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California Pet Owners Could Rent Apartments More Easily Under New Bill

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A dog sits between two people holding and petting it.
A newly adopted dog is held at Oakland Animal Services on Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Oakland. The city animal shelter has seen a surge in pets surrendered by tenants who can't find rentals that allow pets. A bill in California wants to make more rental housing available to tenants with pets. (Terry Chea/AP Photo)

California pet owners struggling to find a rental that accepts their furry, four-legged family members could have an easier time leasing new housing under proposed state legislation that would ban blanket no-pets policies and prohibit landlords from charging additional fees for common companions like cats and dogs.

Backers of the bill, which recently cleared a key committee, say the lack of pet-friendly units is pushing renters to forgo housing or relinquish beloved pets to overcrowded shelters. They say the legislation also would allow more tenants with unapproved pets to come out of the shadows.

Sacramento renter Andrea Amavisca said she and her partner searched for more than a month for a place that would accept their 2-year-old cattle dog mix. Options were few and prospective landlords would not return her calls after learning the couple had a dog.

They finally found a two-bedroom apartment after meeting with the landlord and putting down an extra $500 for the security deposit.

“It’s really awful that there are these restrictions you have to take into consideration when making a personal life choice,” she said.

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But landlords are pushing back, saying they’re worried over the cost of repairs, liability over potential dog bites and nuisance issues that might drive away other tenants. They also want state lawmakers to allow higher security deposits — which legislators limited to one month’s rent last year — to scrub out possible urine and feces stains in carpets or repair damage to wood floors.

“There are bad people, and there are bad dogs, and our job is to screen that and make sure that we’re providing a safe environment for everyone,” said Russell Lowery, executive director of the California Rental Housing Association.

The proposal authored by Assemblymember Matt Haney, a San Francisco Democrat and chair of the renters’ caucus, would not require all landlords to accept common household pets, such as cats and dogs.

However, landlords would have to provide reasonable justifications, such as public health, for denying a pet. A landlord could not inquire about pets until after approving an applicant, and applicants would have to notify the landlord that they have a pet or plan to get one at least three days prior to signing a lease. Should the landlord deny the pet, the applicant would then decide whether to seek housing elsewhere.

The landlord could also not require additional rent or security deposit for a pet. If approved, the bill would apply to new leases starting on or after Jan. 1.

Ivan Blackshear already rents to tenants with cats at his triplex in Chico, a small city north of Sacramento. But he said the question of pets and deposits should be left to the property owner and any agreement they reach with their tenants. It should not, he said, be mandated by politicians trying to curry favor with voters.

“Chasing mom-and-pop landlords like myself — small investors like myself — out of California is not going to solve the high price of rent; it actually is going to make it worse,” said Blackshear, who once had to replace the wood flooring in a rental due to a tenant with a cat.

Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, a Democrat representing parts of Los Angeles, said he and his fiancée, an attorney, were shut out of renting several places just because of Darius, their well-behaved Great Dane.

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“Darius is the sweetest dog,” said Bryan, who is vice chair of the legislative renters’ caucus. “And so it was shocking, and it showed that this simple barrier of having a companion animal could lead directly to housing insecurity and homelessness, if not addressed.”

Animal welfare groups are among those supporting the bill.

Ann Dunn, director of Oakland Animal Services, said the number of people giving up their pets has soared since the city of Oakland’s eviction moratorium ended last summer. In 2022, the shelter averaged nearly 240 dogs relinquished each month; now, it is 350 a month.

“We’re seeing a huge spike in people who are saying they are newly homeless,” she said. “Or they’re choosing between being housed or being able to keep their pets.”

The bill is headed to the Assembly for a floor vote. If it passes, it would then go to the Senate for consideration.

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