Question: I am an owner of a four-unit apartment building that I manage myself. I have had bad experiences in the past with tenants having pets that urinate on the floor and bark all the time, so I no longer allow my tenants to have pets.
However, I recently attended Fair Housing training and learned that I may have to make an exception to my no-pet policy for a disabled tenant who requests permission to have a service dog or emotional support animal. I don’t like this, but I want to follow the law. But my question is, what about the damage these animals might cause? Can’t I at least charge an additional security deposit?
Answer: Kudos to you for attending a Fair Housing training. But to answer your question, no, you may not charge an additional security deposit for service dogs or emotional support animals. Charging a deposit or extra rent for an accommodation a disabled tenant needs to use and enjoy his or her apartment is like imposing a tax for being disabled.
Remember that the law looks at a service dog or emotional support animal like a prescription or other medical aid, such as a walker — and it’s hard to imagine any landlord who would charge a disabled tenant for having a prescription for an antidepressant or for using a walker.
It is true that a dog or cat has more potential to cause damage to the property than a prescription for medication does, and you certainly can expect a disabled tenant to be responsible for the behavior of a service animal. This means that the tenant is financially responsible for any damage to the unit, whether caused by a service dog or some other activity, and for respecting the rights of other tenants to the quiet enjoyment of the property. If a tenant’s service dog is barking all night and disturbing other tenants, you may deal with that problem just as you would any other breach of the lease.
Roommate relationships aren’t relevant
Question: I am just out of college and have a job working as a receptionist at a nonprofit agency — in other words, I don’t make much money. One friend from college and another friend I met at work have decided to try to find an apartment together because none of us can afford to rent an apartment on our own. Pooling our salaries, though, we make more than enough to meet the minimum income standards of most of the three-bedroom apartments in our area.
We are having a hard time finding an apartment, though. One of the places we applied told us that the owner preferred to rent to married couples because they are “more stable.” Another told us that unless two of us were married, each one of us would have to individually meet the minimum income requirements. And a third landlord told us that he prefers to rent to “conventional families” rather than “random groups of unrelated people.” Is this legal?
Answer: Not in California. Under California Fair Housing law, housing providers may not discriminate based on marital status. This means that a housing provider cannot prefer married couples over unrelated roommates, such as you and your friends, nor may a provider treat married couples and unrelated roommates differently in rental qualifications or terms.
Although a housing provider is entitled to decide on the minimum income tenants must have to qualify to rent an apartment, the provider must apply that standard consistently to all applicants. If the housing provider evaluates a married couple’s financial qualifications by looking at both spouse’s incomes collectively, the provider must do the same thing in evaluating the qualification of unrelated roommates.