Can My Landlord Refuse To Allow Me An Emotional Support Animal?

Can My Landlord Refuse To Allow Me An Emotional Support Animal?

Can My Landlord Refuse To Allow Me An Emotional Support Animal?

Can a landlord legally refuse to rent to a tenant who owns a dog (service animal), if the prospective tenant is disabled and the dog helps his disability?

If not, what if the disability is only psychiatric in nature?

And if not, how would the prospective tenant be able to prove to the landlord that his dog is for his disability?

If your lease prohibits pets (and many of them do) a landlord can initially refuse to allow a tenant to get a pet. Note that I said initially. If you are disabled and you need a service animal to provide service or emotional support, you have the right to ask your landlord to allow a pet in the premises regardless of the language in the lease. A service animal is not a pet.

A guide dog for a blind person is a classic service animal. A landlord who refused a request for such an animal is clearly discriminating against the tenant based upon disability.

A request to allow an emotional support animal is a little more tricky, but your rights are still clearly defined under the law.

Asking your landlord to add a pet based upon your disability is called a request for a reasonable accommodation. Your request must be reasonable. For example, you cannot request that the landlord, to accommodate your disability, purchase Malachy, the pekinese best in show winner at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club dog show and add him to your lease. That would be unreasonable.

It might also be unreasonable to get a big, untrained, vicious dog because the landlord could be liable if the dog bit someone in the building.

You must also be prepared to prove to the landlord that you are disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If your disability is psychiatric your are absolutely entitled to request a reasonable accommodation that could include owning a service animal.

The Bazelon site is the “go to” resource for any questions about the law pertaining to mental disability and your rights under the various laws that prohibit discrimination based upon mental disability.

Usually you can get a letter from your treating doctor describing your disability and that having a pet would mitigate your, say, your anxiety disorder. The Bazelon link above provides a sample doctor’s letter that briefly describes the patient’s mental disability and “prescribes” a pet to provide some alleviation of the symptoms.

If you are planning to request a reasonable accommodation to get a companion animal, you should also check out PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support). In San Francisco they are now a division of the Shanti Project . Their site provides a step-by-step procedure to request a reasonable accommodation to get a support animal. The PAWS suggestions about a health provider’s letter are simple, accurate descriptions of the legal requirements for such a letter:

In order to prove that a dog is a service or support animal, you may be asked to have documentation from a licensed professional (doctor, nurse practitioner, psychiatrist, other mental-health professional or social worker) stating that the animal is an essential part of treatment for a disability. A doctor’s letter must have two essential components.
1. It must state that you have a disability. The disability does not need to be identified. 2. It must state that it is the professional opinion of the provider that is it essential for you to have a service/support animal.

From my point of view, the biggest mistake a tenant can make is getting a pet first and then attempting to justify the need for the animal later–after the landlord, during his annual, unannounced, illegal inspection, discovers Fluffy hiding in a closet.

If your lease prohibits pets, ask first, in writing. If your landlord accepts your request, get it in writing. If your landlord refuses and you can demonstrate your need based on disability, go through the steps as outlined above.

If you are not disabled and your landlord refuses your request, forget it. I’ve seen too many instances in which long-term tenants are forced to choose between their beloved dog and living in the streets.


As I noted in my comments in the SF Appeal, I answered the question assuming that the reader already lived in her apartment.

Indeed a request for reasonable accommodation before one leases an apartment will be considerably more difficult. If prospective tenant applies to rent an apartment in “no pets” building, discloses his or her disability and asks for a reasonable accommodation to have a service animal, a landlord could simply refuse to rent based upon other criteria.

It might be difficult and expensive to prove that the landlord discriminated against the tenant based upon his or her disability.

If you suspect that a landlord has rejected your application to rent because you are disabled, you should file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

How Do I Get My Landlord To Allow Me To Get A Dog?

How Do I Get My Landlord To Allow Me To Get A Dog?

How Do I Get My Landlord To Allow Me To Get A Dog?

I found a wonderful rescue dog. He’s already been potty trained and is very small (6 lbs.) I really want this little guy and if I don’t take him, he will be forced to go to animal control. How do I get my landlord to allow this pet? I emailed him to ask his permission to allow me to have the dog, but he refused. Is there anything I can do to persuade him? I want to do this legally so I do not get evicted (illegal pets — just cause).

