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RENTAL ROUNDTABLE

A Hot Rental Market Can Take a Toll on Tenants With Pets

November 26, 2000|ROBERT GRISWOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: A rumor is going around our complex that when leases come due, the landlord will no longer allow pets.

Can the landlord do that? I don't know where my cat and I will go if it's true.

When tenants were scarce, tenants with pets were welcome. Now I feel like we're getting the bum's rush.

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Property manager Robert Griswold replies:

As even the landlord's and the tenant's rights attorneys will agree, the landlord can give you a 30-day notice to change the policy regarding the acceptance of pets at any time. The only exception is for tenants with companion animals when prescribed by a licensed medical professional under the terms of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Although many landlords are taking advantage of the increased demand for rental housing to eliminate pets and make rental standards more strict, there are still owners who realize that pet owners can be good, stable long-term tenants.

I suggest you do two things:

First, contact the landlord and inquire about the policy. To play it safe, see about extending your lease under the same terms to protect your rights regarding pets.

Second, begin to identify alternative properties that are receptive to pets. It will possibly take longer to find a new home, but there are still many landlords who will gladly rent to responsible pet owners.

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Attorney Steven R. Kellman replies:

A landlord may change a policy from allowing pets to one of permitting no pets. Because it appears that your lease allowed for pets, the landlord may simply change that term in a new lease. Even in a month-to-month tenancy, a simple 30-day notice changing terms of tenancy may have the same effect.

There are exceptions under fair housing laws. If for example, you needed a dog because of a disability, the dog stays.

We have yet to see these laws tested to see whether they will protect people who feel their pets are emotionally therapeutic to them. Without this legal protection, you may be forced to either decline the new lease and move or sign the new lease and get rid of your pet.

The hotter rental market knows many victims, people and pets alike.

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Attorney Ted Smith replies:

Like it or not, with limited exceptions, the landlord has every right to prohibit pets in residential rentals. At last check, our furry friends do not have substantial constitutional rights.

You might think the landlord is being arbitrary by refusing to take your pet, but it's clear that, generally speaking, pets increase the wear and tear on a rental, frequently requiring de-fleaing, deodorization and even carpet replacement after the pet leaves.

Singles Protected by Fair Housing Laws

Q: With rents going up, three friends and I thought we could pool our resources and rent a nice house instead of a typical apartment. When I inquired and told the landlord of our plan, he laughed and said no way. Can he do that?

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Smith replies:

California landlords have the right to rent to whomever they want, but they can't discriminate. It's true that the landlord can't discriminate based on your status as four single people. Still, he has the right to look carefully into each of your rental histories, credit and employment to determine any rental risk involved.

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Kellman replies:

Under fair housing laws, a landlord may not discriminate based on several characteristics including familial status. Thus, in a rental application, there is no difference between you and your three roommates and a married couple with two children applying for the rental. Each application should be treated as four persons applying for the rental.

Factors in consideration would be rental history and credit strength. Therefore, four employed single roommates may actually present a more powerful application than two employed adults (a married couple with children).

It is illegal to unlawfully discriminate and deny a group of single people the opportunity to rent a unit based on their single status. Such a policy may subject a landlord to be held to pay damages and penalties in a legal action.

If this landlord continues with his "policy," he may not be laughing for long.

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Griswold replies:

The attorneys have dealt with the legalities. Practically speaking, your landlord is laughing because he has probably been the victim of such a rental strategy in the past.

On the surface, four individuals should present stronger financial resources, but you must address the common fears of the landlord. With four individuals, you may have four cars, four sets of friends, four daily schedules that lead to more complaints from neighbors.

These are the issues you should consider and present honestly to a potential landlord. I think your idea makes sense from your point of view. Look at it from a landlord's point of view and find a reasonable solution to these common concerns, and your plan should work.

Weighing When to Assert Tenant Rights

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