Although a landlord can prohibit tenants having pets completely from a property, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requires a landlord to make a reasonable accommodation to a “No Pets Policy.” There are two types of pets that commonly fall within a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and that landlords encounter, a “service animal” and a “emotional support animal.” The two are treated slightly differently under the ADA and California’s Unruh Act.
What is a Resonable Accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation occurs when a landlord has a policy, procedure, or rule but permits an exception to the policy, procedure, or rule to allow a person with a disability to more fully enjoy and use the property. Under California law, a landlord’s refusal to make a reasonable accommodation can make the landlord liable for discrimination when the reasonable accommodation is necessary to use and enjoy a dwelling.
For a landlord, a reasonable accommodation would arise when a tenant contacts the landlord to say that the tenant has an emotional support animal and would like to have the emotional support animal live with the tenant even though the landlord has a “no pets policy.”
A landlord can still refuse to make a reasonable accommodation when the animal poses a direct threat to others, would cause substantial harm to the property of others, imposes an undue financial or administrative burden on the landlord, or fundamentally alters the nature of the services the landlord provides. The threshold to not make a reasonable accommodation is high, and if a landlord intends to do so, the landlord should first discuss the matter with an attorney.
A landlord can require documentation of the disability-related need for an emotional support animal. Documentation can be from a wide range of sources, not just a doctor. A landlord cannot require a full medical history or the specifics of the disability, so a note can simply state that an emotional support animal is necessary to treat a person’s disability. Particularly with emotional support animals, landlords tend to skeptical of the need for the emotional support animal, but once documentation is provided, a landlord must take the reasonable accommodation request seriously.
When can a Reasonable Accommodation be Made?
A reasonable accommodation request can be made at any time during the tenancy or even before when a potential tenant asks about a pets policy.
It is important for landlords to take a reasonable accommodation seriously. Failing to make a reasonable accommodation can create liability for the landlord under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Federal Fair Housing Act.