woman sitting on sofa while holding food for dog

Legislation would require housing providers to accept pets

Last Updated: May 8, 2024By

Our own Assemblymember, Matt Haney out of San Francisco, is a busy fellow. After successfully pushing through a bill he authored that limits security deposits to one month’s rent, he is now the architect of AB 2216.

The bill would bar property owners from asking about pets on applications, prohibit additional monthly fees for pet owners – dubbed “pet rent” – and limit pet security deposits.

To Haney, there is a fundamental unfairness in a “two-tiered system that punishes people for having pets, or treats them differently.”

After reviewing Zillow numbers, the lawmaker’s staff discovered that 20% of apartments in San Francisco allowed cats and dogs of all sizes, while two in three households own pets nationwide.

Tenant advocates and the Humane Society of the United States were quick to applaud the bill’s announcement. That organization says overcrowding in pet shelters is caused when pets have no home to go to because of blanket bans.


This is a touchy subject because pets are near and dear to many people. So, too, is the right of owners to evaluate rental risks.

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For years now, we have repeatedly said that rental property owners and their agents have been blinded to risks. A prior history of evictions, for example, may be cloaked. Criminal activity in certain locales may be off-limits. Effective in 2024, landlords cannot inquire about the credit standing of prospective tenants with a housing voucher in hand.

We can go on, but the quintessential point: landlords and property managers have increasingly lost discretion in choosing who they rent to and assessing the potential consequences, like damages that can quickly rack up to thousands of dollars.


An evolution in pet legislation

The tenant’s right to have a bona fide “service animal” has been sacrosanct and never put into question. These dogs are trained to perform a specific task to assist their disabled owner. We are all aware of dogs helping the visually impaired, but in fact, service animals can perform a variety of other tasks such as fetching dropped items, pulling a wheelchair, or alerting the owner to an impending seizure.

Yet there are animals in another category and they need not be a dog or have any training to assist their owner, and this is where it got murky.

It was well-documented that many tenants falsely claimed the need for an emotional support, or “comfort” animal. It was the butt of jokes when those animals were peacocks, pigs, or alligators.

Taking to the Internet and paying a negligible fee, tenants could purchase documentation that certified the need for a comfort animal with few questions asked by these certificate, tag, and merchandise mills. By questioning the veracity of these official-looking but bogus documents, landlords invited costly discrimination lawsuits.

Many housing providers, then, celebrated the 2022 passage of AB 468, new legislation that reined in these fraudulent practices.

To assert the need for a comfort animal, a tenant must provide supporting documentation. If it is provided by a medical professional, certain requirements must be included in the letter.

Our related article: Fraudsters help welcome in unsavory tenants by manufacturing bogus documentation »


Now, we enter another era of rules relating to pets in rental units.

Assemblymember Haney has promised to work with all stakeholders to craft the final version of the legislation in recent weeks and has invited housing providers to take part in this dialogue. He points out that the final product will likely limit the number of pets allowed and require pet liability insurance.


Some takeaways and parting thoughts

The author of the bill says exceptions would be carved out for landlords with a “reasonable rationale” for excluding pets. These include health and nuisance-related allowance, provided that owners can produce documentation to a judge or rent board if a tenant contests the policy.

To which we say, of course. This is an exercise in stating the obvious. Owners of pets must ensure that their pets do not create a nuisance for neighboring residents. Yet anytime there are new procedural requirements or opportunities for landlords and tenants to air out grievances, it ratchets up the cost for owners, as we noted in an earlier article on Alameda County’s march towards mandatory mediation when there are habitability issues.

It’s hard to argue against bringing housing providers together to come up with an amicable resolution, but it can be costly, especially when tenants are entitled to free legal representation when landlords are not.

We also echo the sentiment of our friends at the Berkeley Property Owners Association. It’s been said that with a deluge of new regulations, property owners are trepid to rent out vacant units. Indeed, we have lost several clients and followers because they left California to put their real estate dollars elsewhere.

At Bornstein Law, we love animals. We also love rental property owners and their rights. Hopefully, lawmakers and the rental housing community can reconcile these two romances.

Written by Daniel Bornstein, Esq., Bornstein Law

More than a practitioner in landlord-tenant law, Daniel Bornstein is the Broker of Record for Bay Property Group, a property management company that protects and optimizes the investments of landlords. He is also renowned for his educational seminars and is called upon as an expert witness in complex real estate litigation matters. To avoid or resolve friction within rental units and cauterize risk, Daniel is happy to dispense informed advice to owners, property managers, and other real estate professionals looking to survive and thrive in today’s challenging and litigious rental housing market. Call 415-409-7611 or email daniel@bornstein.law.



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