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Emotional Support Animal Laws: California In-Depth Guide

Emotional support animal laws in California can be difficult to navigate, especially if you are new to researching the right you and your emotional support animal (ESA) have in the state.

In addition to long-standing California ESA laws, recent laws have made changes to ESA protections. It’s important to understand both of these items so you have a good idea of what your rights are.

Our guide gives you all of the information you need to know about emotional support animal laws in California and answers your important frequently asked questions about this topic.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal is a companion animal that helps support, comfort, or provide relief to their owner through their presence.

ESAs are not trained to perform any specific task that is related to a disability their owner may have, and they are not expected to be trained. Emotional support animals simply provide routine, comfort, and support to those with certain mental health conditions or disabilities.

Emotional support animals may be any type of animal, such as horses, hamsters, birds, or snakes, but the most common ESAs tend to be dogs and cats.

Are Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals the Same?

Service dogs and emotional support animals are not the same, and they have different legal protections because of this.

Service dogs are dogs that are highly trained and perform specific disability-related tasks for their owners, such as guiding, retrieving items, and providing medical alerts.

Service dogs are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as additional state laws in a majority of U.S. states. These working pups are allowed to accompany their owner anywhere in public, even in places that don’t typically accept dogs.

Emotional support animals are not trained to complete specific tasks, and they don’t necessarily need to be dogs. They are granted some federal protections, such as the right to live with their owners under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), but the ADA does not cover emotional support animals.

Certain state laws provide additional protections for emotional support animals, but this does depend on the state.

Emotional Support Animal Laws in California

California is notable as a state that does provide additional support for emotional support animals, in addition to upholding the federal protections granted through the Fair Housing Act.

If you live in California or you are considering moving there, it’s important to review state laws and federal laws so you can understand the rights granted to you and your ESA.

Emotional Support Animal Housing Laws

Current California emotional support animal laws support the protections granted by the Fair Housing Act.

These regulations state that landlords are not able to discriminate against individuals who have disabilities, which means that cannot deny someone who requires their ESA. Accommodations must be made for the individual to live on a property with their ESA, even if that property doesn’t typically accept pets.

Under California law, the individual seeking to bring their ESA into a housing unit must have an emotional or mental health disability verified by a licensed mental healthcare practitioner. This also supports the rules laid out by the Fair Housing Act.

All individuals in California will need when applying for housing accommodations is a valid ESA letter provided by their therapist, doctor, or another licensed healthcare provider. Once accommodations have been granted, the individual will be able to live in their chosen housing or unit without paying pet fees, pet rent, or extra pet security deposits.

They will also be exempt from pet policies or restrictions on the property unless the emotional support animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others on the property. These restrictions might include weight or breed limits.

Emotional Support Animal Workplace Laws

Unlike other states, California has a unique set of employment laws that allow individuals to bring their emotional support animal with them to the workplace.

California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act gives more information on this. Individuals that wish to bring their emotional support animal to work with them will need to make a request with their employer. The employer must make a reasonable accommodation for an ESA in the workplace.

Again, if the emotional support animal poses a threat or health risk to others in the workplace, the accommodation request may be modified or denied.

Emotional Support Animal Travel Laws

California doesn’t provide any additional protections for individuals who wish to travel with their emotional support animal. In addition, ESAs are not required to be admitted onto public transportation the same way that support animals are.

California supports the federal Air Carrier Access Act, which was updated in 2021 to give airlines the choice of whether or not to accommodate emotional support animals. If you are considering flying with your ESA, you will need to contact the airline you wish to travel with directly for more details about bringing your emotional support animal aboard.

Understanding the Updates to California’s Emotional Support Animal Laws

In September of 2021, California’s Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill No. 468 to update certain aspects of the state’s emotional support animal laws. Changes listed in this bill became effective on January 1, 2022.

A few major changes were required by this bill, and the law was designed to address the increase in sales that encourage the misrepresentation of ESAs as service animals. It aims to prevent businesses from selling ESA certificates, ID cards, and identification material such as vests and harnesses that may help individuals pass off their ESA as a service animal.

