Want to qualify for an emotional support animal (ESA) in California? Then this article is a must-read because there is some important news that affects your rights. 

If you have an ESA, you’re protected by federal laws that apply to every state. But did you know that as a resident of California, there are additional state laws regarding ESAs? 

California is ideal for ESA owners; these CA-specific laws provide an extra layer of legal protection. BUT, California also has different requirements than the federal laws. 

Not only that, a new update to California’s laws went into effect for 2022 that radically changed the ESA qualification process. For example, you might be subject to a new 30 day wait period for getting a new ESA letter

Confused by all these legal requirements? Don’t worry — we have you covered. 

In this post, we will explain what the current rules are in California and what you must know about qualifying for an ESA in the Golden State. We’ll also talk about all the wonderful rights ESA owners have under California law (like no pet fees or breed restrictions).

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What is the new law for emotional support animals in California?

Governor Gavin Newsom approved California’s new AB 468 ESA law, which is now in full effect since 2022. The bill was drafted in response to “an increase in the fraudulent selling and subsequent misrepresentation of emotional support dogs as service dogs.”

The law was also intended to stop businesses that “sell various misleading ESA-related certificates and merchandise that inaccurately imply that ESAs have the same legal rights” as service dogs. 

Essentially, there were two important goals of this law:
1. to ensure that ESA owners do not try to pass off their ESA as a service animal, and
2. to make sure ESA owners get proper ESA documentation and don’t fall for scam products. 

It’s worth recognizing that emotional support animals never had the same rights as service dogs. ESAs are a different type of assistance animal that do not require any specialized training. 

Service dogs are extensively trained to perform tasks for disabilities, while ESAs simply provide comfort to people suffering from mental illnesses by just being present. The new law punishes anyone attempting to pass their ESA as a service dog, but ethical ESA owners never had that problem. 

To get an emotional support dog in California, prospective owners need to balance a new law.
To get an emotional support dog in California, prospective owners need to balance a new law.

What do the new 2022 ESA laws in California require?

The new ESA law in California has two major elements. The first relates to notices that businesses that sell ESA dogs and accessories must give buyers. 

The other aspect is what you should pay close attention to if you’re interested in getting an ESA: the new law completely changes the process for getting an ESA letter in California from a licensed healthcare professional.

New California ESA Qualification Requirements

The new California ESA law will affect all licensed healthcare professionals that issue ESA letters. The way to prove that you have an emotional support animal is by showing your landlord you have an ESA letter from a licensed healthcare professional. 

A licensed professional can be a doctor, therapist, counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. Under the new CA law, the healthcare professional must:

  • Hold a valid, active license and include the effective date, license number, jurisdiction, and type of professional license in the ESA documentation.
  • Be licensed to provide professional services within the scope of the license in the jurisdiction in which the documentation is provided.
  • Establish a client-provider relationship with the individual at least 30 days prior to providing the ESA documentation. 
  • Complete a clinical evaluation of the individual regarding the need for an ESA. 
  • Provide written or verbal notice to the individual similar to the sales notice discussed below.

The most notable thing about the new California law is the new 30 day requirement. If you are obtaining an ESA letter for the first time, you must have established a relationship with the doctor, therapist, or social worker at least 30 days beforehand. 

ESA Doctors, est. 2015

Before this new law, healthcare professionals had broad discretion about how quickly they could issue a new ESA letter, as long as they were acting within the bounds of their professional and ethical obligations. The new law will limit their ability to give ESA letters quickly to clients they feel are in urgent need. 

Worried or confused by all these new requirements? If you need an ESA letter in California, ESA Doctors has your back. The licensed professionals that work with ESA Doctors are aware of these new rules and can give you a fully compliant ESA letter. 

If you would like to connect with an online healthcare professional licensed in California to see if you qualify for an ESA letter, just click on the link below to get started today!

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New California ESA law sales notices

In California, there are some new notice requirements for people who sell ESAs and ESA accessories. 

  1. ESA Sales Notice:
    People and businesses that sell or provide a dog as an emotional support dog must provide written notice stating that the ESA is not qualified as a service dog. And they must acknowledge that knowingly and fraudulently representing oneself to be a service dog owner is against the rules. 
  1. Notice from businesses that sell ESA paraphernalia:
    Anyone who sells a certificate, ID, tag, vest, leash, or harness for an emotional support animal must provide buyers the same written notice. 

You should be aware that you do not need to buy an animal that is somehow specifically meant to be an ESA. Emotional support animals do not require any specialized training. 

