CALIFORNIA UPDATE: New Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Law
This article is contributed by AAGLA's General Counsel, Craig Mordoh, Esq.
Governor Gavin Newsome signed Assembly Bill 462, which attempts to address the rampant falsification of emotional support animals (ESAs) as service animals thereby allowing tenants a reasonable accommodation and allowing him or her to keep the animal despite language in the rental agreement to the contrary. These new provisions went into effect January 1, 2022.
We have all seen businesses that sell special ESA certificates, ID cards, vests, and harnesses that seek to mislead others into thinking the animal is an official support or service animal, as well as sketchy ESA letters from health professionals. This new law enacts a number changes to current law in an attempt to limit false representations in this area.
An ESA is an animal which provides companionship, emotional support, and a sense of well-being and safety to their owner, aiding in ameliorating the disabilities which have interfered with the use and enjoyment of their home. In California, renters’ have the same right to a reasonable accommodation allowing them to have a necessary ESA as they would a service animal. A service animal is defined as one that has been individually trained to assist a person who has a disability,
The first change in the law requires any business that provides dogs as emotional support animals to also provide a written statement along with the animal. This statement must acknowledge the emotional support animal does not qualify as a service animal, and that knowingly and fraudulently representing the animal as a service dog is illegal. Further, any business that sells special ID cards, tags, vests, harnesses, leashes, or certificates for support animals must provide a written notice to buyers including these same details. Anyone who violates the details mentioned above by falsely selling or describing emotional support dogs as a guide, signal, or service dog and tries to falsely claim the privileges that current California laws offer to a guide, signal, or service dog will be punished. Lawbreakers are subject to imprisonment in the county jail, not more than a period of six months, and monetary fines.
The final change in the law affects licensed mental health professionals who write ESA letters. Currently, an official ESA letter is required to prove to a landlord or anyone else who needs to know that an animal is an emotional support animal. But, under the new law licensed mental health officials who issue these letters now have additional stipulations to meet:
- The licensed mental health official must hold a legitimate and active license. In the ESA letter, they must include their license number, the effective date of the license, their jurisdiction, and the type of professional license;
- The licensed mental health official must be licensed to provide professional services within the scope of the license in the jurisdiction in which the documentation is provided;
- The licensed mental health official must have established a professional relationship with the client at least 30 days before providing the ESA letter;
- The licensed mental health official must conduct a clinical evaluation of the client to assess their need for an emotional support pet; and
- The licensed mental health official must provide a verbal or written notice to the individual similar to the sales notices explained above – stating that an emotional support animal does not qualify as a service animal, and that misrepresenting the support animal as a service animal is against the law.
If the health practitioner violates any of the above guidelines they can face consequences from their licensing board. The big change here that affects renters the most is the new requirement to establish a client-provider relationship 30 days prior to obtaining an ESA letter. This will, hopefully, make it difficult for anyone not entitled to an ESA to legitimize their emotional support animal with an ESA letter.
Craig Mordoh is the outside General Counsel of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles and a sole practitioner specializing in providing legal services to rental property owners. He can be reached at (310) 453-6774.