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San Diego Humane Society

Emotional Support and Service Animals in Housing

Information provided by Disability Rights California’s Fact Sheet: Rights to Assistance Animals in Housing

  • According to the CDC, one in four Americans (61 million people) currently lives with a disability, yet many community members do not know their rights when it comes to assistance animals in housing.
  • State and federal fair housing laws* provide rights to both service animals and emotional support animals in housing as reasonable accommodations for a tenant’s or housing applicant’s disability.
  • A service animal is a dog who is individually trained to perform work or tasks that benefit a person with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other type of disability. A service animal may be trained by a professional, a friend, a family member or the person with a disability.
  • An emotional support animal (ESA) is any animal who eases the effects of a person’s disability by providing comfort or support. There are no specific training requirements for emotional support animals.
  • A reasonable accommodation is an exception to rules or policies that are necessary to allow people with disabilities to use and enjoy their housing. This includes a requirement that housing providers make exceptions to a "no pets" policy.

Learn more about assistance animals and your rights.

*Here is a list of the primary laws that cover disability rights in housing:
Fair Housing Amendments Act (The federal law covers most forms of housing, including homeless shelters.)
Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act (This federal law covers recipients of federal funds.)
California Disabled Persons Act. California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

NOTE: Disability rights in homeless shelters can be covered by several sets of both federal and state laws — depending on how the shelter is funded, and which aspect of the shelter is being used or how it is accessed (as a dayroom/resource center or as a form of housing).

Assistance animals are not:

  • Subject to the same housing pet restrictions such as breed, size and number.
  • Required to be registered as service animals, or wear a special tag or vest identifying them as service animals.
  • Additionally, a housing provider may not require a tenant or applicant to pay a fee or a security deposit or to buy insurance for the animal as a condition of allowing the person to keep an assistance animal. A housing provider can charge a tenant for repairing any damages that the assistance animal causes to the unit or common areas. 

A request for a reasonable accommodation to have an emotional support animal in housing can be denied if the animal:

  • Is not necessary because of the guardian’s disability (see documentation requirement information below).
  • Poses a direct threat to other people or property. A direct threat must be determined by an individual assessment of the animal’s behavior, not stereotypes about the breed.
  • Is not under the guardian’s care (if the animal is out of control and the animal’s guardian does not take effective action to control the animal).
  • Is not housebroken.
  • Imposes an undue financial or administrative burden.
  • Fundamentally alters the nature of services that the landlord or homeowners association provides (ex: asking a landlord to feed, walk or clean up after an assistance animal). 


  • If you are seeking a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal in housing, a landlord or homeowners association may ask for documentation that you have a disability and that you have a disability-related need for the animal.
  • The verification letter may be obtained from a clinician (physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, social worker, etc.) familiar with your disability and need for the assistance animal. San Diego Humane Society is not able to provide assistance animal verification letters.
  • The housing provider should not request documentation if your disability and your disability-related need for the service or support animal are apparent. (ex: guide dog or mobility dog)
  • As of January 1, 2022, in the state of CA, there must be a client-provider relationship established at least 30 days before the ESA letter is issued. This means community members will need to plan ahead to ensure they receive their ESA letter on time. Instant letters from websites that charge a flat fee will likely be denied.

Sample ESA Verification Letter:

Slide of example ESA letter.png

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