How to Certify Your Emotional Support Animal in California: A Complete Guide

emotional support animal in California

What is an Emotional Support Animal in California?

An emotional support animal, or ESA, is an animal that offers their handler companionship, emotional support, and a feeling of comfort and security, which can help to alleviate the symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. Unlike service animals, they are not specifically trained to perform tasks related to an individual’s disability. Instead, their mere presence and companionship are enough to provide therapeutic benefits to their owner.

An Emotional support animal in California does not have specific training like service animals, which are trained to perform specific tasks to aid with their handlers’ disabilites. Owners of an emotional support animal in California are entitled to certain legal protections under both federal and California state law. If you live in California and rely on the companionship of an emotional support animal, it is important to research the applicable laws before seeking accommodations for housing or travel.

If you require the use of an emotional support animal in California, you have the legal right to live with your animal in any type of housing, including buildings with “no pets” policies. Furthermore, owners of emotional support animals are not obligated to pay additional fees for their animals. This legal protection is enshrined in the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and is bolstered by California’s own Fair Employment and Housing Act.

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Requirements For An Emotional Support Animal in California

To take advantage of the additional protections afforded people with an emotional support animal in California, the only requirement is a letter or document from a medical professional indicating that the animal is a necessary part of the individual’s treatment for a qualifying mental health condition. The specific information that should be included in the letter is up to the discretion of the doctor and the patient and there is no prescribed form but the letter should ideally be from a California practitioner on their professional letterhead. Although not required by law, many handlers choose to voluntarily register their emotional support animals through Service Dog Certificates in order to receive a mobile ID and certification documentation. This give handlers a quick and easy form of tangible evidence to provide to third parties such as landlords and business owners where required. Physical markers such as bandanas and collars are also useful tools for emotional support animal owners to avoid disputes and allows for members of the public to quickly identify animals as registered ESAs.

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Housing Laws for an Emotional Support Animal in California

The Fair Employment and Housing Act stipulates that a landlord must allow a tenant with an emotional support animal in California to keep the animal in their rented home. Landlords cannot evict or impose restrictions on a renter for having an emotional support animal, and they are also not allowed to ask for a pet deposit, since emotional support animals are not considered pets.

Landlords are not permitted to inquire about personal information relating to a handler’s disability or mental condition, but they are permitted to ask for documentation proving the renter requires the use of an emotional support dog. Having a mobile ID card can expedite this process for all parties.

Even if a rental property has a “no pets” policy, landlords are still required to allow tenants with emotional support animals as long as they have a valid ESA.

Employment Laws for an Emotional Support Animal in California

When it comes to employment law, California differs significantly from other states. In most states, allowing an emotional support animal in the workplace is at the discretion of the employer. However, in California, state law provides extra protection to workers with emotional support animals.

Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, both job applicants and employees with emotional support animals are protected from discrimination based on their disability. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, including allowing emotional support animals in the workplace, even if the employer does not typically allow animals.

Like landlords, employers may request documentation to verify the need for an emotional support animal.

Flying with an Emotional Support Animal in California
Flying with an Emotional Support Animal in California

Flying with an Emotional Support Animal in California

Emotional support animals do not have the same protection when it comes to traveling on commercial airlines as service animals do. In the past, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) required airlines to make reasonable accommodations for passengers with ESAs, but now it only applies to service dogs. If you wish to bring your ESA on a flight, you may be able to carry it in a pet-safe carrier as carry-on luggage and stow it under your seat, as long as it is small enough and you pay a fee. Regardless, if you intend to fly with your ESA, it is critical to contact your airline in advance to confirm their specific policies and accommodations.

Another option is to train your ESA dog to be a service animal dog. These dogs are trained to perform specific tasks that alleviate the symptoms of disabilities including mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Service dogs are protected under the ACAA and can accompany their owner in the airplane cabin. However, airlines may require you to complete a form about your service animal so it is still critical to contact your airline in advance even if travelling with a service animal. These forms ask about your dog’s training and also serve as an agreement that you understand that your dog must be well-behaved or else it can be treated as a pet and placed in a carrier for a fee. Click here to voluntarily register your qualified service dog.

Specific Laws for an Emotional Support Animal in California

Navigating the legal landscape for emotional support animals in California can be confusing for owners. California distinguishes between emotional support animals and service animals that provide physical assistance to their owners. However, unlike many other states, California has a “psychiatric service dog” category that includes dogs that perform specific tasks related to their owner’s diagnosed mental disability. These tasks can include medication reminders, calming wake-up calls, and pressure therapy.

In California, a person with a disability is allowed to bring a trained service dog or psychiatric service dog to all public places, such as libraries, hotels, shops, restaurants, theaters, and hospitals. However, emotional support animals are not protected under these laws. For additional information on California laws related to emotional support animals, please consult:

California Emotional Support Animal FAQs

What if my landlord has a “no pets” policy? Can mu ESA still live with me in California?

Yes, under the Fair Housing Act, tenants are entitled to own an emotional support animal, and landlords cannot restrict them from doing so as long as the tenant can provide a legitimate letter from a medical professional. Furthermore, landlords cannot charge extra fees for this accommodation.

Can my ESA come to work with me?

Yes, contrast to other states, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act mandates that employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees who want to bring their emotional support animals to work. Employers can ask employees to provide a letter from a qualified medical professional that explains how the ESA is part of their treatment.

What Types of Animals are Eligible as an Emotional Support Animal in California?

Although dogs are the most common type of ESA by far, any pet may technically qualify.

What is the Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal in California and Service Animals?

Although the terms may seem interchangeable, it is essential to understand that each type of animal has a distinct meaning and varying legal protections which handlers must familiarize themselves with.

A service animal undergoes training to aid their owner with a disability in their daily routines. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals in California are allowed inside businesses that don’t typically permit pets.

An emotional support animal is legally defined as an animal that provides therapeutic benefits through companionship alone. Owners in California who require an ESA are entitled to protection when seeking housing and employment.

Register your support dog online now to receive your instant Service Dog Registration, Service Dog certificate and Service Dog Certification Documents or Register your Emotional Support Animal for ESA Registration, ESA  Certification and Emotional Support Animal Certificate Documents