Should California landlords be required to allow pets? This lawmaker says yes | Opinion

Are pets part of the family?

Most pet owners would say absolutely yes, yet the law doesn’t see it that way.

With some exceptions, landlords are allowed to refuse to rent to tenants who have pets. That leaves renters in an awful place. Either they get rid of a beloved dog or cat or bunny rabbit or continue the frustrating search for housing.

Now a California lawmaker is trying to change that.

Assembly Member Matt Haney (D- San Francisco) has introduced legislation, AB 2216, that would require landlords to rent to households that include “common household pets.” The bill has yet to be fleshed out, but according the a news release posted on Haney’s website, landlords would be required to have a “reasonable reason” to prohibit pets.

Haney has first-hand knowledge of what it means to be a renter; he’s been a tenant all of his adult life — one of just a handful of renters in the state Legislature.

He sees his bill as a way to alleviate California’s housing crisis. According to his news release, 70% of California renters have pets, yet only 30% of rental units “in any given city” are pet-friendly.

“The majority of renters in our state, pet owners, are denied access to the majority of rental units,” he wrote. “That makes no sense at all and it’s dramatically exacerbating the housing crisis.”

More ‘weight in your wallet’

Prohibiting pets makes perfect sense to most landlords, however. Pets can be destructive, noisy, unhygienic and even dangerous. But “can be” is the operative phrase here.

Arbitrarily assuming that all renters with pets will create problems is misguided, and taking advantage of their desire to have pets by charging much higher rent is just plain wrong.

Yet the property management industry touts that as one of the advantages of renting to pet owners.

“As a landlord, you can often charge pet fees that will add extra weight to your wallet,” Innago, a rental management software company, advises. “In some cases, you can bump rent up by 20% to 30%.”

As if rents in California aren’t already high enough.

Looking for a compromise

Given the tangible benefits of pet ownership — it’s been shown to reduce loneliness and isolation, to promote exercise and to boost mental and physical health — it’s unfair to deprive renters of such a life-enriching experience.

That’s especially true in California, where exorbitant housing prices have put home ownership permanently out of the reach of many residents — possibly denying them the pleasure of ever having a pet.

Animals also suffer from the shortage of pet-friendly rental housing. When owners have to relocate, they may be forced to give up their pets if they can’t find suitable replacement housing. That means more homeless animals and an increased strain on shelters.

What we need is a compromise: a solution that protects property owners while allowing renters to have pets — within reason. (Keeping three Great Danes in a studio apartment, for instance, would not be a good fit.)

California already made a head start on that with a law that applies to newer units built with state subsidies or tax credits. SB 971, passed in 2022, requires owners of those projects to allow pets, though “reasonable conditions” can be imposed. Those include “policies on nuisance behaviors, leashing requirements, requirements to carry liability insurance coverage, limitations on the number of animals in a unit based on the unit’s size, and prohibitions on potentially dangerous or vicious dogs.”

A refundable security deposit is allowed, but monthly fees, sometimes referred to as “pet rent,” are prohibited.

That sounds like a reasonable starting point for a policy that would apply to all rentals, not just to subsidized units.

It’s controversial, but it’s an issue that must be addressed because it’s not going away — not with the increase in the number of renters and the growing popularity of pets.

In theory, pet ownership is a choice. But let’s get real. To many people, it’s a non-negotiable item. California should recognize that by facilitating housing to accommodate all types of families — including those with “common household pets.”