In September 2021, California’s Governor (Gary Newsom) signed a law to help combat dishonesty surrounding the ownership of ESAs and Psychiatric Service Dogs. Assembly Bill 468, which is co-sponsored by Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) and Canine Companions, went into effect on January 1st, 2022. Still going strong a year later, the bill outlines more rigid ESA guidelines in hopes to lower instances of ESA and PSA fraud. How does the bill affect ESA owners and prospective owners living in the Golden State? We’re here to help you navigate the updates and amendments.
Before we dive into specifics surrounding the updated guidelines, it’s important to note the key differences between ESAs and Service Dogs.
Some animals provide their owners with therapeutic ways to combat their stress and anxiety, as well as decrease other negative emotions. Additionally, their interactions can help with diminishing physical pain, strengthening socialization and communication skills, and reducing boredom. They’ve even been said to help children overcome some speech disorders. These animals are known as Emotional Support Animals. Though they can be part of a person’s mental health or medical treatment plan, they don’t need to undergo specialized training.
Service Animals (and PSDs) are different, in the sense that they’re specifically trained to perform tasks to help with daily functionality. They offer practical assistance, while also contributing positive feelings of safety and security for those fighting mental health disabilities. When it comes to Service Animals, only canines (and the less common miniature horses) qualify, while ESAs extend to most domesticated species.
Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.
With the spectrum of ESA options wide and (for the most part) open to an owner’s individual discretion, public access complications called for stricter guidelines. People were getting inventive with the types of animals they claimed were needed for mental support, so much so that airlines had to crack down on allowances. Wary of all types of critters running around aboard airplanes and causing a disturbance, the DOT (Department of Transportation) put stricter travel rules in place. Shortly after, California followed in their footsteps, tightening ESA policies while keeping public access rights intact for those with a genuine need for a Service Animal.
Before AB 468 went into effect, there were hardly any guidelines that challenged tenants claiming they had an ESA. While laws regarding proper Service Dog representation have always been in place, none prohibited those claims for an ESA. Minimal proof was required when it came to the validity of an ESA, leaving room for doubt. In instances where landlords objected to the claims and asked to see documentation, dozens of fraudulent websites were happy to oblige without the validity of a licensed healthcare professional. Many charged low fees for invalid ESA certificates (not letters written by real doctors), promising owners that pets would be granted public access privileges with a simple printout. Many landlords were slow to dispute any claims.
With AB 468 in place, businesses now must inform consumers that ESA certificates do not entitle animals to all the same privileges and rights of legally trained Service Dogs. Furthermore, the law has made misrepresenting a Service Dog or using false certification into a misdemeanor. This includes providing or selling any merchandise with misleading logos. Items such as leashes, vests and harnesses that claim an untrained dog is certified will land you in hot water.
The more stringent rules for these businesses are strengthened even further by the new rules in place for California tenants. Under current CA and HUD laws, ESA owners now have to show landlords ESA documentation. Since random, online forms are no longer considered proof of ESA validity, more and more are turning to licensed medical professionals. Yet AB 468 also makes this difficult, barring all LMHPs from granting the documentation until they meet four checkboxes of (very specific) criteria.
One of those boxes states doctors must have an ongoing relationship with any given patient for a minimum of 30 days before signing documentation. This observation period, which is meant to build doctor-to-patient relationships, is a huge deterrent for people who are looking to get forms falsified in the name of housing.
Additional criteria regarding healthcare jurisdictions and what qualifies as active, valid healthcare have also been put into place. More in-depth information can be found on legal websites, such as Bornstein Law. Failure to comply with any of the changes may result in fines or disciplinary action from the healthcare board.
Something you might be wondering, now that these new laws have been passed, is whether owning an Emotional Support Animal in California is legal. Fortunately, yes, it is! In fact, under California and federal laws, you can have more than one ESA. Yet it’s important to note that in order to protect yourself and your ESA, you will need legal documents to prove a disability and need for ESA allotment.
Now that you’ve learned of the updates regarding ESA laws in the state of California, you may need additional help. At American Service Pets, we’re experts when it comes to ESAs. Do you need a valid ESA Letter? Contact American Service Pets today to discuss your qualification and get connected to a licensed doctor today!
Some argue that the changes made in AB 468 do the opposite of help, instead causing many legitimate needs for ESAs to be dismissed or even overlooked. Whatever your stance, if you live in CA, these are the laws that you need to abide by if you find yourself in need of ESA documentation. What are your thoughts? Let us know @americanservicepets as we would love to hear from you!
The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!
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