Finding good tenants can be a challenge, but what happens when you have a tenant that is bound and determined to bring a dog or cat into your rental property? Even with clauses in place, it seems like landlords always have that one person that tries to sneak in the animal. However, there are circumstances when a dog might be allowed by law due to certain health needs. What are your rights related to service dogs?

Legalities for Landlords and Service Dogs

According to, the Federal Fair Housing Act “requires that landlords make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities. Allowing an animal can be such an accommodation. (The Fair Housing Amendments Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601–3619.) State statutes may offer additional protections.)”

Service dogs are normally well-trained and the likelihood of them having an accident inside the property, or causing physical damage to the property are small. However, it is the responsibility of the dog owner to pay for any damage to the property caused by the dog.  

Some landlords have tried earnestly to keep all animals out of their property, and many have ended up with large fines if they are reported to the Department of Justice. Most courts will rule that dogs do not need to meet “service dog” requirements, but are necessary for the owners quality of life. Emotional-support dogs are the latest loophole in rental contracts, and some people are taking advantage of this.

Is it Legal?

Another frustrating component to this exception is tenants that abuse the system by acquiring non-certified counselors to write a requirement for a pet. Other tenants have even gone so far as to forge the documents. In the majority of legitimate cases, those individuals in need of service dogs in a rental property are quite low. So, if you are seeing a large number of tenants suddenly bring paperwork requiring them to have a service dog, you may have some untrustworthy tenants.  

The best thing a landlord can do is discuss the situation with their attorney. If you find out someone has brought a service dog into their rental property, and they have not given you proper documentation, your attorney will be able to advise you on the next steps to take.

To avoid abuse of the system, landlords are permitted by law to acquire a letter from the tenant’s doctor explaining the need for the animal. Under Federal law, landlords DO NOT have to permit support animals for all tenants with mental illness, ONLY those that are disabled and have mental illness. However, state laws do vary, so it is important to check with California or whichever state you are located in to ensure you are in compliance with the law.

Landlords are not permitted to require a deposit for emotional support animals, it may be necessary to check with Human Rights Commission or Attorney General for additional information about laws pertaining to emotional support animals. Landlords can charge additional fees to the tenant if the dwelling is modified to accommodate the animal, such as adding a doggie door or fencing in the yard.  

Can I Have the Animal Removed?

While the majority of service dogs are disciplined and do not pose a threat to others, there are some circumstances where the animal does cause a direct threat to another tenant. If the animal is disruptive and prevents other tenants from enjoying their quality of life within the dwelling, landlords can evacuate the tenant with the service dog.

For more information about renting to tenants with service dogs, please contact EBPM Eastbay at 510.296.3833.