What are the laws regarding pets, service, and emotional support or comfort animals?
While owners can have a no-pet policy, service animals and emotional support or comfort animals cannot be prohibited, as stated in CA Civil Code 54: California Disabled Persons Act:
"Prohibits housing providers from discriminating against blind, visually disabled, deaf and any physically handicapped person Prohibits enforcement of “no pets” policy against service or emotional support animals Prohibits charging pet deposit or pet rent for service, signal, alert or companion animals Allows people with disabilities to make reasonable modifications to unit for equal access and enjoyment (at their own expense.)"
However, tenants still have to abide by house rules that ensure compliance with noise restrictions, waste clean-up, damage repair and safey of other residents, as stated in CA Civil Code Section 54.2:
"Every individual with a disability has the right to be accompanied by a guide, signal, comfort, or service animal, especially trained for the purpose. It is that individual’s job to take care of the animal. Your tenant must ensure that the animal complies with state and local animal control laws, and is not a danger or a nuisance to the community. Additionally, the individual shall be liable for any damage done to the premises or facilities by his or her dog."
Best practice: Use EBRHA's Pet/Emotional Support/Service Animal Addenda with the latest rules and regulations.
Legal Q & A
Question: One of my residents recently brought in a service animal to his unit, which I was happy to accommodate. But now, I’m receiving complaints from my other tenants, claiming that the dog barks at all hours of the night and that the owner isn’t picking up after it and leaving its mess all over the courtyard. What can I do in this situation?
Answer: State and federal laws requires you to be accommodating of disabled tenants, but that accommodation does not require you to inconvenience your other residents, or have your property damaged or littered. The resident also has responsibilities with maintaining a service or emotional support animal.
Inform your resident of pertinent noise ordinances governing your city and that his dog’s incessant barking may be in violation of local laws. For example, in Berkeley if a dog barks over 10 minutes straight or intermittently for 30 minutes, it can be considered a violation of the noise ordinance and you can call animal control and report the problem. They will usually send out an animal control officer to assess the situation and that officer may provide suggested ways to remedy the problem or may issue a warning. If they have to come out again, then a fine may be assessed. Code: BMC 1340.70 B5
The best practice is to create and establish an animal policy, as well as an agreement which spells out the requirements for dog stewardship on your property (e.g. pick up waste daily, no loud barking, etc.).
Owners should try to amicably discuss the problems with their resident to try to achieve a reasonable solution. In this case, that may include discussing the importance of training the dog and or even giving the resident information on dog training classes in the area. If your resident is physically incapable of managing the responsibility of handling a dog, perhaps you can inquire into the possibility of helping him locate an assistant to help him manage, walk and train his dog. Under federal law, training the dog is required and may be completed by the dog owner, a friend, family member or professional trainer or training organization.
If the above-mentioned methods do not work, another option is to seek mediation services through an organization like SEEDS. More information about SEEDS can be found at www.seedscrc.org.
Notices to Cure
It is your job to try to reasonably accommodate your resident’s need for a service or emotional support animal, but if they or the animal do not comply with your rules. You should first write your resident a warning letter detailing the information raised above giving them an opportunity to cure the lease violation within a defined period of time.
Contributor: Elaine Lee, Attorney
Question: The original rental agreement with my resident specifically prohibits pets, but the resident has requested a comfort cat. Can I increase the rent because of this cat? What are my options?
Answer: An owner must make a reasonable accommodation when necessary to allow a disabled resident an equal opportunity to enjoy a rental unit.
A reasonable accommodation is defined to include changes in the rules, policies or practices. This may include changing a policy to allow a disabled resident to keep a comfort animal. And yes, a cat may be considered a comfort animal. The owner cannot raise the rent because the resident has a comfort animal. A rent increase under these circumstances violates fair housing laws and the Rent Ordinance.
The owner may, however, ensure that the resident has a disability and needs the comfort animal to accommodate his or her disability. For instance, the owner may request the resident to verify that he or she has a disability. A disability under fair housing laws is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The owner may also request the resident to verify that having a comfort animal is needed to accommodate his or her disability. The requested accommodation should affirmatively enhance the resident’s quality of life by ameliorating the effects of the disability. In other words, having a comfort animal must directly benefit the affected major life activity.
Comfort animals aren’t limited to just dogs. If having a cat directly relieves the effects of a disability, then the cat may be considered a comfort animal. Once the resident shows that he or she has a disability and that having a cat as a comfort animal is a reasonable accommodation for that disability, then the owner should generally allow the resident to keep the comfort animal but should not raise the rent.
Contributor: Steve Williams, Attorney