Most pet owners consider view their companion animal as a family member and wouldn’t even consider renting an apartment that prohibits pets.
Of course, for landlords, there are positives to establishing a pet-friendly property. Charging a higher rent and non-refundable pet fees, plus pet owners are more likely to stay in the rented property longer, are some pros.
But it also comes with disadvantages. There’s a risk of pet damage to the property and pet-induced injuries. If you’re living in California and are wondering if landlords are required to accept emotional support animals, we got you covered.
Take a look at our guide as we share in detail about California’s new law on ESA.
What is California’s Law on Emotional Support Animals (ESA)?
California’s Assembly Bill No. 468 seeks to address the issue of increased misrepresentation and selling of emotional support animals as service animals.
It likewise seeks to prevent businesses that sell ESA certifications, harnesses, vests, and ID cards from misleading others into thinking the ESA is a service animal.
Signed on September 16, 2021, and effective on January 1, 2022, California’s new ESA Law requires all healthcare practitioners, including Board registrants and licensees, to comply with the following whenever they are providing documentation relating to a person’s need for an ESA:
They must have an active, valid license with an effective date, jurisdiction, license number, and type of professional license in the documentation.
- They must be licensed to offer professional services only within the scope of their license or within their jurisdiction.
- They have conducted a complete clinical evaluation on the person regarding their need for an emotional support animal/ dog.
- They must establish a comfort-provider relationship with the person for at least 30 days before providing that documentation.
- They must notify the individual that fraudulently or knowingly representing oneself as the trainer or owner of any canine licensed, identified, or qualified as a guide, service or signal dog violates Section 365.7 of the Penal Code. The said provision prohibits service dog fraud. 
In short, healthcare professionals cannot provide documentation on a person’s need for ESA unless these five boxes are checked.
So, Do Landlords Have To Accept Emotional Support Animals in California?
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Yes, California’s emotional support animal laws require landlords to accept emotional support if tenants have a disability.
With California’s ESA law, even if the landlords or homeowners’ associations have a no-pets policy, tenants and housing applicants with disabilities can keep their emotional support animal.
Tenants who use ESA are protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act, which recognizes that renters with mental and/or emotional disabilities often require assistance from companion or emotional support animals.
However, exemptions exist under Federal and State laws to allow landlords to reject ESAs. We will discuss more of this in a bit.
Dogs and cats are the most common emotional support animals. However, any kind of animal can be an emotional support animal as long as it eases the symptoms of the owner’s disability. It means they can be fish, ferrets, or pigs – anything qualifying the owner’s needs.
There is also no requirement that such an animal must be specially trained or certified to be allowed accommodation in the housing.
What’s important is that the animal will not pose a direct threat to the people or property, fundamentally alter the nature of the services that the homeowner’s association or landlord provides, and impose undue administrative or financial burdens.
For example, asking the landlord to walk, clean up or feed after the said animal may be considered a fundamental alteration in the service that the landlord offers.
Meanwhile, a direct threat is determined not based on the stereotypes about the breed but based on individual assessment of the animal’s behavior.
Although tenants have the right to possess any animal as an ESA, it does not mean that they can just bring a full-grown horse or a pet tiger inside the building. Landlords can deny these ESAs since they can cause an undue financial burden to them and pose a danger to other tenants.
ESAs are allowed in all areas of the rented property or where persons are normally allowed, subject to exceptions mentioned above (impose undue administrative and financial burden, etc.). Yet, these animals are not allowed to roam off-leash because they must be in their owner or handler’s control all the time.
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How To Qualify for an ESA
Renters or an individual who have the following mental health conditions can be qualified for an ESA:
- Certain Phobias
- Severe grief
- Bipolar Disorder
- Self-harming behaviors
However, even if the person doesn’t have one of the listed mental disabilities, it doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified for an emotional support animal. Licensed mental health professionals are authorized to recommend an ESA case-by-case basis.
In California, a mental disability includes any psychological or mental disorder or condition, such as clinical depression, intellectual disability, organic brain ar disorder, specific learning disabilities that limit major life activity, and clinical depression.
California law does not, however, consider unlawful substance use disorder, kleptomania, and compulsive gambling to be mental disabilities.
Further, mental health professionals may suggest an ESA to people who experience alleviating their symptoms because of an emotional support animal. For instance, the individual has:
- Fewer anxious feelings or panic attacks
- Lower blood pressure and stress levels
- Increased ability to spend time around other people
- Better quality of sleep
The Difference Between a Service Animal and an Emotional Support Animal in California
It is important to note, however, that emotional support animals are not service animals and are not granted the same rights under the California laws. Emotional support animals do not undergo training specific to the owner’s disability, which service dogs do.
Instead, ESA eases the effects of an individual’s disability by providing support and comfort.
There are a few types of service animals, including:
- Guide Dogs – A guide dog or assistance animal helps someone visually impaired or someone who struggles visually. They help their owners live more independently by guiding them in public places or around unsafe situations and if there are obstacles. They usually wear harnesses.
- Psychiatric Service Dogs – Also called a PSD, this type of service dog helps people who struggle with mental and emotional disabilities.
They differ from emotional support pets because PSDs have undergone special training in performing tasks for their owners. Sometimes, they retrieve medication, apply pressure with their paws to relieve anxiety or perform room checks for people who struggle with emotional or mental disabilities.
