Service Dogs, Support Dogs and the Law in California

While most landlords and rental property managers have at least some idea of what the laws regarding service and support dogs are, many do not fully understand them. Hopefully, this little refresher will help keep you from running afoul of the ADA and ending up in court.

According to the laws of California, any tenant who can provide proof of a medical or psychological need for a service or support animal must be afforded “reasonable accommodations” within their lease to allow for their service/support animal to live with them. The same is true even for rentals that do not usually allow pets, while it might seem like the service/support animal is a pet, they are working animals.

Does This Apply to Any Animal?

Here in California, the laws covering assistance animals are designed to include both service dogs and emotional support animals alike. A service dog or signal dog is one that has been trained to provide their owners with specific services such as seeing-eye dogs. Others may have been trained to complete particular tasks.

On the other hand, an emotional support animal (ESA) is there to provide comfort to the person suffering from a variety of psychological maladies such as anxiety or depression. However, in this instance, there are no restrictions on the type of animal a person can choose for their ESA. At the same time, there are no requirements that an ESA be trained or certified in any way.

Can You Say No?

All of this begs the question, “Can a landlord say no to a prospective tenant based solely on the fact they have a service dog or ESA?”  As a landlord or property manager, there are only two circumstances under which you may legally refuse to rent a unit to someone with a service dog or ESA.

  • If you deem, the animal poses a “direct” threat to the safety and health of others; or
  • If you believe the animal could potentially cause significant damage to your property.

However, your decision must be based on the individual animal in question. Under the laws, you may not judge an animal as part of a group. For example, very few Pitbulls are as dangerous as they are made out to be, but many places have added the breed to their “not allowed” list. By law, you cannot reject a tenant’s service animal because of size, weight, or breed.

Your decision must be based on actual observation of the animal in question and their conduct. At the same time, if it is possible to reduce the threat level or risk of damage by reasonable accommodations, you are still required to permit the tenant to house the animal with them. In simpler terms, unless you observe the service dog or ESA acting in an anti-social manner or a call to the person’s previous landlord reveals the dog to be destructive, you must allow them in.

Can I at Least Charge a Pet Deposit?

Here again, in the state of California, landlords/property managers may not charge any type of pet deposit for a service dog or ESA. This is true even for those who usually charge this type of deposit.  You can ask the person for medical or psychiatric documentation as proof of their need for a service dog or ESA if the reason is not apparent. Keep in mind the list of reasons for service dogs and emotional/psychological support animals is extensive but is fully ADA compliant.