Law Office of Carol Ryder and Associates

Service Animals, Emotional Support Animals, and Pets, & Your Rights to bring/keep them in housing and public facilities

 Because this subject comes up quite often. although  extensive information is listed under "Disability Discrimination", we have decided to list some basic information here. Additionally, we discuss pets in dwellings here since these are not covered under disabilities and are classified differently, with few rights as far as dwellings and public places, unlike Service Animals ("hereinafter "SA"), and Emotional Support Animals (hereinafter "ESA") sometimes referred to as Therapy Animals and/or PTSD Animals, although Therapy Animals are actually supposed to be for animals trained and certified for Emotional Assistance Therapy in facilities and elsewhere, a whole different animal.

The Americans with Disabilities Act definition of an SA is:  A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.  For more information, see the Disability page of this website and/or go to: Remember: this is only the ADA-there are many other laws governing animals. Also, although the ADA states "dog", miniature horses sometimes can be used and the disabled person and his little service animal with hooves is still covered under the ADA.

So many people have abused the right to bring an Emotional Support Animal , or have gotten phony "Service Animal" vests for their pets,into public establishments and/or rentals/condos/co-ops, homeowner's associations, etc. with "no pets" policies, they have created problems for those who do need Emotional Support Animals and/or Service Animals.

Thus, although many laws and regulations may not require all of the following, this is a guideline:* 

Have your treating doctor write, on a prescription form is best, that you require a Service Animal and/or Emotional Support Animal. A sample letter is below. *** These are two different classes , or tiers (our words), under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("hereinafter "ADA") Titles II and III, and other laws. You may wish to have your Service Animal or your Emotional Support Animal wear a vest to alleviate issues, though these are not required under the laws. If you reside in a city such as New York City, you may wish to obtain the certified "license" it issues after it vets, no pun intended, the disabled person and his/her Service Animal. Again, this is not required and operates as a "leave us alone and let us eat in the restaurant, live in our dwellings, shop...". 

Please note that Psychiatric Service Animals are different than ESAs, and are considered by the ADA in the class of Service Animals. Please also note that in order to qualify as an SA, the animal has to be individually trained to perform tasks, as discussed above. MANY new ways to utilize dogs' excellent senses and personalities have been found so what tasks they can do to help with the disabled person's disabilities, such as sensing seizures and/or getting help and/or warning the disabled person to get to a safe place, and sit or lie down, becomes the defining issue in whether a disabled person's dog (or mini-horse) is covered by the ADA.

While the ADA was changed to exclude Emotional Support Animals, other laws still include them, such as the FHA (for dwellings). Thus, for example, not only are you permitted to keep your ESA in your dwelling, though it may have a "no pets" policy, your ESA is NOT a pet but in the second tier,  with SA in Tier 1, pets in Tier 3*  Thus, you don't have to tell a potential landlord or real estate broker you have any "furry friends" if they are in what we call tiers I and II. 

"We are writing "laws" because there are a number of laws that apply here: the ADA, the Fair Housing Act (hereinafter "FHA"), various state and local laws, such as the New York State Human Rights Law (hereinafter "NYS HRL") and the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYC HRL). State and local laws are permitted to be enacted even when there is federal law on the subject as long as they provide for more protection, or similar relevant coverage, than the federal law.  

**With almost no laws protecting your rights to have them except in NYC, Westchester and other jurisdictions in certain instances, even for people who don't need SA or ESAs-see below. Also remember that even when you dwell in a private residence such as a house, zoning regulations may limit the number and/or type of pets you may have. 

*** Sample letter for your treating professional to write:
Name of Professional (therapist, physician, psychiatrist, rehabilitation counselor), XXX Road, City, State, Zip

Dear [Housing Authority/Landlord/Board of Directors]:

[Full Name of patient] is my patient, and has been under my care since [date]. I am intimately familiar with his/her history and with the functional limitations imposed by his/her disability. He/She meets the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 

Due to mental illness, [first name] has certain limitations regarding [social interaction/coping with stress/anxiety, etc.]. In order to help alleviate these difficulties, and to enhance his/her ability to live independently and to fully use and enjoy the dwelling unit you own and/or administer, I am prescribing an emotional support animal that will assist [first name] in coping with his/her disability.

I am familiar with the voluminous professional literature concerning the therapeutic benefits of assistance animals for people with disabilities such as that experienced by [first name]. Upon request, I will share citations to relevant studies, and would be happy to answer other questions you may have concerning my recommendation that [Full Name of Tenant] have an emotional support animal. Should you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Name of Professional


Pets in dwellings and elsewhere

More information is coming as we build this site.

If you live in NYC and Westchester and have a pet, even in a "no pets" dwelling, your governing body, such as your landlord or Homeowners' Association or Bozrd of Directors, they can't demand you get rid of the pet if you have been living "open and notoriously" for more than three months. In so many words, for over three months, you walked the dog normally and didn't try to smuggle him/her out of the building for walks, perhaps in a bag, as many folks do. There IS a caveat: THAT pet(s) can stay under those circumstances but you can't get any others. True situations, and many people have tried it, some successfully. For example, when the pet went to Heaven, people obtained pets that look just like him or her. If they can fool people for three months, living open and notoriously, they may or may not be able to keep the pet in that dwelling or move. We can't advocate that bu

t we will look into that further.

*Nothing on this website, in consultations, e-mails or phone calls is meant to create, imply or in any way infer an attorney-client relationship. Moreover, no information here is meant to be taken as legal advice. This is merely some guidelines for people to use, in conjunction with other tools to help them obtain proper legal representation for their needs. ONLY the signing of a formal retainer agreement creates formal legal representation by Carol Ryder and/or the firm.