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Tenant Rights Regarding Service Animals

Filed under: Real Estate Law

Landlords are often tasked with the decision to allow, or not allow, pets within their rental units. Many factors are considered before establishing a final policy, such as age of the units, past experiences with pet owners, possibility of repair expenses… and even a tenant’s right to disability accommodations.

Legally, a service animal or emotional support animal is not considered a “pet”, and does not fall under the same rules as pets. According to California state law, those with disabilities are free from discrimination in the sale or rental of housing, and landlords are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” to those with disabilities. Sometimes these rules mean that landlords must change policies, if necessary for a person with a disability to use and enjoy the housing.

In other words, even in a housing unit that does not otherwise allow animals to be kept as “pets”, an exception must be made for a service or emotional support animal.  No additional deposits may be requested for service or emotional support animals.

Service animals versus emotional support animals. The line does become slightly blurry, however, when considering the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal. A service animal is one specially trained to perform specific tasks for its owner, whereas an emotional support animal provides comfort but is not trained in a specific manner.   A service animal has full public access rights whereas an emotional support animal has access rights only in housing and on airplanes.

Service animals must be allowed in nearly every situation, unless the landlord has reason to believe the animal poses a threat to others, or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing. The law is so supportive of service animals, in fact, that a landlord can only inquire whether the animals is required due to the tenant’s disability, and what tasks the animal has been trained to perform on behalf of the tenant.  The landlord may not inquire as to the nature of the tenant’s disability.

Usually a landlord will be required by law to bend a no-pet policy to allow emotional support animals as well. However, the accommodation must be considered “reasonable”. Some situations which are considered “unreasonable” would include:

  • The emotional support animal poses a direct threat to other tenants
  • The animal causes substantive harm to the property
  • The animal imposes an undue financial or administrative burden on the leasing company or property owner
  • The animal will fundamentally alter the nature of services provided by the landlord

A Landlord may request that a Tenant with an emotional support animal provide a letter from a medical provider stating that the support animal is required by the Tenant.
Owners of emotional support animals are tasked with the responsibility of complying with local and state animal control laws, and does not become a danger or nuisance to the community.

The bottom line is this: Service animals must nearly always be permitted within rented housing units. In most cases, emotional support animals should also be allowed, but within certain reasonable limits. In both instances, the Tenant is responsible for keeping the animal under control at all times, and for any damage that the animal may cause.

Landlords should consult with our real estate attorneys in order to maintain compliance with discrimination and housing laws.

 

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