When California Landlords Must Allow Tenants to Have Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

California landlords must allow service dogs and support animals unless they threaten the safety or property of others.

In California, tenants have the right to bring their service dogs and emotional support animals to live with them in many circumstances. Landlords and other housing providers in California may not refuse to make "reasonable accommodations" in their rules or policies if such accommodations are necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a house or apartment. This means that a landlord or homeowners' association that does not usually allow tenants or residents to keep pets on the premises may be required to allow an individual with a physical or mental disability to have an animal that provides disability-related assistance.

What Types of Animals Does This Rule Apply To?

In California, the rule requiring landlords to allow assistance animals in housing applies to emotional support animals as well as service dogs and psychiatric service dogs. Service dogs include guide and signal dogs as well as dogs who have been trained to perform specific services for their owners. A support animal, on the other hand, must alleviate one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person's disability, but there is no requirement that a support animal be individually trained or certified, or that it be a dog. (Read Nolo's article on psychiatric service dogs & emotional support animals in California for an explanation of the differences between a service dog and an emotional support animal.)

When Can a California Landlord Deny a Request to Keep a Service Dog or Support Animal?

A landlord or other housing provider may deny a request to keep a service dog, psychiatric service dog, or support animal in California as a reasonable accommodation if the specific animal:

  • poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, or
  • would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others.

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 may cause or because of evidence about harm or damage that other similar animals have caused.

Can a California Landlord Charge a Pet Deposit for a Service Dog or Support Animal?

Landlords may not 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.

Can a Landlord Ask for Proof of Disability and Need?

When the disability or need for reasonable accommodation is not obvious, a landlord may ask the person with a disability for documentation that he or she has 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 health care provider that confirms the existence of the disability and the need for reasonable accommodation.

What Disabilities Qualify a Tenant to Keep a Service Dog or Support Animal?

In California, a disability includes any mental or physical disorder that makes it difficult to perform a major life activity, such as participating in social activities, walking, talking, or seeing. For further discussion of what counts as a mental disability under California law, see Nolo's article on keeping a psychiatric service dog or emotional support animal in California.

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