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Home » Blog » Emotional Support Animal vs. Service Animal: What Californians Need to Know

Emotional Support Animal vs. Service Animal: What Californians Need to Know

esa vs service animal
In California, it’s important to know the difference between service animals and emotional support animals (ESAs) to understand their unique roles and legal protections.
Service Animals are trained to perform tasks that help people with disabilities. For example, guide dogs assist those who are blind or have low vision. Service animals are usually dogs, and sometimes miniature horses. These animals go through intense training to perform tasks that help their owners manage their disabilities.

Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals

AttributeService AnimalsEmotional Support Animals
TrainingRequiredNot Required
Types of AnimalsDogs, Miniature HorsesAny animal
Legal ProtectionsExtensiveLimited
DocumentationNot typically requiredMay require documentation from a healthcare provider

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), also known as comfort animals, provide emotional or psychological support to people with disabilities. Unlike service animals, ESAs don’t need special training. They can be any type of animal that brings comfort and helps with the symptoms of a person’s disability.

Legal Protections in California

California has specific laws to protect both service animals and emotional support animals, ensuring people with disabilities have equal access to housing and public spaces.
Under the California Civil Rights Department, landlords must make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, including allowing necessary service animals and emotional support animals. This means landlords can’t impose breed, size, or weight restrictions on these animals and can’t charge pet deposits or pet rent for them. Refusing to accommodate necessary assistance animals is unlawful discrimination.
Fair Housing Law: California’s Assembly Bill 468, enacted in 2021, clarifies that emotional support animals don’t have the same rights as service dogs. However, landlords must still allow reasonable accommodations for ESAs. This includes the type of documentation needed to prove a person’s need for an ESA, which is an ESA letter.
Documentation Requirements: People may need to provide a letter from a healthcare provider to prove their need for an emotional support animal. This letter usually states the person’s disability and how the animal helps with their symptoms.
Tenants, residents, and applicants with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations and modifications necessary to provide equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing, including common areas. Misrepresenting an ESA as a trained service animal can lead to misdemeanor charges under California law.
Knowing the key differences and legal protections for service animals and emotional support animals can help Californians understand their rights and responsibilities better. For more information, check out our articles on California ESA guide

Housing Accommodations in California

Living in California and need an assistance animal? You’re in luck. The state has your back with laws that make sure you and your furry (or feathered) friend are treated fairly. Let’s break it down.

Reasonable Accommodations in Housing

In California, landlords can’t just say “no pets” and call it a day if you have a disability. They have to make room for your service animals and emotional support animals (ESAs). This means no breed, size, or weight restrictions, and no extra fees like pet deposits or pet rent. It’s all about making sure you have what you need to live comfortably.

Documentation Requirements

To get an ESA, you might need a note from a licensed healthcare professional. This note says you need the animal for your disability. Simple as that.
California’s Assembly Bill 468, which came out in 2021, didn’t change the rules for ESAs in housing. But it did make sure businesses selling emotional support dogs tell buyers that these dogs aren’t service dogs and don’t have the same rights.
Landlords can also ask you to follow local laws about licensing and vaccinations for your assistance animals, just like any other pet.For more info on your rights and what landlords can and can’t do, check out our section on California ESA Rights and Responsibilities

Rights and Responsibilities

Rights and ResponsibilitiesTenantsHousing Providers
No Pet FeesNo pet deposits or pet rentCan’t charge pet deposits or pet rent
Equal AccessAssistance animals not restricted by breed, size, or weightMust allow necessary assistance animals
Damage ResponsibilityResponsible for any damage caused by assistance animalsCan hold tenants responsible for damage
Compliance with LawsMust follow state/local licensing and vaccination lawsCan require compliance with state/local licensing and vaccination laws

Knowing your rights and duties as a tenant or housing provider in California when it comes to emotional support animals (ESAs) or service animals can save you a lot of headaches.

Tenant Rights with Assistance Animals

If you have a disability, California law says you should get reasonable accommodations to enjoy your home just like anyone else. This means landlords have to make exceptions to “no pets” policies for your service animals or ESAs. Here’s what you need to know:

  • No Pet Fees: You can’t be charged extra for having an assistance animal. No pet deposits, no pet rent.
  • Equal Access: Your assistance animal can’t be denied based on breed, size, or weight.
  • Exceptions for Animals: Landlords must allow your necessary service animals or ESAs so you can enjoy your home equally.

