Photo: Jamie McCaffrey/Flickr

In light of the housing crisis and a growing trend of landlords who are less-than-accommodating to tenants with pets, it’s more important than ever for San Francisco renters/pet owners to maintain good relations with their property owners lest they be forced to part with their furry friends.

Ashley E. Klein, a San Francisco attorney with g3mh who specializes in real estate law and landlord representation, offers some tips and explains what both property owners and renters with animals need to be aware of before finalizing a lease agreement. Note: most of these tips come from federal and state legislation, and one pertains to San Francisco residents only.

There is a difference between a pet and an emotional support or service animal.

A pet can be a cat, dog, rabbit, or whatever animal a person owns. A landlord can place restrictions and charge a security deposit for animals. A property owner can charge up to two months rent for an unfurnished unit, and up to three months rent for a furnished unit.

Klein explains that San Francisco’s rent ordinance “requires landlords to pay interest on the security deposit on the tenant’s anniversary date.” The rent board establishes a new interest fee annually.

Service animals and emotional support animals are not considered “pets” and landlords cannot legally charge tenants with these animals a deposit or fee.

There is also a difference between a service animal and emotional support animal. A service animal is trained to perform functions for a disabled person, such as a seeing-eye dog. An emotional support animal provides some sort of comfort, says Klein, and is doctor prescribed.

Be up front and provide necessary documentation if you have a service or emotional support animal.

Klein recommends new tenants supply information about their animal as soon as possible as the landlord is providing reasonable accommodations. Notifying the landlord the night before the scheduled move-in date can lead to ill feelings and a rocky start to the relationship.

Under law, if a tenant doesn’t supply the correct documentation after proper noticing Klien says “the landlord can issue a three-day notice for breech of a lease agreement to cure or quit.”

Work to curb animal behavior.

The renter should also be proactive and not allow bad pet behavior in common areas — jumping on other tenants or constant barking, for example. Klein advises pet owners to be considerate of neighbors and train their animals. This applies to both service and emotional support animals. An extreme case could result in a nuisance eviction.

Klein says that when trying to come to a resolution over nuisance issues, “it isn’t necessary to be aggressive, you just need to find a solution.”

She gives an example of an elderly blind tenant who had an aging dog that had gone to the bathroom in the common area without the owner’s knowledge. Klein says “obviously they couldn’t go after her.” Following a discussion between the landlord and tenant about the dog’s left-behinds, an agreement was reached that the dog should wear doggy diapers.

Klein emphasizes both the landlord and tenant should be proactive with any notifications or issues. She states that is easier to fix things earlier on.

“Don’t let things go. This can taint landlord and tenant relations,” Klein said.

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