Your existing cat, dog, bird, fish, or other pet may already function as your emotional support animal. Most domesticated pets can qualify as ESAs, as long as they provide relief for your mental health condition. 

Psychiatric Service Dogs in California

What about psychiatric service dog letters?

The new rules for ESA letters, including the 30 day waiting period, only apply to emotional support animals. It does not apply to PSD letters, which are for people who own (or plan to own) a psychiatric service dog. 

Psychiatric service dogs are different from emotional support animals: they are trained to perform a task or job relating to a disability. PSDs have broader legal rights than ESAs, including the right to board planes free of charge.

PSD owners often obtain PSD letters from licensed healthcare professionals. PSD letters act as backup documentation regarding a person’s disability. PSD letters issued in California are not subject to the 30 day rule that applies to ESA letters but still require an evaluation by a licensed mental health professional.

ESA vs PSD in California - Infographic - ESA Doctors

How do I qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog in California?

To qualify for a psychiatric service dog in California, you must have:
1. a mental health disability, and
2. a trained dog that performs a job or task that helps with that disability. 

For example, a PSD might be trained to provide comfort through pawing or licking during difficult moments, retrieve medication, interrupt dissociative events, or scout a room before the owner enters. 

You do not need any specific documentation in order to qualify for a psychiatric service dog. The important criterion is that your dog is fully trained to perform its job or task. A psychiatric service dog must also be capable of accessing public areas without being distracted or acting in a disruptive manner. 

How do you verify a Service Dog in California?

To verify a service dog (including a psychiatric service dog) in California, third parties are allowed to ask two questions:
1. Is the dog required due to a disability?
2. What work or task has the service dog been trained to perform?

In California, third parties cannot ask you specific questions regarding the details of your condition or ask your dog to demonstrate its task. In California, ESA and PSD owners have a right to confidentiality regarding their mental health and a right to dignity. 

You are not required to have any documentation for a PSD in California. However, many PSD owners will obtain a PSD letter from a licensed healthcare professional. A PSD letter shows whether the professional believes the individual has a qualifying mental health disability for purposes of owning a service dog. 

To get a PSD letter in California, you must work with a healthcare professional actively licensed for the State. 

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

PSD Letter - Get Started - ESA Doctors

What are the ESA laws in California?

ESA Housing Laws in California

California laws protect owners of emotional support animals from discrimination in housing. These rules are similar to the protections given under the federal Fair Housing Act and HUD guidelines. 

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating against people with disabilities that need an emotional support animal. To qualify for an emotional support animal, you must have a mental or emotional health disability.

The term “disability” has a distinct meaning under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Housing Act, and California Housing Act. A “disability” for purposes of owning an ESA is a mental impairment that “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” 

A “mental impairment” can include conditions like depression, severe anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, phobias, or bipolar disorder. If you’re wondering whether you meet that standard, it’s best to consult with a licensed healthcare professional. A licensed professional can also provide you with an ESA letter if you qualify, which is the document you need in California to prove that you have an emotional support animal.  

ESA Rights in California

California’s current laws about emotional support animals are similar in many ways to HUD’s federal guidelines. Landlords and housing providers in California must reasonably accommodate emotional support animals, even if the building’s policy completely bans all animals. 

Landlords cannot charge fees or deposits for emotional support animals, even if normal pets in the building are charged fees. Furthermore, a landlord cannot reject an ESA solely because it is a certain breed or size. However, a landlord can reject an ESA if the animal has demonstrated it is a safety or health threat to others.

New ESA Law in California - Infographic

Frequently Asked Questions about ESAs in California

When can a landlord reject an emotional support animal in California?

Landlords can deny a tenant’s request to live with an emotional support animal if the animal “constitutes a direct threat to the health or safety of others (i.e., a significant risk of bodily harm) or would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others.” The housing provider’s finding has to rely on objective evidence about the animal’s actual conduct. 

The housing provider cannot say that an ESA is a danger based on old, unreliable evidence, mere speculation, or fear about the types of harm or damage an animal may cause. For example, a landlord can’t reject an ESA solely because they have preconceived notions about the animal’s breed.

It’s important to note that even if a housing provider makes this finding, they must still determine whether the harm can be sufficiently mitigated or eliminated by reasonable accommodation. 

That means the landlord should work with you to address any concerns about your ESA before they move to take drastic action. 

Can a landlord in California charge a fee for an emotional support animal?

