Like many people, Sheba Lo of Chatsworth, California, acquired a dog during the pandemic. Lo bought the dog to serve two roles — companion and “emotional support animal” for her 13-year-old daughter. The pair immediately fell in love with cuddly, white Riyo.
Without hesitation, the college professor let the landlord of her apartment know about the new canine addition. Lo assumed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) entitled the mother and daughter to keep an emotional support animal in their rental unit.
But in accordance with the ADA, only service animals — not emotional support dogs — have full public access rights, even in places where pets are not permitted.
Service vs. Emotional Support Dogs
What’s the difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal? A service dog is trained to accompany a person with a disability and perform specific tasks for them. An emotional support dog doesn’t require any special training and provides support, comfort, or affection to someone through companionship.
This distinction means the landlord could tell Lo she had to move or find another home for her daughter’s emotional support dog.
Fortunately, Lo’s lease agreement permits pets. The lease meant that button-cute Riyo, which means dream in Somali, could continue comforting Lo’s daughter as a treasured companion.
What if a lease has a no-pet clause, and you bring home a dog?
“Know what you signed when you rented your apartment,” says Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton, an attorney who specializes in pet-related disagreements. “If the lease says no pets, it’s a privilege, not a right to keep a dog. Sign the agreement, and you must abide by it, or face serious fines or even worse—eviction.”
What about sneaking in a dog, especially when the manager rarely visits?
“If you think no one will notice your dog, guess again,” says Voda-Hamilton. “Only one person in management needs to see the dog before taking action. The gardener or the maintenance person could report the canine sighting to the office.”
According to Voda-Hamilton, once the landlord knows you have a dog in a no-pet building, they must act to fine or evict you. If the landlord asks you to leave, you may be held financially responsible for the rest of your lease agreement. Know that eviction leaves a black mark on your rental history and makes future rental contracts difficult.
While some landlords may consider making an exception and allowing your dog, some will not. Often the resistance comes from the worry that the dog will damage property, show bad manners, or cause a nuisance by barking.
Power of Pet Persuasion
If you insist on remaining in your place, try these suggestions:
- Let your landlord get to know your dog. Make an appointment for a meet-and-greet and show off your dog’s behavior and obedience.
- Bring along your dog’s health records, AKC Canine Good Citizen title, Virtual Home Manners title, or other performance, therapy, or conformation certificates. If you’re planning to add to your dog’s list of accomplishments, mention it to the landlord.
If your landlord agrees, ask to add a pet agreement into your lease and make sure all the conditions appear in writing.
No one wants to go to court, so figure out your best options.
When all efforts fail, look for a new apartment. Pet-friendly does not automatically translate to mean that all pets are welcome. It means that the landlord is open to pets, but the animals must meet specific criteria. The requirements could cover the number of pets in your apartment or the types of animals.
“Find a pet-friendly apartment,” says Voda-Hamilton. “Above all, read the lease thoroughly before signing anything.”
Or, get a fish.