California’s legislature has passed a new law ensuring tenants of low-income housing will no longer need to choose between giving up their pets for their own housing needs.

Senate Bill (SB) 971 will require any housing development financed on or after January 1, 2023 by the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to allow tenants to own or maintain one or more common household pets within low-income rental housing with no monthly fee or unreasonable restrictions.

Household pets — such as dogs or cats — will be kept for pleasure rather than commercial purposes. In addition to ownership, the law requires tenants to properly maintain their pets, including caring for their pet’s health.

Current housing regulations enable landlords to place tight restrictions on pet ownership. This can prevent tenants from keeping their pets and often results in them being relinquished to animal shelters.

These regulations affect tenants of low-incoming housing at a disproportionate rate. Low-income housing which is both safe and pet-inclusive is in short supply, forcing tenants with limited budgets into giving up their pets to overcrowded animal shelters, deepening the burden on local public resources.

For tenants who are able to find low-income housing listed as “pet-friendly,” that is when the contention with housing restrictions begins.

Restrictions in these pet-friendly properties which are no longer allowed in low-income housing developments under the new law include:

  • high monthly fees, or “pet rent”;
  • prohibitions on specific pet breeds; and
  • weight limitations.

However, reasonable conditions for pet ownership and maintenance will remain in place. These reasonable conditions include policies on:

  • nuisance behavior;
  • leashing requirements;
  • liability insurance coverage; and
  • the number of allowable pets determined by each unit’s size.

Though the law prohibits landlords singling out certain dog breeds as dangerous, the landlord may still prohibit individual dogs that are potentially dangerous or vicious. [Calif. Food and Agricultural Code §§31602; 31603]

Landlords may impose refundable security deposits. However, a monthly fee for the ownership or maintenance of household pets may not be imposed.

A healthy choice

The importance of this bill goes beyond allowing tenants to own household pets. The ownership of pets has proven beneficial for a person’s mental and physical well-being.

Owning pets has a wide array of health benefits including:

  • improving mental health;
  • increasing physical exercise;
  • increasing outdoor activities;
  • decreasing blood pressure;
  • improving the mood and morale of their owners; and
  • promoting healthy socialization, especially among the elderly and disabled, according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention.

Under current housing regulations, tenants are limited in their ability to own a pet. For the rental housing which does allow the ownership and maintenance of pets, tenants are met with tight restrictions and high monthly fees.

By loosening regulations, tenants of new low-income housing will no longer need to worry about meeting these standards. This eases not only the emotional turmoil of relinquishing a family member but improves upon the tenants’ overall health.

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Related article:

How California landlords may deal with unauthorized pets