If you have an emotional support animal (ESA), your rights are protected by federal laws that apply to every state. But did you know, as a resident of California, there are additional state laws that further protect your rights as an ESA owner? 

However, a major development in California regarding ESAs is underway: starting January 1, 2022, a new law will go into effect in California that will affect prospective owners of emotional support animals.  

In this post, we will explain what the current rules are in California, what you should know about the new laws for 2022, and how you can qualify the right way for an ESA in the Golden State. 

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

On September 16, 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new law that will go into effect on January 1, 2022. The bill was drafted in response to “an increase in the fraudulent selling and subsequent misrepresentation of emotional support dogs as service dogs” and to curb businesses that “sell various misleading ESA-related certificates and merchandise that inaccurately imply that ESAs have the same legal rights” as service dogs. 

It’s important to note that emotional support animals never had the same rights as service dogs. ESAs are a different type of assistance animal without disability-related task training. The new law punishes anyone attempting to pass their ESA as a service dog. 

Pretending that any animal is a service animal is unethical. California law already provides that anyone who “knowingly and fraudulently” represents a dog as a service dog can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and be subject to fines. 

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 three major parts; two relate to notices that businesses that sell ESA dogs and accessories must give buyers. A third part redefines the requirements of the licensed medical professional who issue the ESA letter.

New California ESA law sales notices: 

  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 the owner of a service dog is illegal. 
  2. 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. 

New California ESA law LMHP requirements:

The third major component of the new California ESA law affects the licensed healthcare professionals that issue ESA letters. Under existing HUD and CA laws, an ESA owner proves to their landlord that they have an ESA by providing an ESA letter from a licensed healthcare professional

Under the new CA law, there are a few new requirements for licensed healthcare professionals. The healthcare professional must:

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

Perhaps the greatest change for new ESA owners is the 30-day requirement. The new law effectively creates a 30 day waiting period if you just recently found the licensed healthcare professional you plan to get an ESA letter from. 

If you’re concerned about not getting an ESA letter on time, you may consider qualifying for an ESA from a licensed healthcare professional before the new rules go into effect on January 1, 2022. 

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

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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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 is not applicable to PSD letters which are for people who own (or plan to own) psychiatric service dogs. 

Psychiatric service dogs are different from emotional support animals because 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.

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

PSD Letter - Get Started - ESA Doctors

What are the existing 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. 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, and 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 ESA. 

ESA Specific Laws in California

California’s current laws, specifically 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 and 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

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. 

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. 

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