Dogs and cats are typically considered pets, and you don’t have to allow them in your Redwood City rental property if you don’t want to. We often recommend it because pet-friendly properties rent faster and for more money. However, many of the owners we work with prefer to avoid the liability and the risk that comes with allowing pets, and they have strict no-pet policies.

You don’t have to allow pets in your property, however you do have to allow service animals. It’s an important distinction, and one that has legal consequences.

Federal Laws Protect People with Disabilities

When we’re talking about pets, there are no laws on the books for whether you have to accept them. You’ll want to put your own pet policy in place and avoid renting to tenants with dangerous dog breeds because your insurance may not cover those animals.

With service animals, you need to know the two specific laws that govern how you treat tenants and applicants with disabilities. These are the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Both of these laws protect people with physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities against discrimination. You cannot deny an otherwise qualified tenant from renting your home because that tenant has a wheelchair. The same laws state that you cannot discriminate against a tenant who needs a service animal.

The service animal your tenant needs is seen as an accommodation, not as a pet. Therefore, not only do you have to allow it; you also cannot charge a pet deposit, pet fee, or pet rent.

Service Animal Requirements and Restrictions

When your Redwood City tenant needs a service animal for a physical or intellectual disability, it’s usually obvious, and you cannot ask what the service animal is for. Typically, a person who is blind will not have to explain their need for a Seeing Eye Dog. Service animals are certified and trained.

However, you can ask for documentation if the disability is not immediately apparent and your tenant is requesting an emotional support animal. Emotional support animals are different from service animals in that they can be any type of animal and they aren’t trained to do a specific task or serve a specific purpose. They offer comfort and support.

In these cases, you can ask your tenant for documentation from a medical professional explaining the disability and why the animal is required. If you’re not working with a Redwood City property management company, be careful here. Asking for documentation is permitted, but being difficult or expressing doubt can get you into legal trouble. Do your due diligence, but don’t set yourself up for a discrimination claim.

Tenant Responsibilities with Pets and Service Animals

When you allow a tenant to move in with a pet, you can require a pet fee or a pet deposit, and you can also charge a pet rent every month. Most tenants will be willing to pay a bit more for the privilege of moving in their furry friends. You should screen the pet and require pictures and vet records so you know the animal is safe and healthy.

With service animals, you cannot ask for extra pet rent, a pet deposit, or a pet fee. You should still collect a security deposit, however, and you can use that deposit at the end of the lease term if there is any damage from the service animal. The tenant is still required to clean up after the animal and ensure it isn’t a nuisance to other tenants or the property.

Understanding how pets are different from service and support animals is not always easy. Fair housing laws are always changing and California is notoriously tenant-friendly. We’d be happy to help with support, resources, and any Redwood City property management resources you may need. If you have any questions about pets and service animals, please contact us at Five Star Property Management.