24 Jan Service Animals and Rental Property San Diego
Service Animals and Rental Property in San Diego, California: What are the Rules?
San Diego landlords have long been mired in confusion over what constitutes a legal service animal and what doesn’t. We here at Realty Management Group have had ample experience working with tenants and property owners involved in these situations and have developed strategies and policies designed to provide reasonable solutions for both parties. If you are confused by service animal regulations, please consider the following facts:
California Landlords Have a Duty to Allow Service Animals Where Required:
The requirement to create provisions for service dogs was first introduced in the Fair Housing Act of 1973 but has undergone many amendments since then. Originally, the Act only included dogs who were considered to be of “service” to their owners helping them perform everyday tasks or alerting them to dangers. Over time, emotional support animals have become included in this category, and this is often the source of much confusion.
Emotional support animals provide support and help alleviate emotional or psychological symptoms of owners with mental health conditions. In California, laws protecting the rights of tenants include both service animals and emotional support animals, and may impact a property where tenants are not usually allowed to keep pets on the premises. These laws are aimed at protecting the rights of those who are less able bodied than others or have needs which an animal can assist with.
What Landlords Need to Comply With:
When a new tenant applies for a property and informs you of their service pet needs, you cannot automatically disqualify them from leasing your property. Landlords cannot, “…require applicants or residents to pay a pet deposit for a service dog, psychiatric service dog, or support animal, even if they do so for other applicants or residents.” Landlords may not reject the applicant based on the breed of the service or emotional support animal or the fear of what an animal might do, but must be based on an animal’s specific conduct or history.
However, you are entitled to ask the tenant for suitable evidence from a licensed provider documenting the need for a service animal. You may decline the prospective tenant’s application based on their animal:
- if the animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others
- or if its presence would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others
- there is no reasonable accommodation that can be made to reduce this danger or threat.
The law requires that you be fair, but also that the potential tenant be fair.
Which Animals are Included?
The law applies to any service or assistance animal but excludes companion animals and pets.
This is the broad term used to describe all animals that work to provide a service to assist their humans. According to Disability Rights California this includes:
- Any animal a person with a disability needs to use the house.
- A service animal which is trained to perform specific tasks.
- An emotional support animal which provides comfort to those with psychiatric issues.
All three of these types of animals need to be accommodated and all three should carry medical certification that they perform these tasks. A true assistance animal will have the necessary paperwork. A person claiming that their pet provides these services must be able to prove it when asked.
Emotional Support Animals
These are the most widely contested of assistance animals because they are not trained to perform a specific action other than comfort their owner in times of stress. Arguably, they have the same role in life as a pet. The difference is that these animals help people with crippling mental health problems navigate life as normally as possible.
Emotional Support animals are difficult to recognize as assistance animals because they do not always accompany a person who has a visible disability. To discriminate against those with a non-visible disability is dangerous territory. These animals help people with PTSD, OCD, anxiety, depression and even schizophrenia navigate everyday situations that a healthy mind would find simple. Without these pets, individuals lose a large portion of their independence and that is why they are included in the law.
You must make reasonable allowances for support animals if you are involved in San Diego property management.
The problem with Emotional Support Animals
There is a constant issue regarding the validity of emotional support animals. There are many websites who will sell the certification online within minutes. This means that anyone is able to turn their family pet into an emotional support animal by paying a fee and undergoing a fifteen minute psychiatric evaluation.
While this seems like it may be a good way to ensure more people with mental health issues are able to access housing appropriate to their abilities, it is also conducive to housing the dishonest. There is also a huge debate between those who use assistance animals and these people who use non-trained animals (effectively pets) as their emotional support animal.
The people using these websites to buy their pet a certain status are making it very difficult for both the truly in need and the landlords that rent them properties. A good service dog is trained to be nearly invisible in public spaces; an emotional support animal who has not been trained is not.
If the certification for an emotional support animal seems to have come from an online website, you have every right to request a meeting with the specified animal. IF it is not well behaved, if it is likely to cause damage due to lack of training, or if it is in any way aggressive, then you have the right to refuse occupancy to the owner.
Service animals and rental agreements need to be negotiated delicately. The law exists for a reason and, like it or not, sometimes you may need to give in to tenants who appear to have all the proper documentation even when your instincts tell you something isn’t right. The best defense you have is arming yourself with all the legal information before you enter into negotiations… and that’s where RMG comes in… We have extensive experience with Service Animals and Rental Property San Diego.
Realty Management Group
For any and all information on San Diego property management, including how to do it successfully and what you need to know to thrive –Realty Management Group is a San Diego property management firm you need on your side. We specialize in providing a reliable service full of our years of expertise and industry knowledge aimed at helping your property goals come to fruition.
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