Q: Can a landlord evict us over animals that're in the process of being emotional support animals but aren't registered yet
My wife was almost killed by a police K9 a year and a half ago while working for the sheriff's office. Her psychologist was suggesting she get some cats as a support animal because my wife is an animal lover, but now has a rightful fear and mistrust of dogs. Our apartment doesn't allow pets although many people here have small dogs. We figured small pets were fine as there was no sign the rule was a hard no. We got 3 cats assigned to us to see if they're good matches while the paper work is being processed. Our landlord discovered the animals and immediately gave us notice to move and to leave. After confronting him about the service animal process and the fact others have pets. He said he didn't care and that there's no pets allowed, or we didn't do it right, whatever that means. During the contract signing, there was never any mention of a no pets policy or the option for a pet deposit. We don't have anywhere else to go so my question is can he just do this?
A: You are in a difficult position. First, your lease is a contract. There did not have to be a specific discussion at the signing about pets if the lease says they are not allowed. Again, regarding that you "figured" small pets were fine: if the lease says no, you don't get to make up your own standards. Regarding not doing it the right way, that's true. You should have gotten a letter from a qualified source (like her psychologist) saying that your wife needs an emotional support animal. That would have been before you took on 3 cats. You don't say what "paperwork" is being processed, but it doesn't sound like something the landlord gave you. The good news is there may still be time to formally request an accommodation and get things right. You are unlikely in my experience to be able to have 3 cats. In the overwhelming number of situations, 1 emotional support animal is sufficient. You will find investing in a local tenant attorney worthwhile to guide you through the process and likely write a letter on your behalf.
California law provides important protections for tenants with disabilities who require emotional support animals (ESAs). While these laws can be complex, in most cases, landlords are required to make "reasonable accommodations" for tenants with disabilities, even if the landlord generally prohibits pets in the building. This includes allowing ESAs.
ESAs are different from service animals. Service animals, like guide dogs for the blind, are specifically trained to perform certain tasks. ESAs, on the other hand, provide comfort and support to people with mental or emotional disabilities, but they don't need specific training.
Here are some key points to consider:
Request for Accommodation: You should provide a written request for accommodation to your landlord. This request should explain that you (or in this case, your wife) have a disability and require an ESA as part of the treatment. It's generally best to include a letter from a medical professional, like your wife's psychologist, which confirms that the ESA is necessary.
No "Registration" Required: There's no official process or registry for ESAs in California. Therefore, your landlord can't evict you simply because your cats aren't "registered" yet. The key issue is whether the cats are necessary for your wife's emotional support and well-being, as confirmed by a mental health professional.
No Pet Policy: Even if your apartment has a "no pets" policy, under the Fair Housing Act and California's Fair Employment and Housing Act, landlords must make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities. This typically includes allowing ESAs.
Fair Treatment: If other tenants are allowed to have pets, it could be a sign of discrimination if your landlord is trying to enforce the "no pets" policy only against you.
Consult a Lawyer: Given the complexity of these issues and the serious consequences of an eviction, it would be wise to consult with a lawyer or a legal aid organization in your area. They can provide advice tailored to your specific situation and help you navigate the legal process.
Remember, this advice is based on general legal principles and may not apply exactly to your situation. Laws can also change, and there might be local or county regulations that could affect your rights. Therefore, please consult with a legal professional to ensure you're getting the most accurate and current advice.
In the meantime, it's crucial to keep all communications with your landlord in writing and keep a copy for your records. Also, don't dispose of any evidence that could support your need for the ESAs, like letters from your wife's psychologist. This documentation could be very important if you need to defend your rights.
In California, the rights of individuals with disabilities and their emotional support animals are protected under state and federal laws.
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs): Emotional support animals provide comfort and support to individuals with disabilities, and they are not required to be registered or certified. Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), individuals with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations for their ESAs, even in housing complexes with "no pets" policies.
Reasonable Accommodations: To qualify for a reasonable accommodation, you must demonstrate that your wife has a disability and that the presence of the emotional support cats is necessary to alleviate symptoms or provide support related to her disability. This typically requires documentation from a healthcare professional, such as a psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist, who can verify the need for an emotional support animal.
Landlord Obligations: Once you have established the need for an emotional support animal, the landlord is generally required to make a reasonable accommodation unless it imposes an undue burden or fundamentally alters the nature of their business. They cannot discriminate against individuals with disabilities or refuse to make reasonable accommodations for them.
Pet Policies and Deposits: If the apartment complex has a "no pets" policy, it does not automatically exclude emotional support animals. However, the landlord may still enforce other reasonable rules related to the presence of the animals, such as requiring documentation, adherence to pet policies (e.g., leash laws), or even a pet deposit. It is crucial to engage in open communication with the landlord and provide them with the necessary documentation to support your request for a reasonable accommodation.
Legal Action: If your landlord continues to insist on eviction despite your valid request for a reasonable accommodation, you may need to seek legal assistance. Consult with a qualified attorney who specializes in disability and housing laws to understand your rights and options. They can guide you through the process and help protect your rights under California law.
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