How Much Does an ESA Letter Cost? (2023 Price Guide)
In the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic alone, the World Health Organization reported that instances of anxiety and depression increased by 25% worldwide. To help deal with these feelings, some people turn to emotional support animals to help them feel calmer and in control of their emotions. Landlords are required to allow ESA, but to weed out people falsely claiming their pets are used for emotional support, they may require a letter certifying your need for an ESA.
To get a legitimate ESA letter, you can expect to pay a fee that will vary based on the service you use. Typically, ESA letters cost between $100–$200. In this article, we’ll go over the process for obtaining one of these letters. Unfortunately, many ESA scam websites are out there, and we’ll also tell you some warning signs to watch out for to avoid being fooled.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal (ESA) provides support, comfort, and companionship to a person with a mental health or psychiatric condition. Technically, any domestic animal can be an ESA, not just a dog or cat. Unlike actual service animals, an ESA doesn’t require training or certification.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows service dogs to accompany their owners just about anywhere, ESAs are not afforded the same protections. However, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects your ability to live with an ESA, even in housing that doesn’t allow pets. Unfortunately, many people abuse this privilege by falsely claiming their pet is an ESA.
What Is an ESA Letter?
An ESA letter is a prescription stating that you require a companion animal to manage your mental health. An official ESA letter must be issued and signed by a licensed mental health professional or a medical doctor. Without the signature and medical credentials to back it up, an ESA letter is worthless, and a landlord doesn’t have to accept it.
Typically, you have two options for getting a legitimate ESA letter. If you’re already seeing a mental health professional, they can issue you a letter, usually at no extra charge outside of your usual visit fees. The other option is to use an online ESA letter service that provides these documents.
Evaluating Online ESA Letter Services
To provide you with a real ESA letter, an online service must provide access to licensed mental health professionals. Look for one that will connect you with a professional in your state for a telehealth visit. Without this evaluation, the professional can’t officially certify your need for an ESA.
Check reviews of the ESA service you’re considering with the Better Business Bureau or consumer reports. Also, look into whether the service provides a refund if your letter isn’t accepted by a landlord.
Here are some potential warning signs that an online ESA letter service might be a scam:
- Offering free ESA letters
- Offering “instant” ESA letters
- No access to licensed professionals
- Claiming they “certify” ESA animals (no certification exists)
- Claiming they “register” ESA animals (also not a real thing)
- Try to get you to buy “official” merchandise like an ESA vest for your pet
Where Can You Take an ESA?
An ESA letter primarily protects your ability to live with your ESA and avoid paying a pet deposit. This includes being able to take your animal with you to campus housing in many cases. You also used to be able to bring an ESA on a plane with you, but that’s no longer allowed as of last year.
As we mentioned, emotional support animals don’t qualify for the protections of the ADA, so you technically can’t bring them into places like stores and restaurants that forbid pets. Remember, ESA don’t go through the intense training that service dogs do to prepare them to remain calm in any situation. Abusing the privilege of an ESA letter can lead to dangerous situations for you and your pet.
The benefits of emotional support animals are well-known and documented among mental health professionals. If you feel you would benefit from an ESA, ensure you take the time to get the proper documents, including an official letter signed by a licensed professional. You can get an ESA letter for a relatively reasonable one-time cost, averaging around $150, but the boost to your emotional and mental well-being could be priceless.
Featured Image Credit: River Roaming, Shutterstock