An emotional support animal (ESA) is defined as a dog or other animal which provides companionship, emotional support, and a sense of well-being and safety to their owner, aiding in the treatment of one or more mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.
Unlike service dogs, they are not trained to perform specific tasks related to an individual’s disability. Instead, only their companionship is required for their owner to benefit from their presence. This means that emotional support dogs do not need the same training as service dogs that help disabled owners with physical tasks.
Owners of pets who are emotional support animals are entitled to certain protections under federal law as well as California law. California residents who benefit from the companionship of their emotional support animal will want to make sure that they research the law before looking for special accommodations in housing or travel.
Summary of Protections for California ESA Owners
California residents who have dogs or other animals with an ESA letter from a licensed medical professional are entitled to live in any kind of housing with their animals, even if their landlords have a “no pets” policy. Additionally, owners are not required to pay any additional fees for their ESA. This protection is outlined in the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and is strengthened by California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.
ESA Letter Requirements in California
In order to be covered by the additional protections given to California residents, the only requirement is a letter from a licensed medical professional that states that your emotional support animal is a part of your treatment for a qualifying mental condition. Exactly how much information to include in the letter is between you and your doctor.
In order to be valid for all purposes, the medical professional writing the letter must be licensed to practice medicine in the state of California and they must write the letter on their practice’s letterhead. California dog owners who register at US Service Animals are provided with access to local medical professionals who can assess the need for an ESA over the phone and can provide a valid letter the same day.
Previously, the medical professional only had to have a single telehealth session with the patient in order to diagnose their condition and prescribe an ESA. However, as of January 1, 2022, there must be a client-provider relationship established at least 30 days before the ESA letter is issued. This means you’ll have to plan ahead to ensure you receive your ESA letter on time, for instance, if you’re moving into a new living situation and need documentation before you can sign your lease.
It’s important for patients seeking ESA letters to understand that there are numerous scams out there that seek to prey on them. Shady ESA letter providers often attempt to lure well-meaning pet owners with big promises and unbeatable prices, only to leave them with an invalid letter that could cause massive problems down the road.
California ESA Housing Laws
Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, a landlord is required to allow an emotional support animal to live with their owner in a rented home. Landlords cannot evict or restrict a renter because they have an emotional support animal. Additionally, landlords cannot ask for a pet deposit for an emotional support animal as they are not classed as pets.
Documentation may be required to show evidence and support the disability of the renter, but the owner should not have to show evidence that the animal is certified. The documentation will be in the form of an ESA letter like the ones provided by the licensed service providers who work with US Service Animals.
If a property does not usually allow pets, landlords still have to allow someone who has an emotional support animal as long as they have a letter from a mental health professional stating their need for the animal.
California ESA Employment Laws
Employment law is one area where California is significantly different than other states. In most states, allowing an animal with an ESA letter in the workplace falls under the discretion of the employer. However, California state law goes above and beyond to provide these protections to workers.
Both employees and job applicants with emotional support animals fall under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. This law states that employers may not discriminate with regards to an employee’s disability, and they must make a reasonable effort to adapt to their disability within the workplace.
Even if a workplace does not usually allow animals, they have to make an exception for an emotional support animal. Similar to landlords, employers may request documentation that states the owner’s need for an emotional support animal. This is why it is important to have an ESA letter documenting your need for an emotional support animal to accompany you in the workplace.
California ESA Travel Laws
Unfortunately, ESAs are not protected when it comes to traveling on commercial aircraft. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) that once required airlines to make reasonable accommodations for passengers with ESAs now applies only to those who need a service dog. If you’d like to bring your ESA on a flight, you may be able to bring it in a pet-safe carrier as a carry-on that you’d stow under your seat. Of course, your pet would have to be small enough to qualify for this and there would be a fee.
Alternatively, if your ESA is a dog, you could have it trained to be a psychiatric service animal (PSA). These dogs perform tasks that relieve distress caused by mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. PSAs are protected by the ACAA and could ride in an airplane cabin with you. However, airlines are within their rights to require you to fill out a form about your service animal. These forms will ask about your dog’s training, and they also function as an agreement. You must sign that you understand your dog is to be well-behaved or else it can be treated as a pet and made to travel in a carrier for a fee like all other pets.
Public Transportation Laws
Emotional support animals are not allowed in many public places and this also applies to public transportation. This includes buses, trains, and cars which only allow service animals and psychiatric animals on board.
