What is an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) provides emotional, cognitive, or other crucial support to their person. An ESA does not need to be trained or certified. ESAs can be species other than dogs. ESAs are not service animals.

What documentation is required for my animal to be an emotional support animal?

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.

Effective January 1, 2022, all health care practitioners must comply with the following if they are providing documentation relating to an individual’s need for an emotional support dog:

  1. They must have a valid, active license and include their license effective date, license number, jurisdiction, and type of professional license in the documentation.
  2. They must be licensed in the jurisdiction where the documentation is provided (i.e. where the client is located).
  3. They must establish a client-provider relationship with the individual for at least 30 days prior to providing the documentation.
  4. They must complete a clinical evaluation of the individual regarding the need for an emotional support animal.
  5. They must provide a verbal or written notice to the individual that knowingly or fraudulently representing oneself as the owner or trainer of any dog licensed, qualified, or identified as a guide, signal or service dog is a misdemeanor violation of Section 365.7 of the Penal Code.

Any violation of the above subjects a health care practitioner to discipline from their licensing board.

A licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist is able to write the ESA letter determining that the presence of the animal is needed for the mental health of the patient.

No certification is required other than the ESA letter from a mental health professional.

What are the 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. A licensed professional can provide you with an evaluations and ESA letter if you qualify. This ESA letter is the documentation needed in California to prove that you have an emotional support animal.

Landlords and housing providers in California must reasonably accommodate emotional support animals, even if the building’s policy bans animals. Landlords cannot charge fees or deposits for emotional support animals, even if normal pets in the building are charged fees. 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.

Do Emotional Support Animals have access to airplanes and public places?

No. In 2020, the law changed to state that emotional support animals, comfort animals, companionship animals, and species other than dogs are not allowed special accommodations on flights. Emotional support animals also do not have unlimited access to public spaces. The primary benefits of emotional support animals are the mental and emotional benefits as well as reasonable accommodations for emotional support animals to live with their person even in buildings that don’t allow pets.