Assistance Animals in Housing: Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals


Assistance Animals in Housing: Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

This tells you about your right to have an assistance animal when your housing does not allow pets.  Assistance animal means an animal you need lives in your home. It can be a service animal or an emotional support animal. This pub tells you what to do if your landlord will not let you keep your assistance animal and tells you where to get help.

Disclaimer: This publication is legal information only and is not legal advice about your individual situation. It is current as of the date posted. We try to update our materials regularly. However, laws are regularly changing. If you want to make sure the law has not changed, contact DRC or another legal office.

I. What Is the Difference Between a Service Animal and An Emotional Support Animal?

A service animal and an emotional support animal are two different categories of animals that can assist people with disabilities.

Understanding the legal differences between the two types of assistance animals is important because the rules that apply to your situation may be different!

A Service Animal is a dog or miniature horse that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for a person with a disability. Only dogs and miniature horses can be service animals. Service animals must be trained to perform specific tasks for your disability. Service animals that are in training are not considered service animals, however you can bring them into California public places for purposes of training. If the service animal in training causes damage, you can be held legally responsible and required to pay for the damage.

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) can be any animal that provides comfort or support that alleviates one or more symptoms of a person’s disability. Emotional support animals do not need specific training to provide comfort or support for one’s disability. ESAs do not have the same access to public places that service animals do.  If you have an ESA, you are not legally allowed to bring the animal into businesses and a business can legally deny you access. Misrepresenting an ESA as a trained service animal is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or up to a $1000 fine. (Penal Code Section 365.7(a)).

II. Can a Housing Provider Require Me to Disclose that I Have an Assistance Animal and Prove My Animal is an Assistance Animal?

A. Service Animals

  1. If you have a service animal (dog or miniature horse), there are more legal limits on what a Housing Provider can ask. If you are applying to rent, you generally don’t need to disclose that you have a service animal. However, depending on what the rental application asks about animals, you should seek legal advice about your specific situation. Legally, if you do disclose it or if the Housing Provider already knows you have an animal, the Housing Provider can only ask:
    1. Is the animal required because of your disability?
    2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
  2. Your Housing Provider cannot require you to provide proof of training or certification, but the service animal must be under control of its handler.
    Example: “under control” means that you must have the service animal harnessed, leashed, or tethered while in public places, unless it must be unleashed at certain times to perform a task. However, it must be re-leashed when the task is completed. The owner must use signals to effectively instruct the service animal and the service animal should be well-behaved. The owner should ensure the service animal does not bark repeatedly or wander off without the owner.
  3. A Housing Provider can make sure that the person with the service animal is telling the truth through a signed document, like a lease.  In addition to potential eviction, misrepresenting an animal as a trained service animal is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or up to a $1000 fine. (Penal Code Section 365.7(a)).

B. Emotional Support Animal (ESA)

  1. If you have an Emotional Support Animal (ESA), your Housing Provider can require documentation that you have a disability and you have a disability-related need for the ESA. A Housing Provider can also ask you to provide medical verification of your need for the ESA from a medical professional, but your Housing Provider cannot require detailed information about your diagnosis. See the end of this document for a sample letter for requesting to keep an ESA in your home.

For more information from HUD and CRD, go to:

III. Can my Housing Provider Charge Fees for My Assistance Animal?

No, your Housing Provider cannot charge pet rent or pet deposits because assistance animals (both service animals and ESAs) are not considered pets. However, you may need to pay for damage caused by the assistance animal.

IV. Can my Housing Provider Require Me to Follow State/Local Government Laws that Apply for All Animals?

Yes, your Housing Provider can require you to get your assistance animal licensed or vaccinated according to the state/local government laws that apply to all animals in the area where you live.

V. Can my Housing Provider Give Other Restrictions for My Assistance Animal?

“No pets” policies do not apply to assistance animals.

