By Brian LeBow, Chief Executive Officer, Bell Properties
There’s been a lot of discussion recently about pets, service animals, and companion animals, especially in property management and real estate circles. This is a hot topic when it comes to renting out your property in California, and you’ll need to be prepared to address tenants who have these animals.
It’s easy to make a fair housing mistake when it comes to dealing with animals and renters. If you try to charge pet rent on an emotional support animal or reject a tenant who needs a Seeing Eye Dog, you could find yourself in a heap of legal trouble. Therefore, we’ve put together this brief guide on how to navigate the laws and the requirements when it comes to pets, service, and companion animals in your LA County rental home.
Pets and Rental Homes
There are no federal, state, or local laws that say landlords must allow pets into their rental properties. We recommend that you consider allowing pets because we’ve found that pet-friendly properties rent faster and you can often earn more money on pet rent and pet fees. Tenants tend to stay longer too, because they don’t want to find another pet-friendly property and pay another pet deposit. However, you don’t have to allow pets if you don’t want to. The rules aren’t the same when we talk about service and companion animals.
Understand the Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act
Service and companion animals are governed by two specific federal laws: the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Both of these laws protect people with physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities against discrimination. According to these laws, you cannot deny a tenant the use of a service animal or a companion animal, which is most frequently an emotional support animal or a therapy animal. As a landlord, you must allow those animals because they are accommodations, not pets. The law sees them the same way they see wheelchairs or braille signs or ramps.
When you allow “pets” to live at your property, you can charge a pet deposit or a pet fee. You can also charge extra rent every month and call it pet rent. These additional charges are not permitted when your tenant has a service or companion animal.
Service Animals and Companion Animals: There’s a Difference
Service animals are trained to help a person do a specific task. When your tenant needs a service animal for a physical or intellectual disability, it’s usually obvious what that animal is needed for, and therefore you can’t ask for details or specifics. You wouldn’t ask a person with a vision impediment why they need a Seeing Eye Dog.
However, companion animals are different. They’re not trained or certified in any way, but they do support and comfort the person who owns them, and they’re acquired at the direction of a healthcare professional. You can ask for documentation if the disability is not immediately apparent, and your tenant is requesting an emotional support animal or a companion animal. In these cases, you can ask your tenant for documentation from a medical professional explaining the disability and why the animal is required. Be respectful rather than adversarial. Your tenant is exercising their rights.
Tenants are Still Responsible for Service and Companion Animals
While you cannot collect a pet fee or pet rent, you’ll still collect a security deposit for any tenant moving into your property. You can use the security deposit at the end of the lease term to repair any damage that was done by the service or support animal. You can also require your tenant to clean up after the animal and ensure it isn’t a threat or a nuisance to other tenants or the property.
Understanding how pets are different from service and support animals is not always easy. Fair housing laws are always changing and it’s important to stay up to date on the latest when it comes to pets and service or companion animals. If you’d like some help navigating the requirements and the laws, please contact us at Bell Properties. We can help with pet policies as well other issues concerning your rental property.
Brian LeBow is the Chief Executive Officer of Bell Properties. Bell Properties manages commercial and residential units throughout three counties, including Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles counties. Bell Properties also assists owners with their 1031 exchange transactions, and acquisitions and dispositions of real estate. For more information, go to www.BPMGT.la or call (800) 341-3281.