Q: We are about to enter into a lease that has a no pets policy. I have an emotional support dog and a letter from a legitimate clinic about my condition that requires (or calls for) the dog. Am I allowed to have the dog there?
A: California and federal fair housing laws require landlords to make reasonable accommodation(s) for a tenant who has a disability. Research indicates that the most commonly requested accommodation is, in fact, an emotional support animal. Bottom line, you are permitted to make a request for reasonable accommodation, when necessary. There is not an exact time to make the request, but since you are entering into the lease now, this is a good time to show the landlord the letter you have, which no doubt indicates the dog is necessary for your well-being.
Q: Can the landlord charge a fee, or an additional security deposit, because I have a support animal?
A: The landlord is not permitted to charge a pet fee, or some kind of supplemental security deposit, because you have an assistance animal. As with any tenant, however, you may be required to pay the costs of repairs or damage that the animal causes to the premises, other than ordinary wear and tear.
If you are the subject of discrimination for having an assistance animal, you can file a housing discrimination complaint with the California Civil Rights Department. You can read more about this online at calcivilrights.ca.gov/complaintprocess. You can also file a housing discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (specifically its Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity): hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/complaint-process. You can also file a lawsuit in court if need be.
Ron Sokol has been a practicing attorney for over 40 years and has also served many times as a judge pro tem, mediator, and arbitrator. It is important to keep in mind that this column presents a summary of the law, and is not to be treated or considered legal advice, let alone a substitute for actual consultation with a qualified professional.