Landlords- Setting Policies for Tenant's Dogs
*****Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client privilege.
As a landlord, there are some things to take into consideration regarding tenant's pets, your rights as a landlord, and liability. In California, landlords have the right to ban pets completely on the premises and/or set restrictions on the pets they do allow on the property. CA landlords reserve the right to restrict some animals but not others, as well as to place certain parameters, such as the size or breed of pet, allowed. Some of the most notable stipulations that a CA landlord cannot set however include requiring that pets be declawed or devocalized (debarked). Because these procedures are achieved by surgery and are irreversible, CA law prohibits landlords requiring such procedures. Landlords are also allowed to revoke permission for a pet to be on the premises and require they be removed if they end up being a problem. Generally, landlords in CA have a very high level of control over their policies around pets.
However there are some exceptions; the Federal Fair Housing Act states that people with service animals are allowed to live with their service animals regardless of the landlords. This does not apply to pets that one might arbitrarily call an emotional support animal because it reduces stress, but rather a registered animal that assists with daily tasks or helps with a recognized emotional disability.
In addition to being allowed to set rules, landlords can require certain extra things of tenants with pets. One requirement that might be set is a pet deposit. A pet deposit is for an agreed upon amount and would be required prior to the tenant and pet move in. This deposit is reserved to fund repairs in the case that a pet causes any damage to the property. It is essentially just a security deposit. In California, as with all kinds of security deposit, it is capped at up to two months worth of rent. This deposit must also be refundable to the tenant at the end of their lease, if the funds are left unused.
Although there are limits in CA on the amount you can ask for a deposit, there isn't anything to prevent a landlord charging additional rent to pet owners. This extra rent is non-refundable, unlike a deposit. And in general how much extra rent you charge for pets is up to your discretion, unless you are in a place with rent control (like Los Angeles or San Francisco), in which case the total rent must not exceed the limits imposed.
A concern for many landlords is whether they can be held liable in the case of a tenant's dog biting someone. The good news is that, for the most part, full liability is assumed by the tenant and pet owner themselves. However, there are cases in which the landlord could be considered partly responsible and penalized as well. One example would be if the landlord knew that the dog was dangerous. If the landlord was aware of the dog previously biting someone, allowed the dog to remain, and another attack occurred, the landlord could very well face some of the fallout. This does not apply if the court does not legally allow a landlord to remove the dog because of state laws or their lease agreement. Additionally, a landlord could be considered liable for a bite if they “harbored the animal”. This means caring for the dog in some way, including taking the dog on walks, pet-sitting it or feeding it. So in a good rule of thumb is to not do those things!
For landlords concerned about potential legal issues that might arise should a tenant`s pet bite someone, there are some ways to protect themselves. One would be to require the owner to get renter's insurance, with a policy that includes damages or injuries from pets. It is also worthwhile to note that some breeds are considered more dangerous and plans often will not cover them. The next way to project themselves is to adhere to the law and terms of the lease, including doing all in their power to remove animals that they have reason to believe are dangerous. Screening tenants and their pets upfront is also advisable and can help one to avoid issues down the line.
Overall, as a landlord it is important to protect all your tenants, your property and your own back in regards to liability, even from adorable pets.