California Laws on Emotional Support Animals Can Be Confusing
Because of laws specific to the state of California, it can be confusing for owners of emotional support animals to understand exactly which protections apply to them and which do not.
Like most states, California makes a distinction between emotional support animals and service animals who are trained to physically assist their owners.
Where California law differs from many other states, however, is the addition of the “psychiatric service dog” category. This label is less restrictive than a traditional service dog and is expanded to include dogs who can perform specific, identifiable tasks that are related to their owner’s diagnosed mental disability.
Examples of tasks commonly performed by psychiatric service dogs include reminding their owner to take medication, waking them up in a calm manner, and even performing deep pressure therapy and stimulation with their paws.
The laws in California allow a person with a disability to bring a trained service dog or psychiatric service dog to all public places but not emotional support animals. A public place includes libraries, hotels, shops, restaurants, theatres, and hospitals. The laws for emotional support animals also apply to public transport services on which animals are typically not allowed.
Landlords and employers can request proof that an animal is an emotional support animal. And this proof has to be from a licensed healthcare professional who will state why the user needs their emotional support animal to support their specific disability. A landlord or business can deny access if a letter is not provided.
It is advised to get documentation as soon as you get an emotional support animal to be on the safe side. Remember, you must have a client-provider relationship established with your medical professional at least 30 days before your ESA letter is issued; it’s best to begin this process as quickly as possible so there’s no delay in enjoying your ESA’s rights.
Whether you’re traveling with your pet or hoping to bring it to work, an ESA letter from one of the licensed providers at US Service Animals is just what you need.
Can My Emotional Support Animal Accompany Me to Work in California?
Yes! Unlike many states, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees who wish to have their emotional support animals accompany them to work. Employers may request that their employees provide a letter from a qualified medical professional explaining that their ESA is part of their treatment.
Can My ESA Live With Me, Even if My Landlord Doesn’t Allow Pets?
According to the Fair Housing Act, landlords may not prohibit their tenants from owning emotional support animals provided they are able to furnish a valid letter from a medical professional. They are also not allowed to charge any additional fees for providing this accommodation.
What is the Difference Between a Service Animal, an Emotional Support Animal, and a Psychiatric Support Animal?
While these three terms sound similar, they have vastly different meanings and different protections under the law given to each type of animal. Owners should familiarize themselves with all three.
A service animal is trained to help an owner with a physical disability with their daily routines. This requires extensive training. In California, service animals are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA) and allowed to accompany their owners inside businesses that do not normally allow pets.
Also defined by federal law, an emotional support animal provides a therapeutic benefit to their owner simply through companionship. Owners who have a valid ESA letter from a mental health professional licensed to practice in California are entitled to protection when seeking housing and employment.
A psychiatric support animal is a special class of support animals and is defined by California State Law. It mostly falls in-between the two categories above. It covers animals, mostly dogs, who have specific training to assist their owner with non-physical disabilities. Examples of jobs performed by these dogs include helping their owner remember to take medications and gently waking up patients with panic disorders.
How do I Qualify to Own an Emotional Support Animal in California?
That’s easy! The only thing a California pet owner needs to qualify for all the benefits of emotional support animal protection is to procure an ESA letter from a medical professional who is licensed in the state. Because the companionship of dogs, cats, and other animals is an excellent non-pharmaceutical treatment for a wide variety, most doctors are happy to assist their patients with this.
At US Service Animals, we connect patients with mental health professionals who are licensed to practice in California and are able to write valid ESA letters for qualified patients after a free consultation by phone.
What Kinds of Animals can be ESAs in California?
Because an emotional support animal does not require any specific training and does not need to perform any physical tasks, there is no restriction on breeds or even species of animals that may qualify as an emotional support animal.
While dogs and cats are by far the most common emotional support animals, patients have requested ESA letters for ferrets, snakes, and pigs, just to name a few!
How Can I be Sure My ESA Letter is Valid Under California Law?
Even though the state of California does not have any official registration process for emotional support animals, there are certain requirements that must be met by the doctor’s letter recommending your ESA’s companionship as part of your treatment. It’s important to make sure that your ESA letter fits these requirements or you risk having it rejected by landlords and employers.
First, a valid ESA letter must be issued by a licensed medical provider accredited to practice in California and it must be written on official letterhead. Next, it must outline the medical conditions that your animal helps in the treatment of, though it does not need to include many specifics. Finally, there should be specific information about your pet, including their name and breed.
If all of these prerequisites are in order, you’ll be entitled to all of the ESA protections available.