California Pet Laws: How to Handle Unauthorized Pets
Tenants keeping unauthorized pets in rental properties is no rare occurrence, even if your rental allows pets. It is common for renters to attempt to keep an animal that is not allowed in the pet policy or avoid pet deposits and fees by not registering their pet with the property management. This issue is likely to become even more common with spikes in pet ownership since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The best way to prepare for unauthorized pets on your real estate property is to understand the local pet laws and create a standardized procedure that is outlined in the lease in the event of the discovery of an unauthorized pet.
Pet Laws in California
Landlords in California have the ability to enforce their own curated pet policy, with a few caveats. It is completely legal to ban pets in the rental property altogether, as well as ban certain types of pets and breeds, or enforce size limits. Popularly, landlords choose pet policies that only allow cats and dogs under a certain weight, or ban certain species that are more likely to be aggressive or cause property damage. Landlords also have the ability to revoke an individual pet’s residence if they can reasonably determine that the animal poses a threat to the safety of other tenants or the property. In terms of finances, it is legal to require an additional pet deposit for each pet that is accepted on the property, however the total deposit paid by the tenant may not exceed two months’ rent (three if the unit is furnished). In addition to a deposit, monthly ‘pet rent’ can be charged on top of the original rent price, as long as the total rent does not exceed any limits imposed in rent-controlled areas.
The restrictions on pet policies in California largely align with federal tenant protections. It is unlawful to require that pets are devocalized or declawed in order to live on the property. Additionally, landlords cannot discourage tenants in any way for having pets that are not devocalized or declawed. Although not specific to California, the Fair Housing Act offers federal protection for individuals with disabilities. If a landlord enforces a no-pet policy or has restrictions on certain animals, a tenant may always request a waiver of exemption in the case of a service animal. The exemption must be fulfilled so long as the tenant provides proof of the disability and can show that the service animal aids in supporting daily function – this includes emotional support animals. Service animals can’t be restricted by size, weight, or breed like other pets, and landlords can’t charge additional rent or deposits for service pets. However, service animals can be restricted or prohibited if they are confirmed to be a threat to the safety of other residents.
Dealing with Unauthorized Pets
The best way to handle unauthorized pets with full legal protection is by including a clearly defined pet policy in every lease. The pet policy section should include property rules concerning pets as well as a predetermined procedure in the event of an unauthorized animal discovered on the premises. In addition to prohibited pets being kept on the property, any pet that is not properly registered to avoid additional fees is an unauthorized pet and can be handled with the same procedure. Landlords can require the tenant to submit official pet information such as breed, weight, and current vaccinations in order to confirm that the animal is within the pet policy guidelines.
When a tenant is keeping an unauthorized pet, this can be considered a violation of the lease, and just with any violation, following standard and formal procedures is always smart. Require the tenant to correct the violation via an official written notice. Tenants can be given a specified amount of time to fix the problem, usually between a few days and one week. If the tenant does not remove the unauthorized pet or have it properly registered within the specified time frame, the landlord can choose to begin an eviction. The official notice should also include the landlord’s intentions if the lease violation is not resolved.
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