Dave’s here to answer your questions every Wednesday, so send them to him at tenant@sfappeal.com, here’s what to make sure to include in your letter.

Shopping_Dog.jpgCan a landlord legally refuse to rent to a tenant who owns a dog, if the prospective tenant is disabled and the dog helps his disability?

If not, what if the disability is only psychiatric in nature?

And if not, how would the prospective tenant be able to prove to the landlord that his dog is for his disability?

If your lease prohibits pets (and many of them do) a landlord can in initially refuse to allow a tenant to get a pet. Note that I said initially. If you are disabled and you need a pet to provide service or emotional support, you have the right to ask your landlord to allow a pet in the premises regardless of the language in the lease.

A guide dog for a blind person is a classic service animal. A landlord who refused a request for such an animal is clearly discriminating against the tenant based upon disability.

A request to allow an emotional support animal is a little more tricky, but your rights are still clearly defined under the law.

Asking your landlord to add a pet based upon your disability is called a request for a reasonable accommodation. Your request must be reasonable. For example, you cannot request that the landlord, to accommodate your disability, purchase Malachy, the pekinese best in show winner at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club dog show and add him to your lease. That would be unreasonable.

It might also be unreasonable to get a big, untrained, vicious dog because the landlord could be liable if the dog bit someone in the building.

You must also be prepared to prove to the landlord that you are disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If your disability is psychiatric your are absolutely entitled to request a reasonable accommodation that could include owning a pet. Take a look at this link from the the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

The Bazelon site is the “go to” resource for any questions about the law pertaining to mental disability and your rights under the various laws that prohibit discrimination based upon mental disability.

Usually you can get a letter from your treating doctor describing your disability and that having a pet would mitigate your, say, your anxiety disorder. The Bazelon link above provides a sample doctor’s letter that briefly describes the patient’s mental disability and “prescribes” a pet to provide some alleviation of the symptoms.

If you are planning to request a reasonable accommodation to get a pet, you should also check out PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support). Their site provides a step-by-step procedure to request a reasonable accommodation to get a support animal. The PAWS suggestions about a health provider’s letter are simple, accurate descriptions of the legal requirements for such a letter:

In order to prove that a dog is a service or support animal, you may be asked to have documentation from a licensed professional (doctor, nurse practitioner, psychiatrist, other mental-health professional or social worker) stating that the animal is an essential part of treatment for a disability. A doctor’s letter must have two essential components.

1. It must state that you have a disability. The disability does not need to be identified.
2. It must state that it is the professional opinion of the provider that is it essential for you to have a service/support animal.

From my point of view, the biggest mistake a tenant can make is getting a pet first and then attempting to justify the need for the animal later–after the landlord, during his annual, unannounced, illegal inspection, discovers Fluffy hiding in a closet.

If your lease prohibits pets, ask first, in writing. If your landlord accepts your request, get it in writing. If your landlord refuses and you can demonstrate your need based on disability, go through the steps as outlined above.

If you are not disabled and your landlord refuses your request, forget it. I’ve seen too many instances in which long-term tenants are forced to choose between their beloved dog and living in the streets.

Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

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the author

Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

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  • Greg Dewar

    Follow up question: could the landlord ask for an extra deposit to accomodate

    -a pet

    or

    -a service animal?

    in my building tenants are allowed to have a cat if they pay an extra $300 deposit for the cat. no dogs are allowed, ever.

    can a landlord ask for an extra deposit for a service animal too? or would that be considered discrimination?

  • Greg Dewar

    Follow up question: could the landlord ask for an extra deposit to accomodate

    -a pet

    or

    -a service animal?

    in my building tenants are allowed to have a cat if they pay an extra $300 deposit for the cat. no dogs are allowed, ever.

    can a landlord ask for an extra deposit for a service animal too? or would that be considered discrimination?

  • Dave Crow

    Greg,

    From the Bazelon site:

    Few courts have addressed the imposition of pet deposits on the vast majority of tenants who are not protected by the Housing and Urban-Rural Recovery Act. The only case to specifically consider the legality of charging a pet deposit for an assistive animal involved a service dog belonging to a tenant with a physical disability. See HUD v. Purkett, FH-FL ?? 19,372 (HUDALJ July 31, 1990), in which a HUD administrative law judge issued an injunction barring the owner and manager of an apartment complex from charging a tenant a deposit for her service dog. It could be argued that a landlord would be likewise prohibited from imposing such a deposit for an emotional support animal.

