While every renter is liable to deal with items like security deposits, application fees and solid references, pet owners deal with a totally separate set of concerns when moving into a new rental, and those concerns add up to a lot more than just cat hair on the couch. For tenants who own a pet, rent laws in California dictate what landlords can and cannot allow and how much they can charge. They also offer some exceptions for pet owners with unique needs.
Are Pets Always Allowed?
While California law prohibits landlords, property managers and realtors from discriminating on many bases, including ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality, age, sexual orientation and even marital status, property owners in the state can discriminate against creatures with four legs. As of 2020, there is no legislation in the state that requires owners to allow the tenants of their rental properties to keep pets on the premises.
However, federal law — which California is, of course, subject to — does give people with certain disabilities the right to request a waiver exempting them from a no-pets policy. Contained in the Code of Federal Regulations, legislation known as the Fair Housing Act (24 C.F.R.) requires "reasonable accommodation" to handicapped persons in housing. This applies in cases of legitimate service animals, and the California Civil Code backs it up with its own protections. According to California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing, that covers all assistance animals, including some needed for emotional support.
Service Animal Waivers
In order to request a waiver of exemption from a landlord's no-pets policy, federal law requires tenants with service and support pets to provide evidence of their disabilities, as well as evidence that the presence of the animal helps alleviate that disability, if requested.
According to the Fair Housing Act, however, landlords can still refuse to allow the pet if they have reason to believe it will harm or endanger the health and safety of other tenants or cause substantial damage to the property of other tenants. Reasonable accommodation comes into play once again, though, as landlords must host the animal if the threat of harm or damage can be eliminated by way of making those reasonable accommodations.
The federal Fair Housing Act does not allow landlords to widely restrict service pets on the bases of size, weight or breed, though they may determine the reasonableness of the pet inhabiting the rental space based on the specific animal in question. Additionally, California Civil Code Section 54.3 protects tenants who use assistive animals like service dogs, guide dogs or signal dogs from paying additional fees, including standard pet fees, for bringing their service animals into a residence. This includes psychiatric or emotional support animals.
Of course, tenants would be wise to keep California Penal Code Section 365.7 in mind, which makes misrepresenting nonassistive pets as service animals a misdemeanor crime punishable by penalties such as summary probation, up to six months in county jail and fines of up to $1,000.
What Landlords Cannot Do
If the lease agreement signed by the property owner and the rental tenant does allow for pets to live on the premises, there are some things the landlord is not allowed to do in order for tenants to be able to keep their furry (or scaly) companions. These prohibitions are laid out in California Civil Code Section 1942.7. This law says that landlords can't refuse to allow the occupancy of rental space or even discourage a potential tenant's application for a rental on the basis that a pet has not been declawed. Naturally, this means that landlords cannot require tenants to declaw their pets, either. Likewise, landlords may not require that pets get devocalized to stay on the rental property and may not refuse an application or occupancy based on devocalization.
Again, landlords and property owners in California are totally free to not allow pets to occupy the rental properties that they own. But if the lease agreement signed by the property owner does allow pets, that property owner is not allowed to force the tenant to declaw or devocalize their pet or to discourage the tenant on the basis of declawing or devocalizing.
Pet Deposits in California
If a landlord, property owner or property management company does allow tenants to keep pets in a rental property, California law allows that landlord to charge a pet deposit fee. Bear in mind, landlords aren't required to charge a pet deposit, but it is within their right to do so.
The Golden State imposes some restrictions on just how much that pet deposit can be, though. The pet deposit added to any other types of deposits required at the time of signing the lease agreement — such as the security deposit — cannot exceed the total amount of two month's rent. This pet deposit is a one-time fee.
As a type of security deposit, a pet deposit is subject to all the laws governing other types of security deposits under California Civil Code Section 1950.5. As such, it is always a refundable deposit. The landlord can only withhold the amount of the pet deposit they have reasonably spent on damage repairs or cleaning related to the pet after the tenant moves out.
Pet Rent Laws in California
California landlords may also choose to charge what's often known as "pet rent." What this means is that the landlord may specify a higher rent amount for tenants who own pets. This is legal as long as the total rent amount is agreed upon by tenant and landlord in the lease.
Once again, service animals are exempt; landlords may not charge more in these cases. Landlords may also be subject to false advertising laws if they advertise a rental space as pet friendly with a specific rent amount only to propose a higher-than-advertised rent to pet owners.
Finally, even with an additional amount of pet rent, the rent cannot exceed the limits imposed by California rent control laws, including the statewide rent control laws passed in 2019, which capped rent increases to 5 percent per year plus inflation until January 1, 2030, for millions of California renters.
- Tobener Ravenscroft: Housing Discrimination
- Willoughby Brod LLP: Can Landlords Charge Extra for Pets?
- California Legislative Information: Civil Code: Sections 1940 - 1954.05 Hiring of Real Property
- State of California Department of Fair Employment and Housing: Service Animal Laws: Comparison Chart
- Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute: 24 CFR § 100.204 - Reasonable Accommodations
- Nolo: When California Landlords Must Allow Tenants to Have Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals
- Law Office of David Piotrowski: California Landlords May Not Require That a Tenant Declaw or Devocalize Their Pet
- American Apartment Owners Association: Can Landlord Charge Pet Rent?
- Market Watch: California Governor Signs Statewide Rent-Control Law
- Shouse California Law Group: Service Dog Fraud in California
- Legal Beagle: Tenant Screening: A Legal Guide for California Landlords
- Legal Beagle: California Security Deposit Law: A Guide for Landlords & Tenants
- Legal Beagle: Housing Discrimination in California: Local & State Laws
- Legal Beagle: 13 Valid Reasons to Deny a Rental Application in California
- Legal Beagle: California Rent Control Law: An Overview for 2020
- Legal Beagle: California Security Deposit Returns: What Tenants Can Expect
As a freelance writer and small business owner with a decade of experience, Dan has contributed legal- and finance-oriented content to diverse sources including Chron, Fortune, Zacks.com, Motley Fool and MSN Money, among others.