California abides by federal law for emotional support animals (ESAs), but the state does have additional requirements that other federal and state laws don’t usually recognize.
California law requires a mental health professional licensed in California and clients to wait at least 30 days before writing an ESA letter. If you’re ready to meet with a mental health professional, see if you qualify with Pettable to obtain your ESA letter.
What is an ESA letter?
A person with a qualified disability can obtain a valid emotional support animal letter for housing, travel, or a combination of both. An ESA letter certifies that a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) endorses an emotional support animal for their patient’s treatment.
Housing providers must make reasonable accommodations for ESA owners with an official letter even if the residence has a no-pet policy. ESA letters in California have a few additional requirements, and Pettable can help connect you with a qualified therapist.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
California law defines an emotional support animal (ESA) as:
“An animal that provides emotional, cognitive, or other similar support to an individual with a disability, and that does not need to be trained or certified.”
Emotional support animals can assist in multiple ways, and unlike service animals, they don’t need to have a specific purpose besides providing emotional comfort or support. Emotional support animals are sometimes referred to as assistance, therapy, or companion animals. In addition, ESAs have no species or breed requirements; thus, cats can qualify as emotional support animals and other breeds, including cats, bunnies, birds, rats, guinea pigs, etc.
How to get an emotional support animal in California?
To get an emotional support animal in California, you must obtain an ESA letter from a qualified therapist. Pettable can connect you with the right provider, and it only takes a few steps to get started.
Step 1: Find a Provider
Licensed doctors can write valid emotional support animal letters, but first, they must determine if someone has an emotional or mental health disability that necessitates an emotional support animal.
Emotional support animal letters cannot come from yourself or a family member, and there isn’t a self-service method or fill-out form.
You shouldn’t trust services that guarantee an ESA letter before qualifying/meeting with an LMPH; however, you can virtually connect with a licensed clinician through services like Pettable.
Step 2: Meet with an LMHP and Complete the Evaluation
Once you’ve found a mental health professional, you’ll undergo a clinical evaluation to determine if you need an emotional support animal for your mental health. Your visit can happen in person, over the phone, or online, and your LMHP will understand how an ESA may benefit you. You can also ask questions and get clarification for any concerns, and if eligible, your health practitioner can grant you an ESA letter.
Your existing licensed mental health professional may be able to write you an ESA letter. Still, their license must fall within the scope of their practice–which means they must have the qualifications to write ESA letters. Moreover, California residents seeking an ESA letter must establish at least a 30-day client-patient relationship before the LMHP can approve the emotional support animal.
Step 3: Get your ESA Letter
Once your qualified therapist or LMHP diagnoses your disability and determines you need an emotional support animal, they can write an ESA letter in California for housing, travel, or a combination of both. Generally, the document must include the following:
- 12-point bold type.
- Your legal name and an official diagnosis.
- Your L.M.H.P.’s full name, license number, and practice on the LMHP’s official letterhead.
- Signature and date.
Housing or travel providers may reject illegitimate or incorrectly formatted ESA letters, and it’s crucial that you only seek a letter from an official therapist or LMHP in California.
Furthermore, your emotional support animal doesn’t need additional certifications, registrations, or official patches and vests after you obtain an ESA letter. Some identification doesn’t hurt, but it’s not required for your ESA.
It also helps to ensure your emotional support animal has adequate training and can behave around other people, but specific training (like a guide dog has) isn’t required.
ESA laws in California
California’s emotional support animal laws follow the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Generally, most housing providers must allow emotional support animals; however, public areas, workplaces, and airlines have no legal obligation to accept ESA letters in California. California also has additional legal guidance for ESAs in AB-468 that may not pertain to other states.
Furthermore, individuals falsely claiming to have an emotional support or service animal can face severe penalties, such as jail time, fines, or community service. Emotional support animals are not pets; one should only consider an ESA for legitimate mental or emotional assistance.
Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects individuals with physical, mental, or emotional illnesses. Under the FHA, landlords must allow reasonable accommodations for emotional support animals, which they define as:
“…A change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces.”
In most cases, landlords cannot refuse reasonable and necessary ESA accommodations. Still, they can request information that proves the individual has a disability and needs an emotional support animal accommodation (if not already apparent). The FHA doesn’t cover these housing examples:
- Owner-occupied buildings that have no more than four units
- Housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members
- Single-family housing sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent
Moreover, if the conditions are met, “no-pet” policies or pet fees must be waived for your emotional service animal. You may be responsible for any damage caused by your ESA.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)
Before January 2021, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) permitted qualified passengers to bring their emotional support animals into the cabin without an extra fee. The law changed, and airlines can now choose to classify emotional support animals as pets. Airlines have discretion over where pets fly (in the cabin or as cargo) and if passengers pay extra fees.
Despite the change in the law, the ACAA does not prevent airlines from allowing ESA accommodations, and it may be possible to travel with your emotional service animal. Not all airlines have the same policies; some will enable passengers to travel with their ESA—with or without a fee. To qualify, individuals should obtain an ESA letter from an LMHP in California and check the airline’s emotional support animal policy for specific guidance.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates public access for trained service animals, but emotional support animals lack the same protection. The ADA doesn’t require public spaces to prevent ESAs from accompanying their handlers, and in general, emotional support animals can go where pets are allowed.