Housing Provider Obligations

If you’re a landlord in California, you’ve got some rules to follow to stay on the right side of the law. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Reasonable Accommodations: You must make reasonable changes to help tenants with disabilities use and enjoy their homes, including common areas
  • No Extra Fees: You can’t charge pet deposits or pet rent for assistance animals
  • Damage Responsibility: Tenants are responsible for any damage their assistance animal causes.
  • Licensing and Vaccination: You can require tenants to follow state/local laws about licensing and vaccinating their assistance animals.

Public Access Laws

Getting a grip on public access laws in California is super important for folks with disabilities who rely on service animals or emotional support animals (ESAs). Knowing the difference between these two types of assistance animals can help you understand where they’re allowed and what rights and responsibilities come with them.

Access to Public Places

California law gives people with trained service dogs full and equal access to public places, even more so than the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means you can take your service dog to restaurants, hotels, stores, theaters, and other public spots. Psychiatric service dogs get the same treatment. But emotional support animals? Not so much.

Type of AnimalPublic Place AccessLegal Reference
Service DogsFull accessNolo
Psychiatric Service DogsFull accessNolo
Emotional Support AnimalsNoaccessNolo

So, if you have a trained service dog, you can bring them into any public place. ESAs, however, are mostly limited to private settings like homes and some housing accommodations.

Differences in Public Accommodations

The big difference between service animals and emotional support animals when it comes to public access is all about their training and what they do for their owners. In California, service animals are limited to dogs and miniature horses. They have to be trained to do specific tasks that help people with disabilities. These tasks can be anything from guiding someone with vision impairment to alerting someone with a hearing impairment or even performing tasks during a medical emergency.
Emotional support animals, on the other hand, are there to provide comfort just by being there. They don’t have to perform specific tasks, which is why they don’t get the same public access rights.

FeatureService AnimalsEmotional Support Animals
SpeciesDogs, Miniature HorsesAny Animal
TrainingRequiredNot Required
Public AccessYesNo
Legal Consequences for MisrepresentationYesYes

Pretending your ESA is a trained service animal can get you into legal trouble, so it’s crucial to know the difference and stick to the rules.

Service Animal Rules in California

In California, rules for service animals make sure folks with disabilities get the help they need while keeping things safe and orderly. Knowing these rules is key for anyone handling a service animal.

Training and Identification

Service animals, usually dogs, are trained to do specific tasks to help people with disabilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog doesn’t need to be registered or wear a special tag or vest. California law lets local animal control give out ID tags for service animals, but these tags aren’t required to prove an animal is a service animal (Disability Rights California).
Businesses or government places can only ask two questions to see if an animal is a service animal:

  1. Is the animal needed because of the handler’s disability?
  2. What work or task has the animal been trained to do?

Faking a service animal in California is a misdemeanor, which can get you up to six months in jail and/or a fine up to $1,000.

Access in Different Places

Service animals can go with their handlers to most public spots, like restaurants, hotels, and hospitals. In hospitals, they can be in areas where healthcare staff, patients, and visitors go, like patient rooms and public areas. But they might be kept out of places with strict infection-control rules, like operating rooms and burn units.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) was changed on January 11, 2021, to only protect service dogs from being denied on flights. Emotional support animals (ESAs) are now treated like any other pet by airlines. Some airlines let ESAs fly as carry-on pets for a fee, with some limits.

Air Travel Rules

Air travel rules for ESAs and service animals have changed a lot recently. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) doesn’t make airlines treat ESAs the same as service animals anymore.

Service Animals: Airlines have to accept service animals, which are only dogs. These dogs must be trained to do work or tasks for a person with a disability.
Emotional Support Animals:Airlines don’t have to treat ESAs like service animals anymore. If you want to fly with an ESA, you have to follow the airline’s pet rules, which might include fees and limits on the type and size of the animal.

For Californians with disabilities who need ESAs or service animals, knowing these differences is super important for following both state and federal rules. By staying informed about state laws and air travel rules, you can better handle the legal stuff around ESAs and service animals in California.


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