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10 Places Where Your ESA Is — and Is Not — Allowed

Not every public place allows ESAs — but there are ways to advocate for yourself and your needs when your pup or other ESA is not on the guest list.

by Savannah Admire
January 3, 2023
A redheaded woman in a black hat and sunglasses holding her pug dog under her arm as well as two boarding passes and her passport in an airport hallway
standret / iStock

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

Let’s face it: We’re all dealing with something these days, whether anxiety, depression, or a cocktail of mental health issues. But while medication and/or talking with a therapist is enough for many, some people need more support than others. 

Emotional support animals (ESAs) provide comfort to those dealing with mental health challenges that could negatively affect their quality of life. Prescribed by licensed psychiatrists, therapists, and psychologists, ESAs go through some form of animal registration and offer support that can be life-changing.

But, despite what you might think, ESAs are not service animals and don’t receive the same Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations or have the same level of training or dog registration. Because of this difference, ESAs aren’t allowed everywhere their humans are, but they do enjoy some protections under the law. Even though they don’t go through training programs, ESAs should still be well-behaved and know how to follow basic commands. You can even register a service dog online, though doing so is not required or necessary.  

So, where exactly are ESAs welcome? Let’s break it down.

Allowed: Rental Residences

Thanks to the Fair Housing Act, ESAs are permitted in any rental residence, even if the landlord has a strict no-pets policy. All housing providers must reasonably accommodate renters with ESAs and are not allowed to charge any additional fees or deposits. ESAs are exempt from any size, weight, or breed restrictions the landlord may have as well. 

But there are a couple of specific circumstances in which a landlord does not have to allow ESAs:

  • An owner-occupied building with no more than four units

  • A single-family residence rented by the owner without using an agent

Other than these two instances, however, once you have your dog registered as an ESA, any landlord must allow them.

Not Allowed: Flights

Until January 2021, ESAs were allowed to ride, free of charge, in the cabin on all flights, but revised U.S. Department of Transportation guidance now limits this benefit to service dogs only. That means that if you want to take your ESA on a flight, they must travel as a pet, so they have to fit in a small carrier, and you may be required to pay pet fees. Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs), however, are still permitted to fly in the cabin with the proper paperwork and dog license.

Not Allowed: Restaurants and Shops

While service dogs are allowed in restaurants and retail stores, ESAs don’t have the same level of training and are not permitted in these spaces. However, some businesses, especially smaller local shops, may allow you to bring your ESA inside, but each business owner has the right to refuse to do so. Make sure to follow the rules of your favorite stores and restaurants and stay informed if the rules change at any of those spots.

Allowed: Public and Common Use Spaces in Apartment Buildings

Because ESAs are permitted in apartment buildings and other rental residences, they’re also allowed in any public or common spaces that residents have access to, such as lobbies and elevators. 

Not Allowed: Hotels and Airbnbs

Temporary housing, such as hotels, motels, and Airbnbs, don’t qualify as permanent residences under the Fair Housing Act. If you’re planning a vacation and don’t want to leave your ESA behind, contact the Airbnb owner personally to ask if you can bring your dog along. Just keep in mind that they have the right to refuse — or to request an additional cleaning fee. Some hotels allow dogs for an extra charge, so look for these businesses if you want to bring your ESA with you on your next trip.

Allowed: Dorms & University Housing

Just like apartment buildings, college and university housing must accommodate students with ESAs, according to the Fair Housing guidelines. However, universities may have specific requirements for ESAs, such as requiring puppy service dog training, so be sure to check with your school’s student housing office before bringing your pet to your dorm. 

Not Allowed: University or College Classrooms

While colleges and universities are required to allow ESAs in dorm rooms on campus, the same can’t be said for classrooms. It certainly never hurts to talk to your school about their policies, but in general, universities don’t allow ESAs in classroom settings. If you want to talk to someone at your university or college about accommodating your needs, contact the school’s student services and/or disability services department. While your ESA is not a service dog, you might be able to advocate for yourself in this situation.

Not Allowed: Work

Your employer is not required to accommodate your ESA as they do service animals, but each workplace has its own policies. Talk to your manager or supervisor about your specific situation and whether you can bring your ESA to the office with you. Remember, you are your number-one advocate when it comes to getting your needs met in the workplace, and if your ESA is a big part of that for you, it’s OK to ask, if you feel comfortable doing so and think this might be something your manager might entertain. If you want to get a feeling for how your request might be perceived, talk to a coworker you trust about the general environment at your workplace and how they think your ask might be received.

Ask Permission: Houses of Worship

While churches and other houses of worship are exempt from Title III of the ADA and aren’t required to allow service animals inside, you can ask permission to bring your ESA to services or other events. Many houses of worship are more than willing to allow ESAs and service animals, but they may have their own unique requirements. Again, if you feel comfortable speaking to someone in authority at your place of worship, it’s not a bad idea to ask. These days, as more places or worship are offering in-person gatherings in place of or in addition to the Zoom services of 2020, the leadership in your congregation will likely want you to feel comfortable attending events in person again, if having your ESA there will make that possible.

Ask Permission: Medical Offices

Whether you can bring your ESA to your next doctor’s appointment will depend entirely on the office. Some hospitals and private practices allow ESAs, while others may prefer that you leave your support animal at home. Before your next appointment, contact your doctor’s office and ask about their policies. Many people will want to bring their ESA to appointments that might cause them a great deal of anxiety or emotional discomfort; advocating for your needs in the doctor’s office starts before you even enter their door.

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Savannah Admire

Savannah Admire is a writer, editor, and pet parent to two dogs and a cat. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading, playing Animal Crossing, or being an obnoxious nerd about her favorite movies and TV shows. She lives in Maryland, where she constantly debates whether or not to get a third dog.