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How to Get an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) letter in Illinois

Editorial Team
By
Updated May 17, 2024
What is an ESA Letter

Illinois residents can get an ESA letter after receiving a qualified mental health provider diagnosis. Services like Pettable can connect you with one quickly, and you can get an ESA letter in under 24 hours if needed. 

What is an ESA Letter?

A person with a qualified disability can obtain a valid ESA letter for housing, travel, or a combination of both. An ESA letter certifies that a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) endorses an emotional support animal for their patient’s treatment. Housing providers must make reasonable accommodations for ESA owners with an official letter even if the residence has a no-pet policy. Residents in Illinois can obtain ESA letters online, and Pettable can help connect you with a qualified therapist.

What is an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) can provide comfort or therapeutic benefits to someone with a diagnosed disability, and licensed mental health professionals can recommend an ESA as part of a mental health treatment plan. Illinois considers an ESA the same as an assistance animal outlined in the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). According to Illinois law HB4912 Section 5, an assistance animal can mean the following: 

  • “…an animal, other than a service animal, that qualifies as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act….”
  • “…an emotional support animal if the animal qualifies as a reasonable accommodation.”
  • “…[it] does not include an animal that threatens or attacks any individual without cause, is not directly controlled in common areas, or produces animal waste that is not disposed of or cleaned.”

In other words, an emotional support animal differs from service dogs but still has the same legal protection to enter most residences. An ESA doesn’t need specific training, unlike a service animal, and it can’t pose health or safety threats to others. 

How to get an emotional support animal in Illinois? 

To get an emotional support animal in Illinois, you must obtain an ESA letter from a qualified therapist. Pettable can connect you with the right provider, and it only takes a few steps to get started.

Step 1: Find a provider.

Licensed doctors, therapists, clinicians, or medical providers can write valid ESA letters, but first, they must determine if someone has a qualifying emotional or mental illness. ESA letters cannot come from yourself or a family member, and there isn’t a self-service method or fill-out form. You shouldn’t trust services that guarantee an ESA letter before qualifying/meeting with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP); however, you can virtually connect with a licensed clinician through services like Pettable. 

Step 2: Meet with an LMHP and complete the evaluation

Once you’ve found a mental health professional, you’ll undergo a clinical evaluation to determine if you need an emotional support animal. Your visit can happen in person, over the phone, or online, and your LMHP will understand how an ESA may benefit you. You can also ask questions and get clarification for any concerns, and if eligible, your health practitioner can grant you an ESA letter. 

Your existing licensed mental health professional may be able to write you an ESA letter. Still, their license must fall within the scope of their practice–which means they must have the qualifications to write ESA letters. 

Step 3: Get your ESA letter.

Once your qualified therapist or LMHP diagnoses your disability and determines you need an emotional support animal, they can write an ESA letter for housing, travel, or a combination of both. According to Illinois state law, the document must: 

  • Be in writing;
  • Be made by a person with whom the individual requesting accommodation has a therapeutic relationship
  • Describe the individual’s disability-related need for the assistance animal.

Housing or travel providers may reject illegitimate or incorrectly formatted letters, and it’s crucial that you only seek a letter from an official therapist or LMHP in Illinois.  

Furthermore, your emotional support animal doesn’t need additional certifications, registrations, or official patches and vests after you obtain a letter. Some identification doesn’t hurt, but it’s not required for your ESA. It also helps to ensure your emotional support animal has adequate training and can behave around other people, but specific training (like a guide dog has) isn’t required. 

ESA laws in Illinois

Illinois’ emotional support animal laws follow federal laws like the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Generally, most housing providers must allow ESAs; however, public areas, workplaces, and airlines have no legal obligation to accept letters in Illinois. Illinois also provides specific guidance for assistance animals in the Assistance Animal Integrity Act

Furthermore, individuals falsely claiming to have an emotional support or service animal can face severe penalties, such as jail time, fines, or community service. Emotional support animals are not pets; one should only consider an assistance animal for legitimate mental or emotional support.

Fair Housing Act (FHA) 

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects individuals with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. Under the FHA, a housing provider must allow reasonable accommodations for ESAs, which they define as:

“…A change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces.”

In most cases, landlords cannot refuse reasonable and necessary ESA or service dog accommodations. Still, they can request information that proves the individual has a disability and needs an assistance animal accommodation (if not already apparent). The FHA and Illinois law doesn’t cover assistance animals that cause:

  • an undue financial and administrative burden
  • a fundamental alteration to the nature of the operations of the housing provider
  • a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by other reasonable accommodations
  • substantial physical damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by other accommodations
  • A pattern of uncontrolled behavior that its handler has not taken effective action to correct.

Moreover, if the conditions are met, “no-pet” policies or pet fees must be waived for emotional support animals. Housing providers cannot demand additional rent if an ESA is added after the signing of the lease. Pet deposits cannot be added unless damages are added to the property throughout the stay.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

Before January 2021, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) permitted qualified passengers to bring their ESAs into the cabin without an extra fee. The law changed, and airlines can now choose to classify emotional support animals as pets. Airlines have discretion over where pets fly (in the cabin or as cargo) and if passengers pay extra fees.

Despite the change in the law, the ACAA does not prevent airlines from allowing ESA accommodations, and it may be possible to travel with your emotional support animal. Not all airlines have the same policies; some will enable passengers to travel with their ESA—with or without a fee. Individuals should obtain an ESA letter from an LMHP in Illinois and check the airline’s emotional support animal policy for specific guidance to qualify.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates public access for trained service dogs, but emotional support animals lack the same protection. The ADA doesn’t require public spaces to prevent ESAs from accompanying their handlers, and in general, emotional support animals can go where pets are allowed. 

