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Pets Not Allowed

Part 1: A Heartbreaking Dilemma


Of all the email I receive, some of the most heartbreaking are those from people who are forced to give up their cats because of housing problems. Landlords will not allow pets or homeowner associations enforce rules limiting or disallowing pets, and someone is now forced to make a decision, often with little warning: give up their cat or try to find a new home. Many years ago, I was faced with the same dilemma. I was fortunate in that I had friends willing to take care of my cat until I was able to find another, more pet-friendly apartment.

Not everyone is as fortunate. In California, where I live, the Santa Clara Humane Society said that just over 26 percent of the cats and 25.9 percent of the dogs brought to the society's shelter from January to May this year were given up because of landlord demands. ¹According to researchers, if all rental housing units permitted pets, approximately 6.5 million animals could be placed in homes.

Face it, however, people who have to live in rental housing generally have to adhere to the landlord's rules, which in many instances include "No Pets." Fair or not, property owners have the right to enforce rules meant to protect their property against damage, and because of previous "bad pet owners," most owners of rental property have a legally-enforceable "no pets" rule. Although housing laws require a landlord to allow you "quiet enjoyment" of your home, this does not include the right to have pets, in most cases.

Help for Elderly and Disabled

One exception to this lies in the Federal Pet Law of 1980, which allows persons with disabilities and elderly persons living in federally assisted non-family rental housing to own or keep common household pets, including dogs and cats. Owners and managers may require a pet deposit and/or make reasonable rules for keeping of pets. Federal Fair Housing laws also prohibit discrimination against elderly and disabled persons living in HUD-assisted housing:

    An owner/agent may not apply or enforce house pet rules developed in accordance with section 4 of this handbook against individuals with animals that are used to assist handicapped persons (e.g., guide dogs for persons with vision impairments, hearing dogs for persons with hearing impairments, and emotional support animals for persons with chronic mental illness).

The definition of "pet rules" under this act include: requirements to pay a refundable pet deposit, with allowances for a gradual accumulation, in some cases of the deposit; charges for pet waste removal for a pet owner who fails to remove pet waste; standards of pet care limited to those necessary to protect the condition of the tenant's unit; spaying/neutering a dog or cat; barring pets from specified common areas; limitations on the length of time a pet may be left unattended in a dwelling unit; control of noise and odor caused by a pet; and pet licensing in accordance with local or State laws or regulations.

Note that "disibility" as defined under these laws includes mental impairment along with other physical disabilities. The case cited in the next section is a good example.

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