Although California law allows landlords to enforce a specific pet policy in rental properties, it is not uncommon for tenants to attempt to sneak in unauthorized pets. With the recent spike in pet ownership during the COVID-19 pandemic, unauthorized pets may become an even more frequent issue for property owners and managers. Landlords can prepare for this situation by understanding the laws concerning pet policies and having a standard, predetermined procedure when unauthorized pets are discovered.

California Pet Laws

In California, a rental property’s pet policy is almost entirely under the landlord’s discretion.

Landlords can enforce a no-pet policy, or only allow certain pets, breeds, or sizes. They also can require an additional pet deposit as long as the total tenant deposit does not exceed two months of rent, as well as charge a monthly ‘pet rent’ fee on top the standard rent, although this fee may not exceed the rent limit in rent-controlled areas. Any pet’s residence may be revoked if it is reasonably determined that the animal is a significant threat to the property or the security of other tenants.

However, there are a few restrictions on pet policies to protect tenants and their pets. Landlords are not permitted to require pets to be declawed or devocalized and cannot discourage tenants with pets that are not declawed or devocalized.

Additionally, the federal Fair Housing Act offers protection for people with disabilities who require service animals. Under this legislation, tenants are always permitted to request a waiver of exemption from a no-pet policy, and this exemption must be fulfilled if the tenant can provide evidence of their disability and the animal’s supporting role. Additionally, service animals cannot be restricted by weight or breed so long as they aren’t considered a safety hazard for other residents, and landlords cannot charge any additional fees for these pets.

Unauthorized Pets

Above all, it is essential to have a pet policy clearly delineated in the property lease. This section should include both the pet policy and the procedure for the discovery of unauthorized animals. This provides a standard, non-discriminatory procedure and keeps the landlord legally protected. Of course, a tenant owning a pet that is not allowed on the property is an unauthorized pet. Additionally, any pet that is not properly registered or fails to follow any regulations of the pet policy is also considered unauthorized. Landlords can require the submission of relevant information about the pet, including name, weight, breed, and current vaccinations.

An unauthorized pet is a violation of the lease and can be treated as such. Following formal procedures is always recommended. Submit an official notice to the tenant requiring them to correct the violation within a certain amount of time, typically between 24 hours and one week, by removing the pet from the premises or registering it properly and paying any associated fees or deposits. Include in the notice that if the tenant does not comply, the landlord can decide to carry out the eviction process.