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As the owner of an emotional support animal, you have rights that are protected by federal laws that take effect in every state throughout the country. If you live in California, you have even more protection than most other states, as California has additional laws that are quite accommodating toward owners of emotional support animals and other assistance animals.
With some recent developments, a new California emotional support animal law will go into effect at the start of the new year that may change some processes for ESA animals and their owners. Let’s break down the new law and all that it entails.
California Emotional Support Animal Laws
California emotional support animal laws require landlords to allow tenants to keep an emotional support animal if they have a disability. However, it is important to note that emotional support animals are not considered service animals and therefore, are not granted the same rights under the law.
What is California’s New ESA Law AB 468?
California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new law on September 16, 2021 that will become effective on January 1, 2022.
The law seeks to address the issue of increased selling and misrepresentation of emotional support animals as service animals. It also seeks to prevent businesses that sell special ESA certificates, ID cards, vests, and harnesses that seek to mislead others into thinking the emotional support animal is a service animal.
Emotional support animals have always been distinct from service animals. They have never had the same privileges and rights, as emotional support animals do not have training specific to the owner’s disability. It can be easy and enticing for some to pass off their emotional support animal as a service animal. It’s already a misdemeanor to misrepresent a support animal as a service animal, punishable by fines. But this new law seeks to further clarify the distinction and punish those who attempt to falsely represent an emotional support animal as a service dog.
Here's a quick explanation of how California's AB 468 affects the ESA letter process:
The new California ESA laws require three major changes. Two of these concern people and businesses who sell emotional support dogs or paraphernalia, stating that they must now include sales notices to clarify some points for the buyer. The other change is in requirements for the licensed mental health professional who writes the official ESA letter.
Sales Notice Requirements in the New California ESA Law
As for the first changes from the new law, any business that provides dogs as emotional support animals will now be required to also provide a written statement along with it. This notice must acknowledge the emotional support animal does not qualify as a service animal, and that knowingly and fraudulently representing the animal as a service dog is illegal.
In addition, any business that sells special ID cards, tags, vests, harnesses, leashes, or certificates for support animals must provide a written notice to buyers including the same details.
The final change in requirements of the new California ESA law affects licensed mental health professionals who write ESA letters. An official ESA letter is required to prove to a landlord or anyone else who needs to know that an animal is an emotional support animal.
With the changes coming in California in 2022, the LMHPs who issue these letters now have additional stipulations to meet:
They must hold a legitimate and active license. In the ESA letter, they must include their license number, the effective date, their jurisdiction, and the type of professional license.
They must be licensed to provide professional services within the scope of the license in the jurisdiction in which the documentation is provided.
They must establish a professional relationship with the client at least 30 days before providing the ESA letter.
They must conduct a clinical evaluation of the client to assess their need for an emotional support pet.
They must provide a verbal or written notice to the individual similar to the sales notices explained above – stating that an emotional support animal does not qualify as a service animal, and that misrepresenting the support animal as a service animal is against the law.
The change here that affects emotional support pet owners the most is the new requirement to establish a client-provider relationship 30 days prior to obtaining an ESA letter. This may make it difficult for anyone in a hurry to legitimize their emotional support animal with an ESA letter.
Of course, if you’re concerned about the waiting period, you may consider seeking out an ESA letter right now, before the law comes into effect at the start of the new year. See if you qualify to get an ESA letter through Pettable.
Does this new law apply to Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs)?
No – the new law applies only to emotional support animals. This is because psychiatric service dogs are already allowed access to most public places. PSDs, while they help people with mental or emotional conditions like support animals, are generally considered service dogs because they need specific training to help their owners. The current problem the new law seeks to resolve is the fact that people too often misrepresent their emotional support animals as being service animals when they are not.
If you think your support animal could better serve you as a psychiatric service dog, and you’d like to pursue this, click the button below:
How do you qualify for a Psychiatric Service Animal?
To qualify for a psychiatric service animal, you must have an animal that is specifically trained to complete a task or tasks that help alleviate an aspect of your mental or emotional disabilities. This training can come from a professional dog trainer or from yourself, with a little guidance.
If you wish to self-train your dog, we offer an online PSD training program that you can complete on your own timeline. The course will supply you with all you need to successfully train your dog as a PSD.
Interestingly, though the standards of training for the dog are more rigorous, the mental or emotional disabilities that qualify one for a psychiatric service animal are the same that qualify for an emotional support animal.
These disabilities include:
This disorder must be diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). In addition, its recommended that the LMHP issues you PSD letter to certify your need for a psychiatric service dog.
How To Get a Psychiatric Service Dog With Pettable
After completing our quick, 3-minute assessment, you will know whether you qualify for a psychiatric service dog or if you first need to speak with a mental health professional. Pettable can connect you with a clinician to assess your mental health needs, if necessaty. Once it is verified that you qualify for a psychiatric service dog, you will be able to purchase your access to Pettable’s PSD training program
Pettable’s psychiatric service dog training program will allow you to learn how to train your dog to perform assistive tasks for your mental health disability and behave obediently in public settings while also providing you with the confidence needed to train your dog at your own pace. The course is entirely online and on-demand meaning you can complete it wherever and whenever suits you and is most comfortable for your pet. To get started, take our online quiz here.