About me: I live on the first floor, have lived in this apartment since Dec. 2007, pay market rate for rent (though I did negotiate it down $50/mo. when he was renting the same units for less, and paid a huge security deposit–$3000. Other residents in the building have animals. I have always paid my rent on time. We had one minor dispute about a repair but that was resolved and I paid it even after some unprofessional email exchanges on his part. When I moved in, though he listed the apartment for $1690 but made me pay $1800 since there was “such demand for the unit.” 1.5 years later, I negotiated the rent back down to $1750 as that is what he was listing the other units for. Unit is an old Victorian, hardwood floors, tile kitchen, though floors are not in good shape. I work at home with a stable job so will be here all the time to take care of this animal.

You know I’m a Gemini. I was ranting and raving last week, but I’m going to be very reasonable and businesslike today. Tell the heartless bastard if he doesn’t allow you to get your dog, you’ll have no choice but to tender your 30-day notice to vacate!

WTF!? That’s reasonable?! Sorry, still riffin’ on last week, but, indeed, this might be the way to go. Here’s why.

I am assuming that your lease probably has a standard “no pets” clause that requires the landlord’s written permission to have a pet. You tried to get permission and you failed.

I am also assuming (and this is the tricky part) that you may still be paying market rent for your unit. In your tenure at the building how long does it take to rent a vacant unit? If the units remain vacant for a month or more, you might convince the landlord that allowing your dog would be a good business decision on his part.

Start checking the rental market via Craigslist, etc. See if there are comparable units that you would consider renting. The news is full of articles about housing prices. Rents are rising, rents are dropping–I don’t know what to make of the reports. I tend to think that San Francisco rents haven’t dropped that much. I think there are many unreported vacancies in the City because there are still quite a few vacant buildings, cleared of tenants for TICs that never materialized. (I support efforts to squat those buildings, but that’s another column.)

Apartments in San Francisco are like diamonds. Rents are artificially high because the vacancies create a cartel-like price support. That said there are still a few deals out there.

Get out your calculator. If you move out, the landlord tries to rent the apartment for $1,800.00, and it’s vacant for just a month, it will take him 35 months, almost three years, to amortize the loss. If it takes him a month to rent the apartment at $1,750.00, he loses that amount forever.

It suddenly doesn’t seem like a great business decision to refuse your pet, given that the landlord already allows pets in the building. (I’m assuming he knows about them.)

I recommend that you ask the landlord to accept your pet one more time. Offer to increase your deposit significantly. Base your bottom line on what your move will cost you. Gently demonstrate that he may not be making the soundest business decision if you move.

If the landlord won’t budge and you’re secure about finding a new place, tell the heartless bastard if he doesn’t allow you to get your dog, you’ll have no choice but to tender your 30-day notice to vacate!

Whatever you do, don’t try to sneak the dog in and hide him. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

How Do I Ask For Permission To Get A Dog?

How Do I Ask For Permission To Get A Dog?

How Do I Ask For Permission To Get A Dog?

I’ve been living in a fourplex since December 2005. I’d really like to get a small dog, but I don’t know how to go about asking my landlord. Cats were negotiable, and I know that my neighbor has two cats. My lease states: “No pets of any kind shall be kept on the premises without the prior written consent of the Owners. If such consent has been established, the Tenants agree to the following rules:” And then there’s a lengthy paragraph about keeping cat litter a certain way, bird cages, cats being spayed and neutered, but nothing about dogs.

So my question is: how can I ask my landlord for permission to have a dog, without getting rejected?

Fear of rejection…a huge factor in the human condition. Because I have recently bleached my hair, I’m feeling it. Will she think I’m attractive? Will I lose credibility with my clients, or worse, the judge? Why did I let Laura, my hairdresser, convince me to do it? Now do I look like an over-the-hill Billy Idol? Will anyone say Yes! to me ever again?

As the old saw goes, life carries with it few guarantees. Maybe that’s why many of us are so attracted to dogs. They usually offer unconditional love, unlike landlords.

First, I have to say that you are approaching this issue correctly from a legal standpoint. As I have said several times in these columns, you don’t want to get a pet without permission and, after you’re threatened with eviction for breach of the lease, have to send it to the pound or move out. For purposes of this column I’ll assume that you have no disability issues and cannot request a dog as a reasonable accommodation.

I’m also going to assume that you’re rent is below market rate because you’ve lived in the unit for almost five years. Unfortunately, then, you likely don’t have the leverage of threatening to move if the landlord denies your request.

