Tenants and Service Animals
If you are a tenant who requires the services of an aid animal or emotional support animal, you should read the following information about tenants and service animals.
In California, there are many federal acts and state laws which protect your right as a tenant to the use of assistance animals. For example, the Fair Housing Act requires “reasonable accommodation” be provided to handicapped persons in housing. 24 C.F.R. Section 100.204 (1996) covers all “assistance animals,” including those needed for emotional support. Additionally, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in housing, specifically in refusing to provide reasonable accommodation in both rental/leasing and construction of housing. Cal. Gov’t. Section 12927 (2010), Cal. Gov’t. Sections 12955-12955.1 (2011). Further, California State Law (CSL) provides for standardized identification tags for “assistance dogs”, meant to protect those using service dogs from additional fees for bringing their assistive animal into their residence. The CSL defines “assistance dogs” as “guide dogs, signal dogs, or service dogs.” Cal. Food and Agriculture Code Section 30850 (2004). Finally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires reasonable accommodation by public entities for service animals, but explicitly does not apply to emotional support animals. 28 C.F.R. Sections 35.104, 36.104, 35.136(i) (2010). Note that the ADA only applies when the housing is provided by the government and not a private entity.
If you are a tenant looking to request to keep your service animal as a reasonable accommodation, you should do so in writing explaining you are a person with a disability and why you need the animal to live with you as a reasonable accommodation. Even if you live in a no-pets building you may request to keep your service animal with you as service animals are NOT pets, and cannot be considered as such. For this reason, if and when approved, your landlord may not require you pay an additional pet deposit. When the request to your landlord is made, they may ask for a letter from your medical professional confirming that you have a disability, and stating the reasons you need a service or emotional support animal to live with you. Despite this, they are not allowed to demand copies of your medical records, request to speak with your physician directly, or demand your specific diagnosis as these actions are prohibited by law.
A “reasonable accommodation” means that the landlord must take reasonable steps to change its rules, policies or practices in order to allow a person with a disability to use and enjoy the housing. This is not to say that a landlord must allow just any animal onto the premises as a service or emotional support animal. A landlord or other housing provider may deny a request to keep a service animal or emotional support animal as a reasonable accommodation if the specific animal: (1) poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others; or (2) would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others. This individualized assessment will rely on objective evidence about the specific animal’s conduct. However, if the threat or damage can be reduced by another reasonable accommodation, the landlord must allow the animal.
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