DISCLAIMER: Please check with your attorney regarding all matters pertaining to assistance animals. My advice is general in nature and should not be relied upon without checking with your attorney.
An emotional support dog, service animal, or assistance animal mean different things, but they are all protected by law. For the sake of this conversation, I use the term assistance, service, and emotional support animal interchangeably. The most important thing you need to know is that they are not pets. These are animals that work. They provide emotional or additional assistance to people with disabilities.
Laws Regarding Service Dogs and Other Support Animals
Property managers and landlords need to allow for reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. Under the law, these accommodations include service or emotional support animals. You have to allow them even if you have a no-pet policy. You cannot charge extra pet rent or a pet deposit or extra cleaning fees. You must rent to these tenants with the same terms as other tenants.
Assistance Animal Letter
When the disability is obvious, you may not ask for proof of need for an assistance animal. For example, if an applicant comes with a Seeing Eye dog, the disability is apparent. You cannot ask for anything from the tenant. You have to allow the animal and process the application. But, if the tenant’s disability is not apparent, and they say they need an assistance animal, you can ask for a letter from a qualified professional saying they require a service or emotional support animal. There are some online companies that will print out a service animal badge for any tenant who is willing to pay for it. Those are scams. You can require an actual letter from professional verifying the need.
California Service Dog Laws: Denying an Animal
You can deny a support animal request for a couple of reasons. First, you can say no if it poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. Second, you can say no if it would cause substantial damage to the property of others. We have never used either of those reasons, and I encourage you not to without strong reason. Disability complaints are the most common complaints that the fair housing office gets. If you’re seen as denying a fair accommodation for someone who needs a service animal, you could face very stiff monetary penalties. So, be careful. You generally cannot reject a service or support animal based on breed, size, or weight.
Service Animal Regulations
What if you do an inspection, and you find your tenant has a pet but there are no pets listed on the application? The tenant might tell you it’s an emotional support animal. California law says the tenants are not required to disclose their need for an assistance animal. You can request that letter any time, so if this should happen, ask for the letter from a qualified professional. You can and should do your due diligence to verify the letter if you think it may be fake.
Remember that this is general information we’re providing based on our experience. Please check with your attorney regarding your specific circumstances.
If we can help you with anything regarding emotional support animal laws, please contact us at Good Life Property Management.