We know the landlord in your case isn’t completely opposed to pets. That’s a good thing. But cats don’t dig and chew and bark. Maybe your landlord is a cat person. That could be a problem.

Before you ask for permission to get a dog, try to anticipate the landlord’s objections. Be ready to explain your concept of a “small dog.” If you get an adult dog, rather than a puppy, you have some good built-in arguments. You already know the adult size of the dog. The dog might be housebroken and not so inclined to chew up the landlord’s precious 1898 door jambs. Be ready to answer the question, “What if the dog gets lonely and barks all day while you’re at work?” Ask the other tenants how they feel about a dog on the premises. If they’re okay with a new dog, that could go a long way in assuaging the landlord’s fears of potential liability.

SF Appeal readers, please share your experiences about this.

There’s an old Butthole Surfers song called “Sweat Loaf” that starts with a question:

Child: Daddy?
Father: Yes, son.
Child: What does regret mean?
Father: Well, son a funny thing about regret is that it’s better to regret something that you have done than to regret something you haven’t done…

The point here is that there is no perfect way to ask your landlord for permission to get a dog. You may be rejected, but you gotta ask.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

Prohibited Pets Could Put You In The Doghouse

Prohibited Pets Could Put You In The Doghouse

Prohibited Pets Could Put You In The Doghouse

A couple years ago I fell in love with my now 12 pound, somewhat disabled, dachshund-terrier and brought her home to my one bedroom apartment in the city. The problem is, it is clearly checked off on my lease ‘no pets’. She doesn’t make noise, never poops or pees (in the apartment), has never damaged any part of the apartment, and generally doesn’t bother anyone in the building. In fact, new tenants are often surprised there is a dog in the building when I leave to walk her sometimes.

My worry is that, if the landlord somehow finds out about her, can he evict me? Can he evict her?

I hope you didn’t name your dog I.P. Freely or Killer. It doesn’t seem that your dog is causing any damage or threatening the neighbors, but that is not the issue. The fact is that you are in breach of your lease and could be evicted for having your pooch because it seems like the lease has a clear “no pets” provision. Your landlord could serve you a 3-Day Notice to Cure or Quit. That is, get rid of your dog or move. If you do not comply, you could be served with an unlawful detainer (eviction) lawsuit alleging that you are in breach of your lease.

Sometimes we see cases where the landlord who lived in the building visited the tenant and even played with the pet. In one instance we heard from a tenant whose landlord illegally entered the unit to express the puppy’s anal glands! In those cases one can argue that the landlord waived the “no pets” provision in the lease. You imply that your landlord is unaware of your dog. That’s a problem.

If you live in a rent controlled apartment and your rent is lower than market rate, that’s another problem. You may have provided your landlord the perfect excuse to get rid of you in order to double the rent.

So what do you do now? You can ask your landlord to allow your dog to live in the premises. If the landlord agrees, you should ask him to put it in writing. As you can see this option is fraught with pitfalls because you have alerted the landlord to the fact that you have a dog. You should get as much information as you can before you talk or write to the landlord. For example, ask around the building to see if the landlord has permitted other tenants to have pets. You can also offer to increase your security deposit to take care of any damage that you dog may cause.

If you are disabled you can request that the landlord provide you a reasonable accommodation and allow you to keep the dog as a companion animal. This is a common and legal request that has been consistently supported by disability case law. Low income pets owners can get help from PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support).

Or you can do nothing. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. If the landlord sells the building, it is common practice for new owners to ferret out tenants who are breaching their leases. Usually they want to increase their income and that’s a great way to do it. Beware of a pending sale and consult an experienced tenant counselor before you reveal that you have a pet to potential buyers in what is commonly called an estoppel certificate.

Interestingly there is a growing movement to forbid landlords from discriminating against pet owners. The San Francisco Animal Control and Welfare Commission is currently considering a resolution supporting the idea that could lead to a new ordinance. You should write them to support their efforts: City Hall, Attn: Commission of Animal Control & Welfare, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 362, San Francisco, CA 94102, (415) 554-6074.

I unequivocally support these efforts, but I still need to berate you a little. As a lawyer, it is extremely frustrating to me to speak to tenants who have knowingly violated their leases by acquiring a pet and who are forced to either give up their cherished animal or face eviction. I don’t enjoy assuming the role of hard-hearted bastard to tell them their case is a loser. In general, if you have a clause in your lease prohibiting pets, don’t get one until you receive permission, in writing, from the landlord.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060