When necessary to ensure that a person with a disability can use and enjoy a rental, California landlords and other housing providers must take steps to accommodate the person's needs. When a person with a disability has an animal that provides disability-related assistance, this means that a landlord or homeowners' association might have to make an exception to a "no-animals" policy.
Housing providers such as landlords must make "reasonable accommodations"
A "reasonable accommodation" is an exception, change, or adjustment in rules, policies, practices, or services that's necessary for a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a rental. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 12176(a) (2022).) The most frequent accommodation landlords must make for assistance animals is to allow the animal despite having a "no-pets" or "no-animals" policy.
In California, the rule requiring landlords to allow assistance animals in housing applies to "assistance animals." Under California law, assistance animals are:
(Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 12005(d) (2022); Cal. Civ. Code §§ 54.1 and 54.2 (2022); 28 C.F.R. § 35.136 (2022).)
A landlord or other housing provider may deny a request to keep a service or support animal in California as a reasonable accommodation if granting the request would:
(Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 12176(c) (2022).)
However, if the threat or damage can be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation, the landlord must allow the animal.
A landlord cannot reject a service dog or assistance animal because of breed, size, or weight. In other words, a determination that a service dog or assistance animal poses a direct threat or would cause substantial physical damage must be based on an individualized assessment that relies on objective evidence about the specific animal's actual conduct. The determination must not be made on mere speculation or fear about the types of harm or damage an animal could cause or because of evidence about harm or damage that other similar animals have caused.
California landlords may not require applicants or residents to pay any pet fee, additional rent, or other additional fee—including additional security deposit or liability insurance—in connection with the assistance animal. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 12185(d)(2) (2022).)
When the disability or need for reasonable accommodation is not obvious, a landlord may ask the person with a disability for documentation that they have a disability and a disability-related need for the service dog or support animal. The tenant or boarder must then provide the landlord with reasonable medical documentation from a third party that confirms the existence of the disability and the need for reasonable accommodation. The third party doesn't have to be a health care provider; rather, it can be any reliable source, such as a social worker, who has personal knowledge of the individual's need for a service or support animal. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 12178 (2022).)
California law breaks out two main categories of disability:
(Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 11065 (2022).)
Landlords must make reasonable accommodations for individuals with any disability that falls under these categories.