Bottom line: Before registering an ESA, get an ESA letter first. 

Benefits of ESA Registration

If ESA registrations are not mandatory, why are they obtained? There are several reasons, including the following: 

  • Ease of Identification: A registered ID card can quickly identify your animal as an ESA, reducing potential confrontations or misunderstandings. Many may wonder why your pet is in the building if there is a no-pets rule in place. Having an ID is easier than carrying around your ESA letter as a form of proof. 
  • Awareness: A registered ID card can help create awareness about your ESA, signaling to others that your animal is not just a pet. It can make things easier with curious neighbors and concierges. 
  • Compliance: ESA owners know that building staff will often badger them to see an ID or proof of registration for their ESA. Instead of arguing with them, some find it easier just to present an ID for their ESA. 

There are also several reasons you should NOT register an ESA:

  • If you are registering an ESA instead of obtaining an ESA letter. You cannot substitute an ESA letter with an ESA registration.
  • If you are trying to gain public access. Stores and other public venues do not have to legally accommodate ESAs, regardless of whether you have an ESA letter or registration. ESAs only have housing rights in the United States. 
  • If you are trying to pass off an ESA as a service dog. ESAs do not have the specialized training required in order to have service animal rights. 

The Difference Between ESA Registration and ESA Certification 

While both terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they differ significantly:

  • ESA Registration: This involves adding your ESA to an ESA database. It’s a voluntary process and doesn’t grant any additional legal rights.
  • ESA Certification: This term can be misleading. There isn’t a formal ‘certification’ for ESAs. The only official document you need is an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional.

When people refer to “certifying” an ESA, they are more likely referring to the process of getting an ESA letter from a healthcare professional. The differences between registration, certification, and ESA letters can be confusing. 

Just remember this: an ESA letter is mandatory if you want to qualify for an ESA. ESA registration and ESA certification are voluntary. 

ESA Rights

Qualifying for an ESA properly is important because it gives the owner several legal benefits. These benefits are granted under federal and state housing laws, including the Fair Housing Act. These benefits include the following:

  • The ability to live in no-pet buildings. 
  • No additional pet fees, pet rent, or pet deposits. 
  • Exemption from size and weight limitations.
  • Exemption from breed restrictions. 
  • Ability to have more than one emotional support animal in the residence. 
A properly qualified ESA grants legal benefits, such as staying at a no-pet building and waiving any pet-related fees.

The Process of Registering Your Animal in a Database for Emotional Support Animals

To register your ESA, follow these steps:

  1. Get a valid ESA letter from a state-licensed health professional. 

  2. Choose a reputable ESA registration site like ServiceDogCertifications.org. 

  3. Provide the necessary information about your ESA and a photograph.

  4. Once approved, you’ll receive an ID card or other credentials with your animal’s registration info. 

ESA Letter (Certification) Requirements

An ESA letter is a recommendation from a licensed mental health professional that states you have a mental or emotional disability and that your ESA provides necessary support. Under Fair Housing guidelines, this is the only document a landlord can ask from you in order to verify your ESA. 

An ESA letter should: 

  • Include the professional’s license number, date, and state of issue.
  • Clearly state that you have a mental health condition that qualifies for an ESA.
  • Be signed and dated by the professional. 

ESA letters should be renewed at least once a year. Your doctor or therapist should evaluate your mental health at least annually to ensure that they can still confirm the recommendation in their ESA letter.

Not sure who to ask for an ESA letter? There are online options available where you can work with a licensed health professional remotely. 

How to get an ESA letter - Infographic - ServiceDogCertifications
Get Your ESA Letter

Local Animal Registration Rules

Many cities and counties have rules regarding the registration and licensing of pets. This should not be confused with ESA registrations. If your city or county requires all pets to be licensed, you must comply, even if you have an emotional support animal. 

How an ID Card Can Help Facilitate Access at Your Residential Building

While an ESA letter is the primary document that landlords or property managers should consider, having an ESA ID card can:

  • Provide a quick and visual way of identifying your animal as an ESA.
  • Reduce the potential for confrontations or disputes.
  • Make it easier for building staff or neighbors to recognize and respect your ESA’s status.

In conclusion, registering your ESA offers several benefits, but you should always ensure you have an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional if you want ESA status for your pet. 

esa registration

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