Ask the County Law Librarian–Does “no pets” policy apply to service dog?
Q. As a landlord, I have a strict “no pets” policy. A prospective tenant says they have a certified service animal. All other qualifications being met, am I required to accommodate them?
A. Most likely, yes. The Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) requires property owners to make reasonable accommodations for a person with a disability, to enable them to enjoy the residence on an equal basis with tenants who are not disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B). Regulations promulgated under the FHA state that “[i]t shall be unlawful for any person to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a handicapped person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit, including public and common areas.” 24 CFR § 100.204(a). The regulations provide examples of their application; the illustration of an owner’s failure to make necessary and reasonable accommodations involves the application of a “no pets” policy similar to your own:
A blind applicant for rental housing wants to live in a dwelling unit with a seeing eye dog. The building has a no pets policy. It is a violation…for the owner or manager… to refuse to permit the applicant to live in the apartment with a seeing eye dog because without the seeing eye dog, the blind person will not have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. 24 CFR §100.204(b).
Although your rental unit may not be covered by the FHA (section 3603 provides that the Act applies to dwellings owned or operated by the federal government; dwellings provided in whole or in part with the aid of loans, advances, grants, or contributions made by the federal government; and dwellings provided in whole or in part by loans insured, guaranteed, or otherwise secured by the credit of the federal government), it is almost certainly covered by California law.
California has several laws that might require you to rent to a disabled person with a service animal despite a “no pets” policy. California’s fair housing laws, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Unruh Civil Rights Act, cover “the owner of any housing accommodation,” and “all business establishments of every kind whatsoever,” respectively. The FEHA has two exceptions: one for renting a portion of an owner-occupied single-family home to one person (Government Code § 12927(c)(2)(a)), and one for religious organizations giving preference to persons of the same religion, unless membership in that religion is restricted on account of race, color, or national origin. (Government Code § 12955.4).
Both Acts mirror the language of the FHA: “Any person renting, leasing, or otherwise providing real property for compensation shall not refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when those accommodations may be necessary to afford individuals with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy the premises,” (California Civil Code §54.1(b)(3)(A)); “discrimination includes refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when these accommodations may be necessary to afford a disabled person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling” (California Government Code § 12927).
In addition, Civil Code § 54.1(b)(6)(A) specifically addresses the issue of disabled tenants with service dogs:
It shall be deemed a denial of equal access to housing accommodations within the meaning of this subdivision for any person, firm, or corporation to refuse to lease or rent housing accommodations to an individual who is blind or visually impaired on the basis that the individual uses the services of a guide dog, an individual who is deaf or hearing impaired on the basis that the individual uses the services of a signal dog, or to an individual with any other disability on the basis that the individual uses the services of a service dog, or to refuse to permit such an individual who is blind or visually impaired to keep a guide dog, an individual who is deaf or hearing impaired to keep a signal dog, or an individual with any other disability to keep a service dog on the premises.
So, it looks like you will have to bend your “no pets” rule to allow the service dog as a reasonable accommodation to the disabled tenant. Luckily, however, Civil Code § 54.1(b)(6)(B) provides that:
Except in the normal performance of duty as a mobility or signal aid, nothing contained in this paragraph shall be construed to prevent the owner of a housing accommodation from establishing terms in a lease or rental agreement that reasonably regulate the presence of guide dogs, signal dogs, or service dogs on the premises of a housing accommodation, nor shall this paragraph be construed to relieve a tenant from any liability otherwise imposed by law for real and personal property damages caused by such a dog when proof of the same exists.
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