Emotional Support Animals (ESA) Information

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) – within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – an individual with a disability may request to keep an emotional support animal (ESA) in their residential dwelling when there is an established need for the therapeutic nature of the animal connected to the individual’s disability.

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA, “comfort animal” or “therapy animal”) provides emotional support and companionship to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support. ESAs are NOT Service Animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. Unlike a service animal, an ESA does not need to be trained to provide a specific work task for the person with a disability, does not accompany a person with a disability at all times, and is not limited to only dogs. ESAs are not “pets” but they are identified under HUD as typically common household, domesticated animals.

The ESA must be documented as necessary for an individual with a disability by an appropriately qualified and relevant mental health professional with whom the individual has an established relationship in order to be approved in Residential Life housing. At UMBC, this documentation must be submitted to the Office of Student Disability Services (SDS).



Students living on campus in a residence hall may qualify for an ESA as an approved disability-related housing accommodation when:

1) The student has a documented disability indicating the need for an emotional support animal;

2) The animal is necessary to afford the student with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their residential dwelling;

(**Please note: An additional animal to support the companionship of an ESA will likely not be approved and certain exotic animals may be excluded from housing accommodation approval).

3) There is an identifiable and documented nexus (connection) between the disability and the assistance support that the animal provides. The connection is clearly indicated by the student’s treating mental health professional in the documentation.

The documentation must state the impact the disability has on the student’s ability to live in a University residence and how the ESA will ameliorate the disability symptoms that are preventing use and enjoyment of their dwelling. An ESA provider form is linked below that can be given to the documenting professional. Contact information and licensure details of provider should be included.

4) The student registers with UMBC’s Office of Student Disability Services (SDS) to request an ESA housing accommodation. Students requesting an ESA will schedule an intake with an SDS disability specialist to discuss their disability needs, limitations and/or access challenges, and reasonable accommodations.

When requesting an ESA as a reasonable and necessary accommodation in University housing, an accommodation verification form will need to be completed by the treating mental health professional IF the disability documentation submitted for registration does not contain all information necessary for accommodation determination and approval. 

*Caution: Some internet websites sell certificates, registrations, and licensing documents that are typically insufficient to serve as documentation that would “reliably establish that an individual has a disability-related need for an assistance animal” (HUD January 2020), or that the provider has personal knowledge and history of the individual to be able to therapeutically prescribe an ESA as necessary for housing access, use and enjoyment.

5) Students must receive approval for an Emotional Support Animal as an accommodation for a disability in campus housing via an official SDS letter of accommodation AND must complete the Office of Residential Life’s housing contract PRIOR to bringing their animal on campus.

Students found with unapproved animals in campus housing will be asked to remove the animal immediately and may be subject to University housing sanctions. 


USE THIS FORM – SDS Provider Documentation FORM (optional but recommended): Emotional Support Animal Housing Accommodation Request Form




Once an ESA accommodation is approved by SDS, the student must complete the Residential Life housing contract for animals:

a- Meet with a Residential Life representative in Housing Assignment Services to complete the University housing contract,

b- Submit the required Residential Life housing contract animal documentation (e.g. vaccination paperwork, signed Res Life Animal Agreement/Contract),

c- Receive Residential Life’s animal permitted letter which identifies that the animal housing contract process has been completed, and

d- Arrange to bring the approved ESA to their room in campus housing.

Unauthorized animals found in Residential Life will be asked to leave immediately. UMBC requests that the student provide as much advance notice as possible prior to the desired move-in date so that the University can appropriately engage in the process and accommodate the student. Like all disability accommodations, the determination of whether or not an ESA will be permitted in on-campus housing is made on a case-by-case basis through an interactive process between the student and an SDS disability specialist. 

Requirements for Emotional Support Animals 

  • The care and supervision of the ESA is solely the responsibility of the student owner. The student owner must be in full control of the ESA at all times. The ESA must be maintained (kept clean, vaccinated, free from fleas, ticks, pests, illness, etc.) and may not create safety hazards for other people or the University community.
  • ESAs may not pose a direct threat to the health and safety of persons on the college campus, cause physical damage to property, have the potential to transmit zoonotic diseases (salmonella, rabies, bird flu), breed with other animals, feed on live animals, or fundamentally alter the nature of the University’s operations or buildings. Local and state ordinances and laws regarding animals apply, including requirements for immunizations, licensing, noise, restraint, at-large animals, and dangerous animals.
  • Animals that are intrinsically predatory or dangerous (such as certain snakes/reptiles and birds), wildlife, exotic, or endangered species (ie. primates, kangaroos), barnyard animals, and large animals unfit for University housing space will generally be excluded as ESAs at UMBC. Exclusion determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis with SDS and appropriate University staff that may include Residential Life, Student Affairs leadership, the Environmental Safety & Health office, and University Legal Counsel.
  • An animal’s behaviors, noise, odor, and waste must not exceed reasonable standards for a well-behaved animal. These factors should not create unreasonable disruptions for other residents. If the noise (whining, barking or meowing is excessive as judged by residence life staff) or the animal behaves in an unacceptable way and the student does not or cannot control the ESA, it is grounds to remove the ESA from the residence hall. Uncontrolled barking, running away from the handler, escape attempts, and aggression are examples of unacceptable behavior for an ESA (or Service Animal- dog). Any suspected or observed issues related to animal abuse or neglect will be reported to the proper authorities and may be subject to University disciplinary action.
  • The student is responsible for immediately cleaning up and properly disposing of the ESA’s waste and is responsible for having the equipment and means to do so. People who are physically unable to accomplish this task are responsible for arranging it to be done and responsible for any costs that it may incur. The University retains the right to designate a particular area for the ESA to relieve itself and/or for the disposal of its waste.
  • An ESA is limited to the residential space (room) of the student (except when exiting or entering the student’s residential building for relief or move-in/move-out and vet/health appointments). It may not be taken into bathrooms, laundry facilities, indoor recreational rooms, lounges, computer labs, study rooms, or other common areas of the residence hall. It also cannot be taken into classrooms or other buildings on campus such as dining halls or the library, nor can it be allowed to roam freely on campus grounds (such as off-leash).
  • The student/owner must provide the name and contact information of a person who is willing and able to take the animal in the event of an emergency. If an emergency/backup contact for the animal cannot be reached, local animal control or a shelter will be contacted to take the animal if the student is unable to care for it.
  • NOTE: In October 2020, 17 states had reported salmonella outbreaks attributed to pet hedgehogs, bearded dragons, and turtles obtained through pet stores. Hospitalizations and in rare instances death have resulted from salmonella outbreaks and related bacterial infections from these animals. At this time, UMBC reserves the right to deny these species from University housing to protect the safety of our students in the residential community. These animals are typically not considered common household, domesticated animals as identified under the FHA/HUD.