It’s important to note that passing off an emotional support animal as a service animal is a misdemeanor. California’s law updates seek to clarify the punishments and fines that an individual convicted of this crime might face.

Additionally, these updates to California’s ESA laws provide more requirements for any licensed mental healthcare provider who writes an official ESA letter for their patient.

California ESA Sales Notice Requirement Updates

According to these new legal updates, any business that raises dogs with the purpose of having them adopted as ESAs must provide a written statement. This statement must acknowledge that the ESA does not qualify as a service animal.

This notice must also state that misrepresenting an emotional support animal as a service animal is illegal.

Additionally, businesses that sell any kind of ID cards, tags, leashes, or vests for the purpose of identifying service animals or ESAs must provide buyers with a similar notice.

These updates are designed to stop the prolific misrepresentation of emotional support animals as service animals. They also ensure that expectations for emotional support animals are clear to owners and those who might be considering adopting an ESA.

California ESA Letter Requirement Updates

Official emotional support animal letters are required if individuals want to request accommodations for their ESA. The updates in California’s ESA laws set additional requirements for licensed mental healthcare providers that write ESA letters for their patients.

These updates ensure that mental healthcare providers:

  • Hold an active and legitimate license, and that they include the details of their professional license in the ESA letter.
  • They must be licensed in the jurisdiction where the ESA letter is provided.
  • The client seeking an ESA letter from their healthcare professional must have a professional relationship established with them for at least 30 days before the letter is granted.
  • The healthcare professional must have conducted a clinical evaluation of the client to assess and evaluate their need for an emotional support animal.
  • The healthcare professional must provide a notice to their client, either verbally or in writing, that the ESA doesn’t qualify as a service animal, and attempting to pass off their ESA as a service animal is illegal.

For more details or to start the process of adding an ESA into your care plan, you will need to reach out to your therapist, doctor, or other trusted licensed medical professional.

Do the New ESA Law Updates Apply to California Service Animals?

While the changes to California’s ESA laws mention service animals, they don’t change anything about the federal or state laws that are in place to protect service animal rights.

These ESA law updates are instead designed to prevent the misrepresentation of emotional support animals as service dogs. They also ensure that every individual who obtains an emotional support animal has a verifiable need for one.

Frequently Asked Questions About California ESA Laws

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The following answers to frequently asked questions about California ESA laws will help you put any remaining worries to rest and understand more about these regulations.

Do I Need to Inform My Landlord I Have an ESA?

When moving into a new housing unit or adding an emotional support animal to your life in a unit that you already live in, it’s a good idea to inform your landlord.

If the property doesn’t typically accept pets, you will need to communicate your need for accommodations to your landlord by speaking with them. You’ll want to submit your ESA letter from your healthcare provider.

Even if the property is pet-friendly and allows animals, you should still inform your landlord or rental agency that you have an emotional support animal. Doing this will allow you to avoid any pet fees, restrictions, or reoccurring pet rents that individuals with regular pets might be required to pay on the property.

Landlords are not allowed to charge fees, uphold breed restrictions, or require pet rent when it comes to emotional support animals living on their property.

When Do I Request My Accommodation for an ESA?

Before you sign your lease at a new unit, you should let your potential landlord know about your emotional support animal. This will allow you to ensure your accommodations will be reasonably granted ahead of signing your lease and for the landlord to make any applicable notices or changes to your lease.

If you are adding an emotional support animal into your life, you will need to notify your landlord. Provide your accommodations request, along with your ESA letter, as soon as you have this important document.

Can a Landlord Deny My ESA Accommodation Request?

Landlords in California cannot deny your request to live with your ESA, as long as you have a valid ESA letter from a licensed mental healthcare provider in California. Your right to live with your ESA in California is protected under both state law and federal law.

However, landlords may be able to administer certain reasonable requests of the person living with their emotional support animal. These include ensuring the animal is non-destructive, non-threatening, and properly taken care of.