    As usual, the answer will be “it depends.” I think that an unusually large deposit for a service animal or support animal might indicate discrimination.

  • Dave Crow

    Greg,

    From the Bazelon site:

    Few courts have addressed the imposition of pet deposits on the vast majority of tenants who are not protected by the Housing and Urban-Rural Recovery Act. The only case to specifically consider the legality of charging a pet deposit for an assistive animal involved a service dog belonging to a tenant with a physical disability. See HUD v. Purkett, FH-FL ?? 19,372 (HUDALJ July 31, 1990), in which a HUD administrative law judge issued an injunction barring the owner and manager of an apartment complex from charging a tenant a deposit for her service dog. It could be argued that a landlord would be likewise prohibited from imposing such a deposit for an emotional support animal.

    As usual, the answer will be “it depends.” I think that an unusually large deposit for a service animal or support animal might indicate discrimination.

  • Dave Crow

    I also realized that I didn’t quite answer the reader’s question.

    If you are a prospective tenant with a support animal who has not yet rented a unit, can a landlord refuse to rent to you? The legal answer is no.

    But the practical answer is how are you going to prove that the landlord discriminated against you? In other words, if you reveal that you have a support animal on your application and the landlord doesn’t want any “pets” in the building, he could say that you did not qualify based upon income or some other criterion.

    If that happened I suggest that one file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment.

  • Dave Crow

    I also realized that I didn’t quite answer the reader’s question.

    If you are a prospective tenant with a support animal who has not yet rented a unit, can a landlord refuse to rent to you? The legal answer is no.

    But the practical answer is how are you going to prove that the landlord discriminated against you? In other words, if you reveal that you have a support animal on your application and the landlord doesn’t want any “pets” in the building, he could say that you did not qualify based upon income or some other criterion.

    If that happened I suggest that one file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment.

  • TFK Co.

    It’s just too easy for someone to claim a sudden disability mentally, and get a doctor to write a note. In fact there are services on the web that do this for a small fee. Just like getting a 420 Marijuana Medicinal Use card. It’s a shame because it takes away from those with real disabilities, and also takes advantage of landlords who do the right thing by the law, and are just being scammed.

  • TFK Co.

    It’s just too easy for someone to claim a sudden disability mentally, and get a doctor to write a note. In fact there are services on the web that do this for a small fee. Just like getting a 420 Marijuana Medicinal Use card. It’s a shame because it takes away from those with real disabilities, and also takes advantage of landlords who do the right thing by the law, and are just being scammed.

  • Ellen McCarthy

    FHA laws state that service dogs, service dogs in training, ESAs do not have to be trained…. They do not follow the ADA laws in the home… http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/FINALRULE/Pet_Ownership_Final_Rule.pdf I won a case w/ my apt complex when they told me I couldn’t have a SDIT, ESA cat and my older service dog living with me do to their pet policy of only two pets per household… They told me to get rid of my puppy till he’s trained and then give my older a service dog a new home when the pup returned as a full service dog. I contacted HUD and within three months I WON MY CASE!!

    • pete

      Can my landlord charge me extra each month on my rent for a service dog or even a 1 time deposit ?

  • Ellen McCarthy

    FHA laws state that service dogs, service dogs in training, ESAs do not have to be trained…. They do not follow the ADA laws in the home… http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/FINALRULE/Pet_Ownership_Final_Rule.pdf I won a case w/ my apt complex when they told me I couldn’t have a SDIT, ESA cat and my older service dog living with me do to their pet policy of only two pets per household… They told me to get rid of my puppy till he’s trained and then give my older a service dog a new home when the pup returned as a full service dog. I contacted HUD and within three months I WON MY CASE!!

  • Jana Hansky Cooley

    I do believe that we are not allowed to refer to any service/ companion animal as a “pet”. We have a ‘no pet policy’ and require prospective tenants professional care providers fill out and send a ‘Reasonable Accommodation Form’ to us directly indicating the animal meets the criteria.

