September of 2021 proved to be a crucial month for emotional support animal owners, ESA providers, as well as licensed professionals. This is when the California Governor, Gavin Newsom, signed a new bill pertaining to the ESA laws in California. With this article, we will walk through the modifications and clarify all the specifications of these new California emotional support animal laws that came into use on 1st January 2022.
What Are the New Emotional Support Animal Laws in California?
The new California emotional support animal laws were set up for the following reasons:
- Businesses increased the fraudulent selling of ESAs and misrepresented them as service animals,
- Rising number of sale of misleading certificates, vests, tags, identification cards and documents that misrepresent ESAs as service animals
- To clarify that an ESA is not a service animal nor do they enjoy the same kind of rights and privileges
Before we get into the details of the new ESA laws, let’s briefly discuss the difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal.
As per the ADA’s definition,
“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”
Service animals can be helpful for patients with physical or mental disabilities. This is why, these animals are not classified as pets.
On the other hand, emotional support animals are pets that provide emotional support to their owners who suffer from a disabling mental illness such as depression or anxiety. These animals do not go under any training to assist their owner to perform any daily tasks which is the case with service animals. With the basic difference between the two cleared out, let’s understand the latest changes in the California ESA laws.
What Are the ESA Laws in California?
The new emotional support animal laws in California are sponsored by the ‘Guide Dogs for the Blind’ and ‘Canine Companions for Independence’. The new laws introduced for ESAs have three major parts. Two pertain to the businesses dealing in the sale of emotional support animals, and related accessories while the latter deals with healthcare professionals that issue ESA letters. Let’s get into the details of each of these three parts.
ESA Sales Notice
The first law focuses on the businesses that sell emotional support animals to buyers. At the time of this sale, these businesses must provide a notice to the buyer that states the following:
- It has not been trained to support the daily tasks of a physically or mentally handicapped/disabled person.
- The animal does not share the privileges of a service animal and the same laws do not apply to these categories.
- If the buyer fraudulently presents themselves as the owner or trainer or a guide of a service or signal dog, they will be subjected to a misdemeanor violation.
ESA Paraphernalia Sales Notice
The second law focuses on the businesses that sell or provide ESA accessories, like tags, identification cards, vests, leashes, harnesses and certificates. These businesses must provide a notice to all buyers stating the following:
- The accessory bought does not give emotional support animals the same privileges as a service/guide or signal dog.
- Purposeful misrepresentation by a person as the owner or trainer of a service/guide or signal dog is considered a misdemeanor violation.
Requirements for Healthcare Professionals Issuing an ESA Letter
The third law focuses on healthcare professionals that provide an ESA letter to patients who might require an emotional support animal to support their condition. These healthcare professionals must comply with the following criteria:
- The practitioner must have a valid license with the following details: the license number, effective date, jurisdiction and type of license they have.
- The practitioner must have the license to provide services in the particular jurisdiction.
- The practitioner must establish a 30 day relationship with the patient before approving their needs for an emotional support animal.
- The ESA letter must only be provided after rigorous clinical evaluation of the patient.
- The practitioner must also provide a notice to the patient stating that the purposeful misrepresentation of the person as the owner or trainer of a service, guide or signal dog is punishable by law.
Penalties for Violation of the ESA Laws in California
Violations of any of these clearly stated provisions under the ESA law are subjected to penalties of $500 for the first violation, $1000 for the second and $2,500 for the third or subsequent violations.
The new law has not led to any changes in the rights and privileges enjoyed by ESA owners. On the contrary, the law has been created to clearly identify and distinguish between the rights and privileges of ESA and service animals.
To give you more clarity, let’s discuss the existing ESA laws that have not experienced any alterations since the bill was signed.
Existing ESA Laws in California?
Here are some of the existing ESA laws in California:
California Housing Laws
As per the Fair Housing Act and HUD guidelines, landlords cannot discriminate against tenants with mental disabilities. These landlords must accommodate the emotional support animals even when they do not allow pets in the building. However, a landlord can refuse to provide shelter to such a duo if the animal in question can be dangerous or a threat to the safety of others.
California ESA Employment Laws
Another law under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, employers cannot discriminate against an employee on the basis of their disability or the emotional support animal. However, for such an exception, the employee must have a valid ESA letter.
California ESA Travel Laws
The air travel laws for ESAs changed much before the new laws were introduced. As per the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), passengers must carry their ESAs in a pet safe carrier and may not ride in the cabin with you.
Public Transportation Laws
ESAs are not always allowed to visit public places like restaurants or use public transportation like trains and buses. However, service dogs do enjoy this privilege.
The new California emotional support animal law is a step taken to clarify the rights of ESA owners as well as control the fraudulent activities by businesses. It’s in no way meant to take away the rights of legit emotional support animals. However, it is a conscious step taken to avoid the negative light thrown on ESAs by illegal owners and other fraudulent activities. To avoid any possible legal altercation, you must get an ESA letter from legit and reliable services only. My ESA Doctor offers online consultations and helps you live with your ESA as per the California emotional support animal laws.