- Mobility Dogs – This type of service dog helps owners travel from one spot to another safely. They are usually recommended for people with difficulties with balance to use a walker or use a wheelchair.
- Hearing Dogs – A hearing dog helps individuals who struggle with hearing. They are also sometimes called signal dog because they are trained to alert their owners when it hears important noises, such as a doorbell, fire alarm, someone crying, or a cell phone.
Can a Landlord Charge for an ESA in California?
Landlords cannot ever require tenants to pay a pet deposit, additional security deposit, higher rent, or liability insurance if they are allowed by law to own an emotional support animal.
Remember, however, that ESA pet owners are liable to pay for repairs to any damage that their animal may cause.
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What Qualifies as an Emotional Support Animal in California?
California law considers an emotional support dog as a dog that provides cognitive, emotional, and other similar support to a person with a disability and does not need to be certified or trained.
Can Tenants Have More Than One ESA in California?
Yes, tenants can have more than one ESA so long as each emotional support animal must help them with their disability in a certain way. This is covered in your ESA letter from the Licensed mental health professional (LMHP) or physician.
Furthermore, it is important that the request for having more than one ESA must be reasonable. For example, bringing five Great Danes into a studio apartment won’t likely be reasonable.
If I’m From a Different State, Is My ESA Letter Still Valid in California?
If you already have an ESA but are from a different state and are moving to the Golden State, it will still be valid in California. The protections covered by the said out-of-state ESA letter are federal in the US, so long as it is presented without a period covered.
Many landlords and housing providers refuse to accept an ESA letter dated over a year ago. They may ask the tenant to submit a recent ESA letter to prove their need for such an animal remains relevant.
However, we recommend you get a new ESA letter because some landlords prefer it if it is issued by someone licensed in California.
Other Reasons for Renewing an ESA Letter
Your reasons and condition for needing an ESA letter may change, so you may need to renew your ESA letter. For instance, your emotional support animal changed, or you need more than one ESA. If so, you need an updated letter to reflect those changes.
It’s likewise possible that the ESA rules changed within the healthcare professional’s jurisdiction. You will feel more comfortable if your ESA letter fully complies with the recent guidelines.
When Can a California Landlord Deny a Request To Keep a Support or Service Animal?
California landlords can reject an emotional support animal if the said pet constitutes a direct threat to the safety and health of others or if it would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others.
The landlord or housing provider, however, cannot say that an ESA is a danger based only on unreliable, old evidence and mere speculation.
Provided further that even if the landlord or housing provider makes their finding on the emotional support animal, they must determine if the harm can be sufficiently eliminated or mitigated by reasonable accommodation.
Federal and State law prohibits housing discrimination against people with disabilities. It also requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for housing applicants and tenants with disabilities. 
For instance, landlords must make exceptions to the no-pets policy to allow persons to live with either emotional support or a service animal.
Other common circumstances when landlords or housing providers may deny a request to keep a support or service animal:
- If the ESA is too large for the apartment
- If the ESa is too disruptive or dangerous (excessively barks or bites)
Expired ESA Letter
If your request to keep an emotional support animal due to an expired ESA letter, your best solution is to reach out with the legitimate healthcare professional who issued your letter. Request them for updated documentation.
The healthcare professional may re-evaluate your health to determine if you still qualify for a support animal. Once you have an updated ESA letter, re-submit it to your potential landlord or housing provider.
Under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), housing providers should work in good faith with their tenants to resolve conflicts that may arise because of ESA accommodations. They should reconsider an initial denial if an updated ESA letter is resubmitted.
Restrictions and Rights of Landlords Relating to Emotional Support Animals
Landlords can put reasonable restrictions on their tenants with ESA. They can request that the pet is under the owner’s control. These conditions may include proper disposal of animal waste and animal behavior that won’t be a nuisance to other tenants or the housing provider.
Landlords also have the right to verify an ESA letter from the therapist. They also have the right to know that such a therapist is licensed. They can do this by checking that the letter contains a letterhead where the mental health professional’s contact information is found.
The details should include the physician’s phone number, practice address, and email address. An ESA letter should likewise include the professional’s license, the date it was issued, and the signature.
Questions Landlords Do Not Have the Right to Ask Regarding ESAs
Landlords cannot contact the renter’s therapist directly. They also don’t have the right to ask questions that go against a disabled person’s rights. Examples of these questions are:
- How long have you been in therapy?
- How many sessions have you had with your therapist?
- Can you show your medical records? (not ESA letter)
- What medications (if any) do you take?
- Have you been hospitalized because of a mental disability?
- Is there anything else about your diagnosis or symptoms besides what’s detailed in this letter?
- Have you been in a drug rehabilitation program?
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May you find this guide useful in learning rules that apply to you and your ESA and the exceptions that apply.
Whether an ESA-qualified person has a dog, cat or another companion animal, as long as they received a verified letter from a healthcare professional, you should make the necessary changes to accommodate them on your rented property.
On the part of the pet owner, you must be responsible for your ESA’s well-being, care, and cleaning. Doing so is not just a form of love for your companion animal; it is also a form of respect for your neighbors and your landlord.
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With more than 20 years of experience in property management, we can design a customized management plan for your property that’s ready for emotional support animals.
Contact us today, and we’ll be more than happy to assist you.
2. California Civil Rights – Housing