For certain low-income housing, a pet-friendly policy will soon be non-optional

There are many divisive topics in our society today but we were surprised to discover that household pets are one of them. Whenever we talk about animals co-existing in rental units it strikes a chord both with pet lovers and many landlords who have a no-pets policy.

So, we'll have to preface our remarks by saying that we share the belief of the Humane Society that "pets are family, and family is never disposable." In the same breath, we understand the concerns of rental property owners who want transparency in their units and have a say in what is allowed and what is not.

At about the same time last year, we alerted our community to California's new emotional support animal law (AB 468) which, among other things, cracked down on fraudulent claims made by tenants that a landlord must make the "reasonable accommodation" of allowing animals into the rental unit.

Heartless? Actually, the law was endorsed by Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) and Canine Companions, groups that said in no uncertain terms that accommodations should be reserved for people who have a genuine need for animals.


Fast forward to January 1, 2023. Another law goes into effect.

SB 971 protects low-income pet owners in housing financed through the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (CTCAC) and the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

As always, landlords may charge a refundable security deposit. However, they cannot charge a separate pet fee. Animals bred for commercial purposes do not enjoy the same protections.

Pet owners still have the responsibility to comply with state and local rules related to public health, animal cruelty, and animal control. Reasonable conditions must be met such as leashing their furry friend, carrying liability insurance coverage, and limiting the number of animals in a unit based on the unit's size. Although potentially dangerous and vicious dogs can be prohibited, this raises the question of what dog poses a threat, and this is interesting. It is not because it is a big dog or the dog looks mean.

According to the new law - and for that matter, any time a service animal or emotional support animal is inhabiting the rental unit - landlords cannot deem the dog potentially dangerous or vicious based on the breed or weight.

For any of you wondering, California does not set specific requirements for owners of pit bulls. Under  Cal. Food & Agric. Code. § 31601, we need to examine the individual dog's conduct and any history of bites and inflicting injury.

Notably, the law makes a distinction between attacks that are "unprovoked" and the law also barks at keepers who recklessly allow dangerous dogs to roam freely. Owners need to be responsible.

SB 971 is not a new concept but builds upon the previous legislation of AB 1137, dubbed the Pet Friendly Act of 2017, which welcomes one or more common household pets within a resident's dwelling unit if it is financed by HCD. The new law expands protections to any project that receives funding in part or in whole from HCD and CTCAC eligible for the low-income housing tax credit.