This article was last updated on October 4, 2023, to reflect the latest updates in California ESA regulations.

Great news for California residents: the Golden State has some of the most progressive state laws relating to emotional support animals (ESAs) in the country. California residents who own emotional support animals are protected under both federal and state laws.

To get a legitimate ESA Letter in California, your first step is to connect with a licensed therapist. If you would like to see if you qualify for an ESA Letter online, you can complete this ESA questionnaire from ESADoctors. You will select the plan you need and a licensed professional who specializes in emotional support animals will get in touch with you.

If you’re getting an ESA for the first time, you should also be aware that new laws have gone into effect on January 1, 2022. Under these new laws, healthcare professionals must wait at least 30 days before giving new clients an ESA letter in California. If you work with ESADoctors, you are all set, as their ESA Letter process takes that into account. ESADoctors recommends applying for an ESA Letter in California sooner rather than later so you are well within the 30-day waiting period.

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Why? You work directly with a California-licensed mental health professional for an enforceable ESA letter.

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Want to learn more about Emotional Support Animals for California? Continue reading for more information.

  1. What does California law state about Emotional Support Animals?
  2. How to get an ESA Letter in California
  3. Legitimate ESA Letter Requirements for California
  4. How to get a Psychiatric Service Dog in California
  5. Which laws protect my ESA from landlords, apartment managers, and HOAs in California
  6. Legal case history for Emotional Support Animals in California

What does California law state about Emotional Support Animals?

Woman walking with her ESA underneath the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, California
ESAs are protected in California by federal and state law. 

An emotional support animal in California is a small, domesticated pet like a dog, cat, bird, fish, rabbit, or gerbil that helps someone with a mental or emotional health disability like PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, autism, anxiety, or phobia. 

ESAs support their owners just by being at their side. ESAs do not need any specialized training, and your current pet may qualify as one. In contrast, service dogs are highly trained to perform specific tasks relating to their handler’s disability and have different rights under California law and the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

The laws pertaining to the disabled and emotional support animals in California include:

    • The Unruh Civil Rights Act

    • The California Disabled Persons Act (CDPA)

    • The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

    • Federal disability rights laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

California has also demonstrated that it will punish landlords that fail to accommodate emotional support animals. Yet, there are still complaints from ESA owners claiming that landlords have discriminated against them for owning an ESA. Both tenants and landlords in California need to understand the rules regarding emotional support animals. 

California residents should be aware that in 2022, a major new change was made to California’s ESA rules. Under the new CA law, the healthcare professional writing an ESA letter must:

  • Hold a valid, active license and include the effective date, license number, jurisdiction, and type of professional license in the ESA letter.
  • Be licensed to provide professional services within the scope of the license in the jurisdiction in which the ESA letter is provided.
  • Establish a relationship with the individual at least 30 days prior to providing the ESA letter.  
  • Complete a clinical evaluation of the individual. 
  • Provide written or verbal notice to the individual stating that knowingly and fraudulently representing oneself as the owner or trainer of any canine licensed as, to be qualified as, or identified as, a guide, signal, or service dog is a violation of the California Penal Code. 

The most notable thing about the new California law is the new 30-day waiting requirement for new clients seeking an ESA letter. A subsequent update to the law exempted verified homeless people from the 30-day requirement. An odd quirk of this update is that non-homeless people are subject to a more stringent requirement for getting mental health assistance through an ESA.

How to get an ESA Letter in California

You may get an ESA Letter in California either through your doctor, your therapist, or remotely via ESADoctors.

Technology has made it so fulfilling your need for an ESA Letter can be accomplished online, from the safety and convenience of your home. Fair Housing ESA guidance allows you to obtain an ESA letter from a licensed professional that offers their services remotely.

How to get an ESA Letter in California

  1. Complete the online form with ESA Doctors

    Submit information regarding your interest in qualifying for an ESA here.

  2. Match with a California-licensed professional

    To qualify for an ESA, you must consult with a healthcare professional licensed in California. ESA Doctors will match you with a healthcare professional licensed for CA and knowledgeable about emotional support animals.

  3. Obtain an ESA letter if you qualify

    The healthcare professional will determines if you have a mental or emotional health condition that would improve with the presence of an emotional support animal. If so, they will issue a signed ESA letter to you on their letterhead with their license number and contact information included.

Ensure that any online organization you work with connects you to a California-licensed healthcare professional so that your ESA letter is valid — having an improperly issued ESA letter may lead to a denial of your ESA accommodation request. Keep in mind that there is a 30-day minimum waiting period for California ESA letters if you are a new client of a licensed healthcare professional so the sooner you apply the better.

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Legitimate ESA Letter Requirements for California

If you need a California-licensed professional to write a valid ESA letter following the latest California rules. You can get your ESA letter online or in person, but make sure that you get your ESA letter from a California-licensed mental health professional. The letter should be signed and dated.

If you are getting your ESA letter online, make sure that the professional is properly licensed for California. If you are working with ESA Doctors, you’re covered. ESA Doctors works only with healthcare professionals that are licensed for California and understand the latest ESA requirements for your State. These licensed healthcare professionals are compassionate individuals who comprehend the benefits of emotional support animals for mental well-being and are ready to assist you

Under CA law, to be eligible to write an ESA Letter, the provider must possess a valid, active license and include the license number, effective date, jurisdiction, and type of professional license in the ESA documentation. The letter must establish you have a mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and that an emotional support animal helps alleviate symptoms of your condition. 

You can get your ESA letter online or in person, but make sure that you are getting your ESA letter from a California licensed mental health professional. - ESA Doctors
You can get your ESA letter online or in person, but make sure that you are getting your ESA letter from a California-licensed mental health professional.

