The state Unruh Civil Rights Act as well as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) entitles individuals with disabilities to full and equal access to all housing accommodations offered for rent or lease, and prohibits a person renting, leasing, or otherwise providing real property from refusing to make reasonable accommodations for disabled tenants.

Disabilities That May Not Be Apparent

These laws require, for example, that a landlord with a no-pet policy make a reasonable accommodation to allow a blind person to have a seeing-eye dog. This is the clearest and most obvious application of the law.

The same principle applies to people who have disabilities, such as depression, that may not be apparent, but are nevertheless disabling. In some cases, the presence of an “emotional support animal” (ESA) may prevent or alleviate symptoms.

In such cases, a landlord with a no-pet policy is obliged to allow the current or prospective tenant to have an ESA on the premises. In past newsletters articles, we’ve written about the abuse of the ESA rules by tenants who hope to get a pet into a building with a no pet policy.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has made this relatively easy, leading to the proliferation of on and offline “letter mills” that for a fee provide authentic-looking letters from a  “psychologist” supporting the tenant’s request for an ESA.

Given the ease with which disability laws can and are abused, it makes sense to strengthen the requirements to prove that such a need really exists. AB 1569 does that.

(Google “emotional support animals” and you’ll find many on-line scams like this one):

Apartment

ESA Letter $99

KEEP PET IN “NO PET POLICY” APARTMENT

  • Written by a psychologist
  • License on letterhead
  • Free yearly re-evaluation
  • ESA registration included
  • Full money-back guarantee

 

Given the ease with which disability laws can and are abused, it makes sense to strengthen the requirements to prove that such a need really exists. AB 1569 does that.

Under AB 1569, if a current or prospective tenant seeks a reasonable accommodation to keep an animal in the apartment for a disability and need for the animal that is not readily apparent, the law authorizes the landlord to request that the current or prospective tenant provide both:

(a) reliable third party verification or other reliable verification of the disability and

(b) reliable third party verification of the disability-related need for the animal.

  • The third party verifying the disability and the disability-related need for the animal must be located in the United States and have specific knowledge of the current or prospective tenant’s medical condition based on an individualized examination that includes an in-person meeting with the current or prospective tenant.
  • The third party cannot be operating primarily as a business to provide certifications for persons requesting verification of animals requested as reasonable accommodations. The law specifies that certain types of documentation are not in and of themselves sufficient or reliable third-party verification, and authorizes the landlord to request additional third-party verification from a reliable source if the person only presents any of the following types of documentation:
    • An identification card, registration, or certificate for an animal presented without additional third-party verification from a reliable source.
    • Any certificate, registration, emotional support animal letter, prescription letter, doctor’s, or any other kind of note/letter obtained from an online source.

Registered guide dogs and service animals, which are specifically trained (see below), are legally not considered pets and are exempt from the legislation.

Service Animal (exempt)

  • Specially trained (task-trained)
  • Allowed by Federal Law to accompany handler on flights
  • Allowed by Federal Law to accompany handler in restaurants, movie theaters, etc.
  • Allowed by Federal Law to stay with people who are disabled in apartments that have “no-pet” policies
  • Trained to assist just one person

Emotional Support Animal

  • Allowed by Federal Law to accompany handler on flights
  • Allowed by Federal Law to stay with people who are disabled in apartments that have “no-pet” policies
  • Provides emotional support for more than one person

[Editor’s Note: As of this writing, this bill is still with the committee – let’s hope they pass it soon!]

 

Reprinted with permission of the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute (SPOSFI) News.  For more information on becoming a member of SPOSFI or to send a tax-deductible donation, please visit their website at www.smallprop.org or call (415) 647-2419.