Landlords may be able to deny your accommodation request for an ESA in the circumstances that your request is unreasonable. Examples of unreasonable requests include moving several large dogs into a small studio apartment, or if the emotional support animal provides a direct threat to the health or safety of others on the property.

If your request is denied, you will need to ask for clarification on why, preferably in writing, so you can determine whether or not the denial of your accommodation request was valid.

Will I Need to Pay Fees for My ESA?

Once you have your accommodation request granted, you cannot be asked to pay pet security deposits, fees, additional pet rent, or any kind of liability insurance. Both California law and federal law ensure this.

However, if your emotional support animal causes damage to a property that you are living on, you may be required to pay for these damages.

Can I Have More Than One ESA in California?

It is possible to have more than one emotional support animal in California, and state laws don’t have a limit on how many ESAs an individual can have.

However, you will need your valid ESA letter to cover each of the emotional support animals in your care. Each animal must provide support for a certain aspect of your disability, and you must be able to properly care for all of your emotional support animals. None of your ESAs are required to be trained – only service animals must be trained.

Additionally, you should keep in mind when requesting accommodations for multiple emotional support animals that your requests must be reasonable. You may not be permitted to bring several animals into spaces that don’t support them or into spaces that won’t allow you to properly care for each animal.

Do I Need to Identify My ESA in California?

You are not required to identify your emotional support animal in California. The only documentation you need to prove your ESAs legitimacy is your valid ESA letter which you will use to request accommodations in housing and at the workplace.

Any ID card, vest, certification, harness, tag, or leash that you purchase for your emotional support animal is not required. You should keep in mind that purchasing these items for a dog that isn’t a valid ESA or attempting to pass your ESA off as a service animal is against the law.

Do I Have Federal ESA Protections as Well as State Protections?

The federal Fair Housing Act protects your rights to live with your ESA. California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act protects your rights to bring your emotional support animal with you to the workplace in California as needed.

That being said, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not cover emotional support animals, and neither does the Air Carrier Access Act. These two items of federal law only provide protections for service animals.

Is a Service Animal Better for Me Than an ESA?

Deciding whether or not a service animal is a better choice for you than an ESA is highly personal, and it is something that your trusted medical provider can help you figure out.

These animals are both wonderful companions, but they play different roles in the lives of disabled individuals. Service animals perform specific disability-related tasks such as guiding and medical alerts. Emotional support animals relieve specific symptoms of their owner’s disability with their presence and the routine caring for the animal provides.

If you think you would benefit from medical alerts, guiding behaviors, or psychiatric service dog support, a service dog might be a better option for you.

Think about the tasks that you want a service or support animal to help you with. Then, discuss these with your loved ones and medical provider to make your final decision on adopting a service animal versus an emotional support animal.

Avoiding Emotional Support Animal Scams

As you may have already noticed, there are plenty of websites and companies offering ESA letters for a fee. In addition, they may offer other items such as certifications, ID cards, and identification material for your emotional support animal.

It’s important to be wary of websites like this. Paying a large fee for a letter that you receive immediately isn’t likely to result in a legitimate ESA letter and may end up with you losing a significant amount of money.

The updates to California’s emotional support animal laws aim to decrease the amount of invalid ESA letters around. It’s important to keep in mind that you will need to have been working with your medical provider for at least 30 days before any ESA letter they write for you is valid.

Always use caution when researching emotional support animal letters. Be aware of both state and federal laws so you know which regulations for establishing your pet as an ESA you will need to adhere to.

Keeping Your Emotional Support Animal With You

For many individuals, ESAs are important companions that provide comfort, support, a consistent routine, and relief from symptoms of mental health conditions.

It’s possible to turn your current pet into an emotional support animal with a valid ESA letter, or you can adopt an animal for the purpose of adding an emotional support animal to your life.

It’s important that you discuss the benefits an emotional support animal could bring you as part of your care and treatment plan. You’ll also want to understand your legal rights and protections in California once you have a valid ESA letter and an ESA under your care.

Do these things, and you will be able to keep your trusty emotional support animal by your side while you go about your daily life.