How to get a Psychiatric Service Dog in California

We are also often asked about psychiatric service dogs. Psychiatric service dogs, also known as PSDs, are also recognized in California as protected assistance animals. PSDs assist people with mental health conditions by performing a job or task. The major difference between psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals is that ESAs do not require specialized disability training. 

PSD owners often obtain PSD letters from licensed healthcare professionals. A PSD letter provides documentation regarding a person’s disability eligibility. PSD letters are not subject to the same 30-day rule as ESA letters but should also come from a licensed healthcare professional. Psychiatric service dogs have rights for housing, flights, and public areas like stores. They are protected by the ADA in addition to housing laws.

If you are interested in a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter, we can connect you with a licensed healthcare provider.

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Which laws protect my ESA from landlords, apartment managers, and HOAs in California?

Emotional support dog chilling on the couch at the feet of its owner.
The Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to reasonably accommodate your emotional support animal.

Landlords that attempt to discriminate against people with emotional support animals will have a hard time winning their case due to the protections that ESAs have under the Fair Housing Act and California law.

Federal protections: The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals and requires housing providers to accommodate people with physical and mental impairments that limit one or more major activities, such as depression, severe anxiety, PTSD, or bipolar disorder. 

Under HUD’s guidelines, landlords, co-ops, HOAs, and other housing providers must reasonably accommodate ESAs free of charge (no pet fees or deposits are allowed). Housing providers also can’t deny an ESA because of its size, weight, or breed. Emotional support animals are considered assistance animals, not pets; therefore, they are exempt from pet policies that a building may have.

State protections: California Housing Laws align with the Fair Housing Act and provide similar protections for California residents with emotional support animals.  

To prove to your landlord that you require an ESA, you must have a legitimate ESA letter which can come from a psychiatrist, psychologist, registered nurse, social worker, doctor, or other licensed mental health professional. Landlords are not permitted to ask for specifics about your disability or demand a diagnosis or medical records. In cases where the landlord wrongfully refuses a tenant’s emotional support animal, the tenant can file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in California.

Two emotional support animals at the library - ESA Doctors
Cases in which landlords discriminate against tenants were settled with fines, fair housing training, and plaintiff legal fees.

Case Study #1:

Legal precedent: Landlords can get into legal trouble if they do not comply with their obligations under federal and California housing laws. One instance of a landlord discriminating against a tenant with an ESA took place in Sacramento. The landlord, who had owned several apartment complexes and rental homes in San Jose, attempted to evict tenants with disabilities that had emotional support animals. 

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) alleged that soon after the landlord purchased an apartment complex, he sent a letter to tenants stating he did “not like to deal with pets of any kind” and that they could not “introduce any new pet or replacement pet.” The letter made no exception for ESAs. The landlord also wrote a series of letters alleging a flea problem, and the solution was to get rid of the pets. Alternatively, the landlord required that the tenants provide a veterinarian letter verifying that the animals did not have fleas. The landlord issued a “three-day notice to perform or quit” to one of the tenants for allegedly violating the lease by having a “pet/animal in the apartment.” Ultimately, the landlord evicted two tenants with ESAs.

As a result, the landlord was charged with a fine of $100,000 and ordered to undergo fair-housing training for three years and develop reasonable accommodation policies for current and future tenants. And each accommodation had to be recorded and sent to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing for three years. 

The settlement also included compensation to the tenants as well as attorney fees and costs. The Director of the DFEH made clear that it is “unlawful to harass or retaliate against tenants who make requests to live with emotional support or companion animals…The law requires landlords to modify policies, including no-pet policies, to reasonably accommodate people with disabilities.”

If you are a California resident, your ESA letter must come from a California Licensed Mental Health Professional.

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Case Study #2:

Another case involved a real estate company that refused a would-be tenant with emotional support dogs. The woman argued that her dogs helped treat her depression and attention deficit disorder, both recognized as disabilities. She and her boyfriend were initially told by a manager at the real estate company that they could move in with their emotional support dogs without having to pay a deposit fee. However, that changed when a manager requested documentation showing a medical need for the animal. The manager stated that if the dogs did not perform tasks, the prospective tenants would not be allowed to move in.

The prospective tenant provided her ESA letter, but her application was denied. The landlord allegedly had a policy to deny tenants who went online to get recommendations for emotional support animals. An attorney from Disability Rights California has stated that an ESA letter from a mental health professional is typically all that’s legally needed before a landlord must accommodate a support animal, even if the letter was obtained remotely.

The tenant made the mistake of obtaining her letter through a counselor licensed in Colorado, not California. Fortunately, her local psychiatrist agreed that her ESAs would help with her disability. When obtaining ESA letters online, the service must connect you with a licensed mental health professional licensed in your state of residence.

The real estate company settled the dispute for $175,000 and had to pay plaintiffs’ legal fees, “provide training to employees, and hire a Compliance Manager to review requests for reasonable accommodation.” In a press release, the DFEH stated:

“[T]he companies charged pet deposits and pet rent, imposed breed and size restrictions for legitimate support animals, and failed to engage in an interactive process to verify that tenants had genuine disabilities. The firms also lacked a uniform reasonable accommodation policy and failed to train their leasing professionals at their apartment communities about fair housing responsibilities toward people with disabilities. As a result, some tenants were evicted from their apartments or had their lease offers revoked. Others were forced to pay additional rent.”

This case serves as a cautionary tale to landlords that try to impose restrictions on tenants’ ability to live with their ESA. It is also a lesson for patients who should ensure they are connected to a mental health professional licensed in California.

Make sure your ESA letter is from a California licensed mental health professional.

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