With the help of co-sponsors Guide Dogs for the Blind and Canine Companions, California passed a new law, AB 468, effective January 1, 2022, aimed at curbing issues with emotional support animals (ESAs) in public places. The bill requires a person or a business that provides or sells a dog marketed as an ESA to provide a written notice to the buyer or recipient that the dog does not qualify as a guide, signal, or service dog (hereafter referred to “service dog”) under California law, is not entitled to the rights and privileges of a service dog, and knowingly representing the dog as a service dog is a misdemeanor violation. (Health & Safety Code §§ 122317(a)(1)-(3).) Additionally, any person or business that provides a certificate, ID, tag, vest, leash, or harness for an ESA must also provide a written notice with the same information as above. (Health & Safety Code §§ 122317(b)(1)-(2).)
Health care practitioners also face some scrutiny. Before the law went into effect, people could request a letter from any health care professional – often using telehealth services and websites designed to issue “ESA letters” – and submit it to their landlord to be able to keep their ESA in housing that otherwise prohibited pets. Now, health care practitioners are not permitted to provide documentation for an ESA unless the practitioner: (1) has a valid, active license and writes all information in the document; (2) is licensed in the jurisdiction; (3) has established a provider relationship for at least 30 days prior to issuing the documentation with the person; (4) completes a clinical evaluation of the person; and (5) advises the person in writing or verbally that misrepresenting the ESA as a service dog is a misdemeanor. (Health & Safety Code §§ 122318(a)(1)-(5).) Practitioners that do not abide by these rules can now be subject to discipline from their licensing board. (Health & Safety Code § 122318(c).)
Keep in mind, however, that this does not impact ESAs being permitted in housing in California. It does not change any existing federal or state law regarding ESAs as reasonable accommodations in housing. For further information on fair housing in California, click here. For further information on federal fair housing rules and ESAs, click here. To read the text of AB 468, click here.