  • Jana Hansky Cooley

    I do believe that we are not allowed to refer to any service/ companion animal as a “pet”. We have a ‘no pet policy’ and require prospective tenants professional care providers fill out and send a ‘Reasonable Accommodation Form’ to us directly indicating the animal meets the criteria.

    • Helperdognme

      Companion animals are not service animals. They are pets. Emotional support animals are not service animals either. They are also pets, but are allowed in “No Pets” housing under Reasonable Accommodations. Service Animals are considered “Medical Equipment”, and are not pets, defined by federal law.

  • Blake

    Here’s some relief for people who have only a few rental units to rent out, or are renting part of property they live in (see below***). … as distinquished from a real public commercial rental business.

    IMO, people who don’t want to live around indoor pets should not be forced to do so. Disabled folks have plenty of choices without forcing themselves on people who are allergic, dislike the noise-odor-dander-shredded-hairs-clumsiness-etc of even the “smallest” or “cutest,” or are otherwise adverse to sharing their private living environment with animals. Personally I am weary of people who excuse their animals’ intrusive behavior (any noise or physical contact such as a wet nose or tongue where it doesn’t belong) with “oh, he won’t hurt you” or “that just shows he likes you”, and wrongly assume everyone loves their dog, cat, whatever. I had a nephew malled close to death, been bitten myself, and a friend bit in the face at my dinner table by such …. Our next door neighbors’ service dog woke us up many, many nights howling to be let back inside, and our inconsiderate neighbors were deaf and asleep.

    ****Contrary to popular belief, some landlords ARE exempt from the
    regulations of the Fair Housing Amendments Act. The exceptions include
    (a) buildings with four or fewer units where the landlord lives in one
    of the units, and (b) private owners who do not own more than three
    single family houses, do not use real estate brokers or agents, and do
    not use discriminatory advertisements. The FHAA also does not apply to
    publicly owned (government owned) housing or to section 8 housing. Other
    laws, such as Section 508 of the Rehab Act and Title II of the ADA may
    apply in some cases. Consult a qualified attorney to learn which laws if
    any apply in your specific situation.

    • Lioness006

      No.. Disabled people and people with pets in general do NOT have plenty of options. That’s the problem.
      Just because you or people you know have had bad experiences does not mean all dogs or pets are the enemy. There are far to FEW apartments that allow large dogs or more than 1-2 pets. And the deposits/pet fees are ridiculous! And pet rent? Are you kidding me?!
      I’ve had my dog since she was 7 weeks old and she’s 6 now. She’s the happiest, friendliest, sweetest dog ever. She’s smart and peppy and loves everyone. When I’m sad or depressed, she cheers me up and is extra cute or clownish. She’s very smart, knows many commands, and is not a barker. She’s never bit anyone or hurt anyone. She loves kids and animals. She is a black lab/shepherd mix.
      However the place I’m living has a mold issue and I need to find another place to live soon, as I’ve had a sinus infection for like, 4 years because of the mold. I can’t find anywhere in my price range that allows large dogs. So I’m stuck in my apartment that’s making me sick. People should not be forced to rehome a pet because a property in their price range doesn’t allow pets. Even more so for disabled people with emotional support animals. As if their life isn’t stressful enough, imagine having to even consider rehoming your fuzzy family member. It can stress people to the point of hospitalization.
      By the way, children are far noisier than most pets, and smokers are far more destructive.. Can I get an adult only, non-smoking, pet friendly apartment in my budget please?
      I understand someone renting out part of their place or a duplex/townhouse or something where they live in the other half, but for the most part, places need to be more understanding.
      Seems like people who don’t like pets sure have PLENTY of options though.

  • Ellen McCarthy

    The answer is NO … No deposits .. No monthly charges … BUT when you move out and there is any kind of damage from the dog then you’re responsible… Please read this — http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/FINALRULE/Pet_Ownership_Final_Rule.pdf

  • halli wheeler

    I have completed all needed paperwork to get an emotional support animal. Prior to going through the process I did talk to my landlord about the kind of pet i would be getting at the time I was told it had to be small pet under 30lbs, asked about an English bulldog puppy. They said that it would get too big, So we decided to go with a pug puppy. They now say we can not have a puppy the dog must be a year old and be spayed/neutered and have all shots. My question is can they really tell me i can not have a puppy? It is still under the weight limit, of course it will have all its shots and everything else.