If you’re considering getting an emotional support animal (ESA) in California, you should know a few things before you start your search. Understanding what qualifies for an ESA will save you time and energy. In addition, securing legitimate documentation will get you the protection needed to own an emotional support animal that removes many pet restrictions. 

What Are the Benefits of Having an ESA in California?

You’re probably already aware that an ESA is protected by the Fair Housing Act. This federal law recognizes the importance of emotional support animals for people with an emotional or mental conditions. It protects their owner’s right to live with their ESA — even where pets are not allowed. 

Like the federal regulations, the Golden State protects the rights of ESA owners to reside with their animals. However, on January 01, 2022, a more strict California law, AB 468, went into effect. Misrepresentation of assistance animals harms the reputation and credibility of all assistance animal handlers. Therefore, AB 468 set a few more rules to prevent the misrepresentation of assistance animals further:

  1. Required ESA Sales Notice: Mandating a person or business that either sells or offers a dog for use as an ESA to give customers a written notice stating that the dog has no special training and therefore does not qualify as a service dog. The dog is not entitled to the rights of a service dog, and misrepresentation of the dog as a service dog is a misdemeanor. 
  2. Required ESA Paraphernalia Sales Notice: Mandating a person or business that sells or offers a certificate, identification, or gear for an ESA to give customers a written notice with the same information as above. 
  3. Healthcare Professional Requirements: In order to provide an ESA letter, a healthcare professional must: 
    • Hold an active and valid license within the jurisdiction the letter is provided.
    • Have a client-provider relationship for at least 30 days prior to writing the ESA letter.
    • Completes a clinical assessment regarding the need for the ESA.
    • Issues notice to the individual that knowingly misrepresenting oneself as a service dog owner is a misdemeanor. 

California’s tough stance on misrepresentation of emotional support animals isn’t to punish ESA owners but to preserve public trust and confidence in legitimate assistance animals. 

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New ESA Law in California - Infographic

Who Qualifies For an Emotional Support Animal?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) requires reasonable accommodations for assistance animals, including ESA, from landlords. The FHA allows owners to live with their ESA in “no pets allowed” housing, free from pet fees or pet restrictions because an ESA improves a person’s emotional or mental disability.

To qualify for an ESA in California, you must have an emotional or mental health disability that is alleviated by an animal’s presence. Federal Fair Housing rules define a disability as a mental health condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities. ESAs are frequently used by people with depression, severe anxiety, phobias, PTSD, and other disorders. A licensed therapist or doctor is best suited to determine whether you meet this standard and whether an ESA would help your condition.

ESA certificates, registrations, and licenses seem like they might hold weight when providing proof of documentation. However, the only documentation that legally matters is a legitimate ESA letter. 

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ESA dog at home in a baywindow on a sunny day.
A legitimate ESA letter is needed to get an emotional support animal to stay in no-pets housing in California.

How Can You Get an ESA Letter in California?

The only documentation a landlord can request is a legitimate ESA letter. Written by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) — like a psychologist, psychiatrist, advanced practice psychiatric nurse, or mental health social worker — an ESA letter verifies that the ESA is a vital part of an individual’s plan of care for their disability.

A valid ESA letter contains the following elements:

  • Written by an active licensed mental health professional within the same state the letter is used.
  • The license number and signature of the professional.
  • The ESA letter establishes a disability-related need.

If you’re already working with an LMHP, you may want to inquire with them regarding an ESA letter. However, some LMHPs do not offer ESA letters or are unfamiliar with an ESA’s benefits. In these cases, you may request an ESA letter online; an LMHP can evaluate whether an ESA meets your needs through telehealth and, if so, issue you an ESA letter.

How to ask a doctor for an Emotional Support Animal Letter - ESA Doctor
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When Can a Landlord Deny an ESA?

After receiving the ESA letter, landlords have ten days to respond. In the meantime, the ESA owner should not have the animal at the residence until the landlord approves the ESA letter. A landlord may deny the ESA for the following reasons:

  • If the animal is a direct threat to the health and safety of others
  • If the animal has caused significant property damage

How to Make a Complaint in California?

If you believe your landlord has wrongfully discriminated against you, you can file a complaint at the Department of Justice (DOJ). The complaint must be received within 180 days of the alleged incident if the landlord receives federal funding, though it’s always best to file a complaint as soon as possible. For the address and more information on filing a complaint, visit https://www.ada.gov/filing_complaint.htm.

In California, complainants may also file under the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The filing must occur within one year of the alleged discrimination event. Information for filing a complaint in California is available at https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/complaintprocess/.

In Conclusion

Obtaining the correct documentation through an ESA letter is paramount to achieving protection under California and federal laws.

If you’re looking for an online LMHP, ESA Doctors is a trusted link to mental health professionals licensed for California. ESA Doctors have a knowledgeable support team ready to answer your questions on how to get a legitimate emotional support animal in California. 

Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal in California by Applying for Your Emotional Support Animal Letter Online (linked)

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