Federal and state laws can sometimes have significant differences, but California state law only has a few significant differences from federal law in regards to support animals. Many California laws regarding emotional support animals match those that are set at the federal law level, so they tend to be similar to those throughout the country. Let’s go into detail about each California law so you know your current protections and rights when you possess a valid ESA letter for California.
California ESA Housing Laws
California laws for emotional support animals for housing are much the same as federal regulations put in place by the Fair Housing Act and HUD, so for California federal and state law are in line in many ways. This law states that landlords cannot discriminate against those with disabilities, and therefore cannot deny a potential tenant who is the owner of an emotional support pet. And, of course, you must have an emotional or mental health disability, as verified by an LMHP – such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, bipolar disorder – to qualify for a support pet. Essentially, California's state law aligns with the federal Fair Housing Act.
According to the federal and state law in California regarding housing providers for emotional support animals, tenants only need their ESA letter for housing. As long as you have a valid ESA letter for housing, your landlord must make reasonable accommodations for your support animal, regardless of the property’s current pet policies or restrictions. They cannot charge you any extra fees for possessing an emotional support pet (even if other pet owners are typically charged a deposit or fee). Your housing provider can only refuse if your animal poses a direct, demonstrated threat to the safety or health of others.
California ESA Laws for Employment
California’s employment laws regarding emotional support animals are unique from most other states – they tend to have more friendly policies in this area. In California, individuals are, in most cases, allowed to bring an emotional support animal to work. An employer must make reasonable accommodations for support animals in the workplace. As long as the employee has a valid ESA letter, they are protected under California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act.
California ESA Laws for Travel
When it comes to traveling with support pets, California has adopted the federal Air Carrier Access Act, which, as of some updates in early 2021, no longer requires airlines to accept emotional support animals. It now states that each airline can determine whether or not it will accommodate emotional support animals on board their flights. To find out if you can fly with your companion animal, contact your airlines ahead of time.
In California, support animals are also not required to be admitted on public transportation. Unlike service dogs that have protected access to public establishments and transportation, most ESAs will not be admitted on public transportation.
Frequently asked questions on California ESA laws
Do I have to tell my landlord I have an ESA in California?
If your housing provider has a no-pet policy, you must inform your landlord that you own an emotional support animal. This can protect your right to be accommodated, without having to pay any extra fees – and regardless of the landlord’s policies or opinions.
Technically, if your housing provider is pet-friendly, you do not have to tell your landlord you have an emotional support pet. However, it will still probably be helpful to let them know, as this can waive any breed restrictions or pet fees that your landlord typically has in place for pet owners.
Can a landlord deny an emotional support animal in California?
No, a landlord cannot deny an emotional support animal in California if you have a valid ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional in your state.
When do I tell my landlord about my ESA in California?
You can let your landlord know about your support animal before OR after you sign your lease. Or, if you are getting a new emotional support animal and will still be living in the same place, inform your landlord as soon as you have received your ESA letter.
Could my landlord charge a fee for my emotional support animal in California?
In California, your landlord cannot ever require you to pay a pet deposit, higher rent, additional security deposit, or liability insurance because you own an emotional support animal.
Keep in mind, however, that emotional support pet owners are still always liable to pay for repairs to any damage caused by their animal.
Can you have more than one ESA in California?
Yes. There is no limit to the number of emotional support animals you can have in California. However, each support animal must help you with your disability in a specific way, and each must be covered by your ESA letter from an LMHP. In addition, your request must be reasonable (i.e. bringing 5 Great Danes into a California studio apartment likely won’t be reasonable).
Can my California landlord place any restrictions on my emotional support animal?
Yes, a landlord in California can place some reasonable conditions on their tenants who are owners of ESAs. These are simply requests that make sure the animal is under the owner’s control. Some conditions may include things like disposal of animal waste and proper animal behavior that isn’t a nuisance to the housing provider or other tenants.
Do I need a certificate, ID card, or vest for my emotional support animal in California?
No. Accessories – such as special certificates, ID cards, vests, harnesses, tags, or leashes – are not necessary to legitimize an ESA. All you need to prove your emotional support animal is legitimate is the same written notice like other states, a valid ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. Misleading ESA related certificates are unnecessary.
How is a Psychiatric service dog (PSD) different from other service dogs in California?
Service dogs are all trained to perform specific tasks, so their training will vary according to the needs of their owners. PSDs are trained to help people by checking rooms, applying pressure with their paws to relieve anxiety, or retrieving medication. Guide dogs help people who are visually impaired. Guide dogs often wear harnesses and guide their owners safely around obstacles. Hearing dogs help people who are visually impaired.
Hearing dogs, also called signal dogs, alert their owners when they hear a significant sound, like a doorbell, cell phone chime, fire alarm, or crying. Mobility dogs help people who struggle to move independently from one place to another. Mobility dogs offer support to people moving from one place to another, whether they're on foot, in a wheelchair, using a walker, or having trouble balancing.
Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.