In addition, California employers have no legal obligation to allow ESAs in the workplace. According to the ADA, the only exception would be if the job applicant or employee requires a service animal for assistance.
However, employers cannot discriminate against job applicants or employees because of a disability. If you obtain a certified ESA letter and communicate with your employer, they may decide to allow your ESA. Of course, this will vary across different companies, and you should check with your employer’s HR department or ESA policy to determine if this will work for you.
California Assembly Bill No. 468 (AB-468)
The new California law AB-468 addresses emotional support animals and ESA letter requirements. The most notable change requires California residents seeking an ESA letter to establish a client-provider relationship for at least 30 days before the health practitioner can grant the ESA letter. In this context, the law defines a health practitioner as:
“A person who is licensed and regulated under Division 2 (commencing with Section 500) of the Business and Professions Code, acting within the scope of practice of the person’s license or certificate.”
In other words, an ESA letter can’t come from just any kind of doctor or medical provider. The health practitioner, therapist, or licensed mental health professional must have the qualifications supporting their decision to grant an ESA letter. It only takes a few minutes to see if you qualify for an ESA letter, and Pettable can connect you with a licensed clinician to assess your ESA needs.
How do you qualify for an ESA in California?
Emotional support animals can alleviate several mental and emotional disabilities. Not everyone may qualify, and an LMHP can determine if someone needs or can benefit from an ESA. Health practitioners can prescribe an ESA as part of a mental health treatment plan after establishing a client-provider relationship for at least 30 days. Qualifying mental and emotional disabilities may include:
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, can prevent someone from staying focused or attentive. ADHD may also make someone more impulsive or less likely to exercise self-control. An emotional support animal can help people calm down, stay focused, and lower stress levels.
People with bipolar disorder may experience guilt, anxiety, lack of motivation, or mood swings. Sometimes their feelings lack consistency, and an ESA can help regulate mood and behavior.
Anxiety can make everyday tasks challenging and affect mood, energy, and drive. While practically everyone will experience some form of anxiety, long-lasting cases need additional treatment, such as an ESA companion.
Although everyone will experience stress, some people endure daily symptoms and can’t always find relief. Chronic stress affects people’s mood, motivation, and sociability and can stem from high-pressure situations or environments. People may experience chronic stress at work or at home, and an ESA can mitigate the adverse effects and act as a companion.
Depression can affect multiple areas of people’s lives; sometimes, they may feel exhausted, irritable, or alone. Depression may come and go, or it can persist for long periods. An ESA companion may benefit from some mental health treatment plans and comfort their owner during difficult times.
People with phobia experience adverse effects when engaging with a particular object, concept, or image. Phobias can vary, and some may experience worse outcomes than others. Emotional support animals can help those with a phobia and provide support during triggering instances.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause severe panic attacks, anxiety, and uncontrollable flashbacks. Patients with PTSD may find it hard to control their symptoms, and an ESA can provide therapeutic benefits and help alleviate the effects.
Emotional support animals are excellent companions and can assist with multiple mental or emotional disabilities. Pettable can connect you with a licensed clinician in California to get an ESA letter; it only takes a few minutes to see if you qualify.
Emotional Support Animal vs. Service Animal
Emotional support and service animals may provide therapeutic benefits to individuals with disabilities, but ESAs are not trained to perform a specific task. Service animals have the training to accomplish a particular task–like a guide dog that helps a blind person cross a street. Emotional support animals are covered under the Fair Housing Act and AB-468 but cannot enter a public space or your employer without permission. Additionally, emotional support animals can include species of other animals besides dogs and miniature horses.
Emotional support dog vs. psychiatric service dog
A psychiatric service dog (PSD) has similar qualities to an ESA, but it has the training to accomplish a specific task like a service animal. PSDs also have equal protection to service dogs; an official psychiatric service dog letter can permit them to access public places, airlines, and housing units. In addition, while PSDs and ESAs have different training standards, both assistance animals support similar mental health or emotional disabilities.
Frequently Asked Questions
Having a support animal poses many questions for owners. While animals offer support and companionship, like an emotional support dog, questions can surround the ownership, laws, and information needed in having a support animal in California.
How do I get an ESA letter in California?
An ESA letter can only come from a qualified health practitioner in California. After completing a clinical evaluation and maintaining a patient-client relationship for at least 30 days, the health practitioner can write an ESA letter to assist the diagnosed individual.
Can a landlord deny an emotional support animal in California?
Under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), California landlords cannot deny legitimate emotional support animal letters in most housing situations. Most landlords have to accept emotional support animals.
Is getting an ESA letter online legit?
In most cases–yes. Federal or state law doesn’t require in-person ESA clinical evaluations. Still, you should never trust any service that guarantees an ESA letter before meeting with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP).
Can you write your own ESA letter?
Only qualified health practitioners, therapists, or LMHPs can write an ESA letter.
How do you qualify for an emotional support animal in California?
To qualify for an emotional support animal, California residents must have a recognized mental or emotional disability and meet with a medical professional to undergo an evaluation.
Does California recognize emotional support animals?
Yes, California recognizes emotional support animals under AB-468 and requires landlords to accept ESAs with a valid letter.
Do I have to tell my landlord I have an emotional support animal in California?
You may not have to tell your landlord if you have an emotional support animal if they allow pets. However, if you wish to bring your ESA to a no-pet residence or avoid paying a fee, you may have to show an ESA letter.