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RENT WATCH

Tenant's Need for a Guide Dog Should Be Obvious to Manager

March 26, 2000|From Project Sentinel

Question: I manage an apartment building with a no-pets policy, and I understand that service or support animals for disabled people are not to be considered pets. There are several people in my building with different kinds of emotional disabilities who keep emotional support cats to help them with their conditions. I always allow exceptions to the no-pets policy when the tenant can provide me with a doctor's note that the animal is recommended for emotional support or for other medical reasons.

Someone with a seeing-eye dog came by last week and applied for a vacant unit. I had no problem renting to her, but I did request a doctor's note, just as I would for any other disabled tenant. The applicant was offended and accused me of discrimination. What did I do wrong?

Answer: The Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations to house rules when it would help a disabled tenant live in their unit.

It forbids housing providers from inquiring about the nature of a disability but does allow them to ask for written verification that the accommodation being requested is indeed connected to a disabling condition when that condition is not obvious. It is not meant to allow housing providers to pry into tenants' medical histories or to make tenants prove they are disabled enough to deserve support animals.

A written note is unnecessary when the connection between the effects of the disability and the accommodation is obvious. Someone who is obviously blind and using a guide dog really need not demonstrate that the animal is what they say it is. If the disability is obvious, it does not need to be verified.

If you are unsure how to proceed in the future, call your local fair housing agency for guidance.

Tenant-on-the-Move May Be Victim of Bias

Q: I live in a residential hotel. At least it's a place of my own, but it's really tiring the way they make me move out every 28 days before I can move back into my old room. Isn't this illegal?

A: The California Civil Code (Section 1940.1) makes it illegal for owners and managers of residential hotels to evict residents for the sole purpose of preventing them from establishing tenancy. However, many residential hotels do place limits on the length of unbroken time tenants can spend in one room, often setting a limit conveniently under the length of stay needed for a city's rent control ordinance to apply.

Some managers may actually be trying to avoid the rent control protections by requiring tenants to move out or switch rooms before the ordinance can take effect. If so, this practice is barred under the California Civil Code.

It also raises concerns of housing discrimination. Federal and state fair-housing laws forbid housing providers from offering different terms or conditions to tenants because of their race, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, source of income or any other arbitrary personal characteristic. Whether a hotel is limiting residents' stays specifically to prevent tenants from establishing tenancy or not, it is still subject to a fair housing complaint if it is selectively applying its length-of-stay requirement to only members of one of these protected categories.

You should contact your local fair-housing agency for more information if you believe you have been discriminated against.

Landlord Needn't Split Ex-Tenants' Deposit

Q: When my roommate and I moved into our apartment, we each gave a check for half of the security deposit to the property owner. We are moving now, and the owner agreed to return separate checks to us. The problem is that he is going to deduct all the charges from only one of our refund checks. He says this is the easiest way for his accounting system.

We agree with the deductions but feel the charges should be deducted equally from each of our refund checks. What do you think?

A: Regardless of how it is paid to a landlord, a deposit belongs to the tenancy as a whole, not to individual tenants.

Because you and your roommate created a single tenancy, the owner is allowed to treat your deposit as a single sum and can deduct the charges in whatever way he chooses. You and your roommate are co-tenants who share equal responsibility for the deductions.

You can try to convince your landlord to subtract the charges equally from each check, but if he still refuses, then you and your roommate should simply settle the deductions between yourselves. If you need assistance in working this out, contact a mediation program in your area.

This column is prepared by Project Sentinel, a rental housing mediation service in Sunnyvale, Calif. Questions may be sent to 1055 Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road, Suite 3, Sunnyvale, CA 94087, but cannot be answered individually.

For housing discrimination questions, complaints or help, call the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment at (800) 233-3212 or the Fair Housing Council, Fair Housing Institute or Fair Housing Foundation office in your area:

Bellflower: (562) 901-0808

Carson: (888) 777-4087

El Monte: (626) 579-6868

Hawthorne: (310) 474-1667

Lancaster: (888) 777-4087

Long Beach: (562) 901-0808

Pasadena: (626) 791-0211

Redondo Beach: (888) 777-4087

San Fernando Valley: (818) 373-1185

South-Central Los Angeles: (213) 295-3302

Westside Los Angeles: (310) 474-1667

Orange County: (714) 569-0828

San Bernardino County: (909) 884-8056

San Diego County: (619) 699-5888

Ventura County: (805) 385-7288

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