Landlords in California can never require a tenant with an ESA to pay a pet fee, additional rent, additional security deposit, or liability insurance because they have an emotional support animal. 

ESA owners, however, are always responsible for the cost of repairs for damages their ESA cause to the premises, excluding ordinary wear and tear.

Can you have more than one emotional support animal in California?

You are allowed to have multiple ESAs under both federal and California rules. Each emotional support animal must be covered by the ESA letter from a licensed healthcare professional. When faced with a tenant requesting accommodation for more than one ESA, landlords can consider “whether the cumulative impact of multiple animals in the same dwelling constitutes an undue burden or fundamental alteration.”

What restrictions can my landlord place on my emotional support animal in California?

Landlords in California are allowed to impose reasonable conditions on owners of emotional support animals to ensure they are under the tenant’s control. Reasonable conditions include things like restrictions on waste disposal and animal behavior that may constitute a nuisance, as long as the conditions do not interfere with the normal performance of the ESA’s duties.

Do you need a vest, ID card, or certificate for an emotional support animal in California?

Accessories like vests, identification cards, and ESA certification do not prove that you have an emotional support animal in California. To qualify for an ESA in California, you need an ESA letter from a licensed healthcare professional.

Where can I take my emotional support animal in California?

Emotional support animals in California have the right to live in your home. They do not have the right to access public areas that ban pets, such as stores, restaurants, and school campuses. ESAs are protected under federal and state housing laws but not the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA protects service animals, such as psychiatric service dogs, that are trained to perform tasks to help their owner’s disability. PSDs have public access rights and can accompany their owners in stores, restaurants, and other public places.

Do rental buildings have to accept emotional support animals in California?

Rental buildings are subject to ESA rules in California. ESA housing rules apply to rentals, condos, and HOAs. Therefore, most landlords have to comply with Fair Housing rules. A few smaller landlords are exempt. 

For example, if your landlord is a single family home that was rented by the owner without the use of a real estate agent or you live in a 4 unit dwelling where the owner lives on the premises, the landlord may not have to comply. However, many landlords will still accommodate an ESA as a courtesy.

Are emotional support animals allowed in the workplace in California?

California labor laws are more accommodating of emotional support animals than other states. In California, certain employees may have the right to bring an ESA to work. If you’re interested in bringing an ESA to your workplace, it’s a good idea to speak to your HR department to understand the process for your workplace. 

Some workplaces will happily accommodate ESAs and have their policies and guidelines for doing so.

Do I need to tell my landlord about my emotional support animal in California?

It’s always a good idea to disclose that you have an emotional support animal, especially if you live in a building that bans pets. You are allowed to inform the landlord before or after signing the lease. Consider, however, whether your relationship with the landlord might be hurt if you disclose your ESA afterward. 

If you don’t tell your landlord about your ESA and your building doesn’t allow animals, you may be in violation of your lease. Your landlord would then have the right to fine you, evict your ESA, or worse. That’s why it’s better to be open and honest about your emotional support animal.

As long as you have your California ESA letter, you are protected against housing discrimination. If your landlord does deny your ESA, they must have a valid exemption and engage in a dialogue with you to work through any issues they raise. 

Landlords that fail to comply with ESA laws can get in serious trouble. Landlords have been fined and sued by the government for not accommodating tenants with assistance animals.

If I already have an ESA letter, but I’m moving to California, do I need a new one?

If you already have an ESA letter, but not from California, and you are moving to the Golden State, it might be a good idea to get a new ESA letter. Some landlords will accept out-of-state ESA letters from new tenants. 

However, many landlords will insist on an ESA letter from someone licensed in California. That is especially true if your letter is outdated. In any case, it’s a good idea to establish a relationship with someone in California that can help you with your mental health and ESA needs.

How do I get a real ESA letter in California online?

The new ESA laws in California had one primary goal: to deter the spread of fake emotional support animals and service dogs. If you want to qualify for an ESA in California, you need to find a healthcare professional or service that is reputable and understands the new rules.

If you need an ESA and don’t want to conduct in-person visits, there is no better option than ESA Doctors. They are one of the oldest and most highly rated services available online; thousands of California residents trust them. 

ESA Doctors will connect you to an independent remote healthcare professional licensed for California. They understand ESA rules — including the latest developments — and will get you an ESA letter that actually works. If you need a PSD letter, they have you covered as well. 

Make sure your ESA is always by your side — start the process with ESA Doctors today.

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