Emotional Support Animals In California (The Definitive Guide)

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: April 21, 2023


While there is already substantial federal and state legal protection for individuals with disabilities that use service animals, there has been a recent movement to create similar protections for those with emotional support animals as well. These regulations are newer, more limited, and sometimes introduce complexities in particular circumstances, but owners of emotional support animals in California certainly have greater rights than those of companion animals (pets).

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Part of the legal complexity arises from the nuanced difference between support animals and service animals. Emotional support animals are different from service animals in a number of ways.

First, the purpose of a service animal is to provide the owner with a particular, trained skill, such as guiding the visually impaired, detecting imminent seizures, pulling wheelchairs, and so on. Traditionally, these animals are dogs or mini horses that are highly trained.

Emotional support animals, on the other hand, provide a therapeutic response to those suffering from anxiety, depression, and the like. Emotional support animals, while effective, do not require specialized training in the way that a service dog might. (See FHEO Notice: FHEO-2013-01, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). However, documentation proving the disability and the need for the support animal may be required in some instances.

Emotional Support Animal Laws In California: Specific Protections

Like service animals, emotional support animals are protected by California law and federal law in housing, employment, and travel. However, support animals do not receive the same protections in public places as service animals do.

  1. Emotional Support Animal Housing Laws

Landlords are required to allow renters to live with their emotional support animals or a psychiatric service dog in California. This means that a landlord may not evict a renter or even charge a pet deposit for emotional support animals, excluding certain rare exceptions (see below).

A landlord may require a renter with an emotional support animal to show documentation supporting the fact that the renter has a disability and that reasonable accommodation for the support animal is necessary. However, since no training is required for emotional support animals, there is no need to show the landlord that the animal itself is certified.

  1. Emotional Support Animal Employment Laws

Employers are not legally obligated to allow your ESA in the workplace. It is entirely up to the discretion of the employer whether or not you may bring your ESA to work with you.

  1. Emotional Support Animal Travel Laws

When traveling, the Air Carrier Access Act applies to individuals with disabilities and emotional support animals on airplanes. However, the rules are stricter and required documentation is more burdensome.

To fly with an emotional support animal, you may need a letter from a licensed health care professional declaring the mental health disability and the need for the animal. The letter must contain the health care professional’s letterhead and must be less than one year old.

The letter must also clearly indicate the type of health care in which the professional practices. In addition, you may be required to give 48 hours advanced notices to the carrier.

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Exceptions to the Rules

Legal protection afforded to emotional support animals is not unlimited. For example, in California and under federal guidelines, public places are not required to admit emotional support animals even when they are required to do so for service animals.

Even landlords may deny renters to live with emotional support animals if, even with reasonable accommodation, the animal poses a threat to the health and safety of others or would cause substantial property damage. This exception is very limited; the mere fact that an emotional support animal is large or of a particular breed does not allow the landlord to raise this exception.

The threat to safety or property must be particularized to the animal in question.

On the other hand, the amount of damage done by an animal need not be great if it is unreasonable. (See, e.g., Woodside Village v. Hertzmark, FH-FL Rptr. ¶ 18,129 (Conn. Sup. Ct. 1993), where failing to walk the dog in designated areas or clean up after the dog resulted in a proper eviction).

Here’s a quick rundown on what ESAs, Service Animals, & Other Companion Animals Can and Cannot Do:

Public Places

A service animal may enter private establishments like a grocery store or restaurant (as allowed by the American with Disability Act (ADA)) while an ESA cannot.


As most cat and dog owners know, a service animal must be trained. But an ESA does not need special training to become a legal support animal.

Flying and Living

Service animals AND ESAs have the same rights as both can fly or live with their owner free of charge.

Note: Service dog vests and emotional support dog vests are not required but encouraged when traveling or in public places.

Concluding Thoughts

If you have a disability that requires the presence of an emotional support animal, you may have access to legal protection. You need to first ensure that your emotional support animal letter is written by a Licensed Mental Health Provider.

Because regulations and laws involving emotional support animals in California are so new, and because many employers and landlords may not be aware of the protections, it may be beneficial to consult local and federal laws on the matter: The Fair Housing Act, the Air Carriers Access Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Do you qualify for an ESA?

