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California’s Tough Take on Emotional Support Animals for Renters

California has differentiated between “service animals” and “emotional support animals,” and renters need to be clued in to the difference. Here’s how AB 468 is cutting down on emotional support animal fraud in the state.

Service vs Support Animals

Service animals are highly trained for specific roles — think seeing eye or guide dogs, psychiatric service dogs, and seizure response dogs. They may help someone who has disabilities by guiding them, retrieving dropped items, pulling wheelchairs, or making hearing-impaired people aware of specific sounds. Whatever the job, it’s really just that — a specific job.

Emotional support animals, on the other hand, aren’t considered service animals — even if they’re part of a medical treatment plan. HUD, which uses the term “assistance animals,” defines an animal like this as one that “works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability. An assistance animal is not a pet.”

Before AB 468

You’ve probably seen stories of airline passengers insisting their duck, peacock, cat, or hamster is essential for their emotional well-being. With many landlords, renters took the same approach. Plus, the internet makes it embarrassingly easy to procure fake certificates and tags for emotional support animals that grant the same privileges as legitimate service dogs — no medical assessment needed.

While it’s considered a crime to fraudulently and knowingly pass off a dog as a service animal, the same wasn’t true for emotional support animals in California, until AB 468. The law addresses a bunch of holes through which those selling emotional support pets, certificates, or accoutrements can be held legally accountable.

Emotional support animals are still recognized, providing four conditions are met:

  • The healthcare practitioner issuing documentation related to someone’s need for an emotional support animal has a valid, active license for services in the jurisdiction of the provided being provided.
  • The client-provider relationship is established and greater than 30 days before the paperwork is prepared.
  • A clinical evaluation was conducted.
  • Notice has been given from the healthcare provider that trying to pass off the dog as a service, guide, or signal dog is a misdemeanor.

For landlords, prior concerns that “reasonable accommodation” meant allowing any animal claimed by a tenant to be an emotional support animal are no longer. And for renters, the implications are clear. For more information on what that means for your existing tenants, please see speak with a good real estate attorney

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