Is it legal for my landlord to start prohibiting dogs?

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Question:

I am a single person who prefers pets to children. When I moved into my apartment nine years ago, small dogs and cats were allowed. They have since discontinued the dog part of the policy. This does not affect my current dog, but will probably keep me from getting another one in the future. I am wondering why large apartment complexes are allowed to discriminate this way. Is there any legal recourse for this situation?

Answer:

You can blame the landlord for wrongful conduct only if he or she changed the rental terms mid-lease. If the change occurred when you renewed your lease, however, the landlord is free to ban all dogs except service animals that help a blind, deaf, or physically or mentally disabled tenant. In a few words, pet owners are not entitled to the anti-discrimination protection that is given to members of legally protected groups defined by characteristics such as race, religion, sex, ethnic origin, or disability.

When it comes time to, uh, replace Fido, you might try approaching your landlord with a small proposition: Offer to pay a little more rent in exchange for the privilege of having another exquisitely trained canine on the premises. Unless you're subject to rent control, there's nothing to stop a landlord from charging more for your four-pawed pal. Or, you might offer a higher security deposit (after first checking to see whether your state puts caps on deposits and, if so, whether you're already at the limit).

But be forewarned: Many landlords refuse to make special deals with tenants, fearful that the ones who don't get such deals will complain bitterly -- perchance to a lawyer or fair housing council member, who will try mightily to find an illegal discriminatory motive in your arrangement. Many succeed much of the time.

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