You can take our online screening to see if you qualify for an emotional support animal. It only takes a few minutes and is 100% free.

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How to Get an ESA Letter through CertaPet?

CertaPet is the world's no. 1 emotional support animal service and the only online service offering a 100% legal and compliant process.

Start by taking our free online 5-minute pre-screening process to see if you are a good candidate for an ESA, and if you are, we’ll connect you with a licensed mental health professional quickly and easily. You can access your letter online immediately after its issued. You can also choose to receive a physical copy of the letter send to your mailing address.

ESA application process

An ESA Letter from CertaPet provides:

  • Recognition that you are a patient on a case-by-case basis under a licensed mental health professional’s care for mental or emotional disabilities.
  • Verification that you are significantly limited by an individual disability, such as depression or a similar condition, affecting your mental well-being.
  • Prescription for an emotional support dog (also known as a companion dog), or other support animal, as a necessary reinforcement for your mental health within 48 business hour

Once you receive the letter, you are free to use it whenever you travel or live with your animal.

That’s it.

What Clients Say About CertaPet

“I got my dog as a Valentine's Day gift from my abusive ex. When she was a puppy, I protected her from him, and she would lick away my tears when I cried. When I finally left him, I left with nothing: no clothes, no home, and more importantly no her. He refused to let me have her and the cops, despite text messages of him threatening her safety,  wouldn't let me take her. I fell apart. During that time I suffered from depression, PTSD and anxiety. I was scared of my own shadow. Months went by and finally after a long battle, I got her back! She put me back together piece by piece. My ESA is special because she literally saved me.”

- Kailee Biesenbach

“I love my cat -"Hope". She was named before I got her and she is my Hope!  The previous owner said "She may not come to you at first”. She had been trained by her previous owners needs and she had only been with her. I went into the room when I first met her. She came right up to me purring like crazy. It was love at first sight! She is the best PSTD animal ever!!! She calms me right down every time I get near her. She even knows when I need her and she will come to me when I am upset or facing a panic attack. It is an amazing connection!! We clicked right away.  It almost feels like she is human and yes she is my best friend. God always knows what we need!! Thank You for letting me share!”

- Tracy Huntington

“After high school, I felt like there was nothing left for me. I felt I was living everyday - day by day. I also moved to a new city so had no friends or family to go too. I felt so lost and depressed. Then I got my ESA dog Chip, and my whole life flipped. I had a reason to be happy, a reason to enjoy life and go out again! Certapet helped make this all happen and thank you guys so much for that!!”

- Lyssa Helton

Frequently Asked Questions about Emotional Support Animals

What is an Emotional Support Animal 'Certification'? Do I need to get my ESA 'certified'?

No, you do not need to get your Emotional Support Animal certified. Frankly, it’s not possible.

Like the misconception of registering your ESA into some database online, Emotional Support Animal certification is just a piece of paper with no real use.

To be a real Emotional Support Animal owner, you must have an ESA letter awarded by a therapist after you have taken an assessment of your qualification to own one.

Many sites, as well as people, claim they sell official Emotional Support Dog certification or offer legitimate Emotional Support Animal registration, but remember all you need is an ESA letter from a LMHP.

Are Emotional Support Animal Registration Sites Legitimate?

We’re often asked if ESA registration sites are real.

The answer is NO.

If you see a site claiming to be a “national service animal registry,” “emotional support dog registration,” “official service dog registry,” "US emotional support dog registry," or a “US service dog registry” they’re handing out false information and only wanting you to pay for a “fake” document.

Do emotional support animals require training?

Unlike service animals, HUD does not require any special training for ESAs. However, we strongly encourage you make sure your pet understands basic commands, behaves well in public setting and is trained for travelling if you chose take it on a flight.

Does my dog need an emotional support animal vest to travel or live with me?

There is no law stating your ESA must wear a vest. Many ESA owners chose to still go with a vest to make their ESA easily identifiable.

Is the ESA letter all I need to become an emotional support animal owner?


What happens when the airlines staff or landlord ask to see my proof that I’m an ESA owner? Are they just asking for my ESA letter?

Yes! Just that!

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