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Seven Things To Know When You Receive A Notice Of Investigation From The Department Of Health

Laws Governing ESAs and Service Animals, Part 3 of 3

By Amanda I. Forbes, J.D.

This is part 3 of 3 in a blog series regarding the differences between Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals. Read part 1 and part 2.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that “prohibits discrimination in housing because of: race or color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.” (Emphasis added). It applies to both emotional support animals and service animals. (“emotional illness.”)

Click here to learn more.

In addition, the FHA states it is unlawful to:

[D]iscriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap.

42 U.S.C. Section3604(f)(1).

It also prohibits discrimination:

[A]gainst any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such dwelling, because of a handicap . . .

42 U.S.C. Section 3604(f)(2).

For purposes of the FHA, discrimination includes a refusal to make:

[R]easonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodation may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.

42 U.S.C. Section 3604(f)(3)(B).

The FHA is applicable to virtually all forms of housing. However, there are some exemptions:

1.  Owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs.

2.  Single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker.

3.  Housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have the power to enforce the Fair Housing Act. Generally, an individual with a disability may have a “reasonable accommodation” to a landlords “no pets policy”

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development a “reasonable accommodation” is:

A reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces . . . . The Act makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodation to rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
To show that a requested accommodation may be necessary, there must be an identifiable relationship, or nexus, between the requested accommodation and the individual’s disability.

To learn more about reasonable accommodation, click here.

The American With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Under the ADA, in situations where it may not be readily apparent that an animal is a service animal the individual may be asked two questions by an establishment’s employees:

1.  Is the service animal a requirement due to a disability?

2.  What work has the animal been trained to perform?

Employees are not allowed to ask for documentation for the service animal or require the animal to demonstrate its function or inquire about the nature of the owner’s disability.

Under the ADA, 29 CFR Part 1630.2(k)(3), a “reasonable accommodation” is:

An individual with a record of a substantially limiting impairment may be entitled, absent undue hardship, to a reasonable accommodation if needed and related to the past disability. For example, an employee with an impairment that previously limited, but no longer substantially limits, a major life activity may need leave or a schedule change to permit him or her to attend follow-up or “monitoring” appointments with a health care provider.

29 CFR Part 1630.2(k)(3)

Emotional support animals are not considered service animals under the ADA.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

The ACAA requires that airlines allow both service animals as well as emotional support animals to accompany their owners in the cabin of the aircraft.

Similar to the ADA, if an air carrier’s employee is not sure if an animal is a service animal they may “ask to see identification cards, written documentation, presence of harnesses or tags, or ask for verbal assurances” from the owner. Click here for more information on service animals.

In addition, you may be asked one of the following:

1.  What tasks or functions does your animal perform for you?
2.  What has your animals been trained to do for you?
3.  Would you describe how the animal performs this task for you?

Regarding individuals who have emotional support animals and want their ESA to accompany them in the aircraft cabin the ACAA states the following:

e) If a passenger seeks to travel with an animal that is used as emotional support or psychiatric service animal, you are not required to accept the animal for transportation in the cabin unless the passenger provides you current documentation (i.e., no older than one year from the date of the passenger’s scheduled initial flight) on the letterhead of a licensed mental health professional (e.g., psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, including a medical doctor specifically treating the passenger’s mental or emotional disability) stating the following:

(1) The passenger has a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition (DSM IV);

(2) The passenger needs the emotional support or psychiatric service animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at the passenger’s destination;

(3) The individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional, and the passenger is under his or her professional care; and

(4) The date and type of the mental health professional’s license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued.

14 CFR Section 382.117(e) and (f). (Emphasis added).

Therefore, it would be wise to advise your clients that they should contact that airline well in advance of their flight in order to find out what documentation is required for their ESA to travel with them. Particularly, if the ESA is of the exotic variety.

On the topic of exotic ESAs or service animals, the ACAA states:

(f) You are never required to accommodate certain unusual service animals (e.g., snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders) as service animals in the cabin. With respect to all other animals, including unusual or exotic animals that are presented as service animals (e.g., miniature horses, pigs, monkeys), as a carrier you must determine whether any factors preclude their traveling in the cabin as service animals (e.g., whether the animal is too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin, whether the animal would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others, whether it would cause a significant disruption of cabin service, whether it would be prohibited from entering a foreign country that is the flight’s destination). If no such factors preclude the animal from traveling in the cabin, you must permit it to do so. However, as a foreign carrier, you are not required to carry service animals other than dogs.

It is also important to note that:

(g) Whenever you decide not to accept an animal as a service animal, you must explain the reason for your decision to the passenger and document it in writing. A copy of the explanation must be provided to the passenger either at the airport or within 10 calendar days of the incident.

14 CFR Section 382.117(g). (Emphasis added).

Additionally, the airline cannot charge you for your reasonable accommodation of an ESA or a service animal.

According to 14 CFR Section 382.31(a):

Except as otherwise provided in this part you must not, as a carrier, impose charges for providing facilities, equipment, or services that this rule requires to be provided to passengers with a disability. You may charge for services that this part does not require.

14 CFR Section 382.31(a)

Florida Specific Law.

In Florida, a new law SB 1084 was enacted on June 23, 2020, and became effective on July 1, 2020. SC 1084 establishes what can be considered reliable information for an ESA it also creates a civil penalty for falsification of documentation used to support the need for an ESA.

In addition, it defines an “Emotional Support Animal” as:

An animal that does not require training to do work, perform tasks, provide assistance, or provide therapeutic emotional support by virtue of its presence which alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.

SB 1084. Emphasis added.

Of particular note, SB 1084 states:

A person with a disability or a disability-related need is liable for any damage done to the premises or to another person on the premises by his or her emotional support animal.

Check with your state and local laws in order to ensure you are in compliance with your state’s laws regarding emotional support animals and service animals. Don’t forget to read part 1 and part 2 in this blog series.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced Investigations of Mental Health Counselors, Psychologists, Social Workers, and Family Therapists.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to mental health counselors, psychologists, social workers, and family therapists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, FBI investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers. To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at

In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company. If allowed, we will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company.

We also defend health professionals and health facilities in general litigation matters and business litigation matters.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at

About the Author: Amanda I. Forbes, practices health law with The Health Law Firm in its Altamonte Springs, Florida, office. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or toll-free: (888) 331-6620.

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