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A Santa Rosa Landlord's "No Pet" Policy May Create Liability Under California Law And The American with Disabilities Act

Disabilities_Act_copy3.jpgThe Fair Employment and Housing Act makes it unlawful discrimination and harassment to discriminate against a person because of a disability, which includes but is not limited to, any physical or mental disability as defined by California Law.

In an action for housing discrimination under the FEHA, if the court finds that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred or is about to occur, the plaintiff may be awarded actual and punitive damages and the court may grant other relief, such as injunctive relief. The court also has the discretion to award the prevailing party, other than the state, reasonable attorney's fees and costs, including expert witness fees, against any party other than the state.

In order to establish discrimination based on a refusal to provide reasonable accommodations, a party must establish that he or she (1) suffers from a disability as defined in the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (Gov. Code, § 12900 et seq.); (2) the discriminating party knew of, or should have known of, the disability; (3) accommodation is necessary to afford an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling; and (4) the discriminating party refused to make this accommodation.

According to this legal test, under the right set of facts, allowing a pet despite a no-pets policy, even a pet that does not classify as an assistance or service dog under Cal Civ Code § 54.1, can constitute a reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities.

In Auburn Woods I Homeowners Assn. v. Fair Employment & Housing Com., the Court found that condominium homeowners association unlawfully discriminated against disabled condominium owners by refusing to make a reasonable accommodation to allow them to keep a companion dog. The couple owned a condominium in a development where the covenants, conditions and restrictions prohibited the presence of dogs in the development. The couple had physical and psychiatric disabilities and found that keeping a small dog alleviated their symptoms.

Any landlord faced with a disabled applicant or tenant requesting an accommodation must proceed cautiously. A simple no pets policy, under the right set of facts, may create liability for a landlord under state and federal law. A landlord should consult with an experienced landlord tenant attorney when faced with a tenant's request based on a disability.

The Law Offices of James V. Sansone is located in Santa Rosa, California and litigates numerous landlord tenant disputes including evictions, contract and lease disputes, evictions after foreclosure, and problem tenants, throughout Sonoma County, Mendocino County, and Lake County, including Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Windsor, Bodega Bay, Ukiah, Willits, Clearlake, Lakeport, and Kelseyville.

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