In addition, employers in Illinois have no legal obligation to allow ESAs in the workplace. According to the ADA, the only exception would be if the job applicant or employee with a disability requires a service dog for assistance. 

However, employers cannot discriminate against job applicants or employees because of a disability. If you obtain a certified letter and communicate with your employer, they may decide to allow your ESA. Of course, this will vary across different companies. You should check with your employer’s HR department or ESA policy to determine if this will work for you and your disability.

Illinois Assistance Animal Integrity Act 

The Assistance Animal Integrity Act follows federal guidance found in the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. The state law concerns housing and landlords, clarifying why property owners may deny an ESA. In addition to the reasons outlined in the FHA, the Assistance Animal Integrity Act says: 

“A landlord may deny a documented request for accommodation under this Act if other tenants of the property leased by the individual requesting accommodations also require accommodations that prohibit the animal’s presence.”

In Illinois, landlords may have the right to deny an ESA if its presence interrupts or disturbs accommodations required by other tenants. 

How do you qualify for an ESA in Illinois?

Emotional support animals can alleviate several mental and emotional disabilities. Not everyone may qualify, and an LMHP can determine if someone needs or can benefit from an ESA. Health practitioners can prescribe an ESA as part of a mental health treatment plan after completing a clinical evaluation with the patient. Qualifying mental and emotional disabilities may include: 

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, can prevent someone from staying focused or attentive. ADHD may also make someone more impulsive or less likely to exercise self-control. An ESA can help people calm down, stay focused, and lower stress levels.

Bipolar disorder

People with bipolar disorder may experience guilt, anxiety, lack of motivation, or mood swings. Sometimes their feelings lack consistency, and an ESA can help regulate mood and behavior. 

Chronic anxiety

Anxiety can make everyday tasks challenging and affect mood, energy, and drive. While practically everyone will experience some form of anxiety, long-lasting cases need additional treatment, such as an ESA companion. 

Chronic stress

Although everyone will experience stress, some people endure daily symptoms and can’t always find relief. Chronic stress affects people’s mood, motivation, and sociability and can stem from high-pressure situations or environments. People may experience chronic stress at work or at home, and an ESA can mitigate the adverse effects and act as a companion. 

Depression

Depression can affect multiple areas of people’s lives; sometimes, they may feel exhausted, irritable, or alone. Depression may come and go, or it can persist for long periods. An ESA companion may benefit from some mental health treatment plans and comfort their owner during difficult times. 

Phobias

People with phobias experience adverse effects when engaging with a particular object, concept, or image. Phobias can vary, and some may share worse results than others. Emotional support animals can help those with a phobia and provide support during triggering instances. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause severe panic attacks, anxiety, and uncontrollable flashbacks. Patients with PTSD may find it hard to control their symptoms, and an ESA can provide therapeutic benefits and help alleviate the effects.

Emotional support animals are excellent companions and can assist with multiple mental or emotional disabilities. Pettable can connect you with a licensed clinician in Illinois to get an ESA letter; it only takes a few minutes to see if you qualify.

Emotional support animal vs. a Service animal

Emotional support and service animals may provide a therapeutic benefit to individuals with disabilities, but ESAs are not trained to perform a specific task. Service animals have the training to accomplish a particular task–like a guide dog that helps a blind person cross a street. Emotional support animals have coverage under the Fair Housing Act and Illinois law but cannot enter a public or your employer’s space without permission. Additionally, emotional support animals can include species of other animals besides dogs, even miniature horses.

Emotional support dog vs. Psychiatric service dog

A psychiatric service animal or dog (PSD) has similar qualities to an ESA, but it has the training to accomplish a specific task like service animals. PSDs also have equal protection to service animals, and an official psychiatric service dog letter can allow them to access public places, airlines, and housing units. In addition, while PSDs and ESAs have different training standards, service animals support similar mental or emotional disabilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Having an ESA in Illinois to aid in a disability-related need such as mental impairment or emotional support can lead to many questions about places that admit service animals or rules regarding housing laws, employment laws, ESA documentation, certain protections, and more. Below are some FAQs an ESA owner may still have.

How do I get an ESA letter in Illinois?

To get a letter in Illinois, you must meet with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) or similar clinician with the qualifications to treat mental or emotional disabilities. After undergoing a clinical evaluation, the LMHP can write a letter for housing, travel, or a combination of both if you qualify. 

Can a landlord deny an ESA in Illinois?

Under most circumstances, landlords cannot deny an ESA unless its presence requires a significant financial investment or property changes or if it conflicts with other tenants’ reasonable accommodations. ESA owners may need to pay additional security deposits for damage caused by the support animal. 

Does Illinois allow emotional support animals?

Illinois allows emotional support animals in most residences, but public areas or airlines have no legal obligation to allow them. However, a valid letter may permit emotional support animals in some other places, depending on their policy. 

Can I get an online ESA letter?

Online services like Pettable connect you with a qualified therapist who can grant a letter if you qualify. Letters don’t have to be obtained in person. Still, you shouldn’t trust any online service that guarantees a letter before meeting with a medical professional to determine a person’s disability, such as a mental disability.

Are emotional support animals Service animals in Illinois?

Emotional support animals aren’t the same as service animals, although both are assistance animals. Service animals need specific training (like a guide dog), whereas emotional support animals can assist merely by their presence. 

Can a landlord charge you for an emotional support animal?

Landlords can’t charge additional fees or raise your rent because you have an ESA, but they may require a security deposit. ESA owners typically have to pay for any damage caused by their assistance animal.

Editorial Team
By Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.
Editorial Team

Editorial Team

Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.
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