Generally, your Housing Provider cannot use weight and breed restrictions against your assistance animals. However, Housing Providers can sometimes find another legal way to restrict dogs based on breed. It may be helpful to seek legal advice about your specific situation.

VI. What Are My Rights if I am Living at a Shelter?

You should be allowed to keep service animals and ESAs while staying at a shelter.

If you have an ESA, you will need to request a reasonable accommodation in order to keep the ESA with you. However, your ESA may not be allowed in public areas in the shelter.

A service animal can be permitted in communal food areas and any other areas that you are allowed.

VII. What is a Reasonable Accommodation and Do I Need to Get A Reasonable Accommodation for my Assistance Animal?

A reasonable accommodation is an exception or change to a housing provider’s rules, policies, or practices.

For service animals, you do not need to request a reasonable accommodation in order to keep your service animal in your home with you even if the Housing Provider has a No Pets policy or other similar rules.

For ESAs, you may need to request a reasonable accommodation if the Housing Provider has a rule, policy, or practice that would prevent you from having one.

Even though reasonable accommodation requests do not have to be in writing, sending the request in writing (and keeping a copy for your records) will help protect you. See the end of this document for a sample letter for requesting to keep an ESA in your home.

A Housing Provider should promptly respond to your request. A Housing Provider’s failure to respond within a reasonable amount of time can be considered a denial of a reasonable accommodation and discrimination on the basis of disability.  

See more information from HUD here:

VIII. Can a Housing Provider Deny Your Request for An Assistance Animal To Accompany You In Your Housing?

In some limited circumstances, a Housing Provider can legally deny your request to keep an assistance animal if the animal:

  1. is not needed because of your disability or your household member’s disability,
  2. poses a direct danger to other people or property,
  3. is not under the handler’s care or is not housebroken,
  4. costs too much money or is large administrative burden, or
  5. significantly changes the nature of the services that the Housing Provider or Homeowner’s Association provides.
    Example: You are responsible for feeding, walking, or cleaning up after your assistance animal. Asking a Housing Provider to feed, walk, or clean up after an assistance animal might be considered a significant change (“fundamental alteration”) in the service the Housing Provider can provide.

IX. Are there Programs To Help Me Financially Take Care Of an Assistance Animal?

Only for service dogs, and not for ESAs.

If you need assistance paying for costs associated with your service dog, California has a program that offers $50 monthly to subsidize these costs. More information about this program is available at

X. What are my Options if I Believe a Housing Provider Is Discriminating Against Me For Having An Assistance Animal?

  1. File a housing discrimination complaint against the housing provider with the California Civil Rights Department. More information about this process is available at
  2. File a housing discrimination complaint against the housing provider with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. More information about this process is available at
  3. File a lawsuit in state or federal court against the Housing Provider.

XI. Laws That Apply to All Assistance Animals

For more in-depth information, these are some laws that this resource is based on.

  1. Federal American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title II and Title III,
  2. Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act and Federal Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
  3. California Disabled Person Act and California Fair Employment and Housing Act,

XII. Sample Reasonable Accommodation Request for an Emotional Support Animal Letter:

Dear [name of the Landlord and/or Property Manager]   

I live at/am applying to rent your property at [address]. I am writing to request the following reasonable accommodations/modifications for my disability: I need to have an emotional support animal living with me.                                                                                                                        

This request is related to my disability because:


My [physician/psychiatrist/psychologist/therapist/social worker/occupational therapist /other individual] has deemed these accommodations/modifications necessary due to my disability. I can provide this verification if you need it.  

Federal and state law require that a housing provider reasonably accommodate tenants/occupants and applicants who have disabilities.

Please respond to this request, in writing, by [date].    Please understand that failure to respond to a reasonable accommodation, undue delay in responding, or unlawfully denying a reasonable accommodation request constitutes disability discrimination.  See 2 CCR §12177(e). Feel free to contact me at [your e-mail address]. Thank you for your attention to this request.


[Your name]
[Your address]