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Many landlords ask questions like, “Must San Diego landlords allow emotional support animals?”. The answer is “Yes” with a few exemptions and exceptions as explained below.

Tenants with physical and emotional disabilities use support animals to help them deal with daily challenges. For instance, those unable to see use guide dogs when walking outdoors.

Emotional Support Animals

No Pets Policies May Violate Federal Laws


As a landlord, you may have a no-pet policy for all your units. But that policy doesn’t stand up when tenants use service dogs. That might not surprise you. Yet, the same law applies to emotional support animals too. That might surprise you.

Federal laws require landlords with “No Pets” policies to allow service animals and emotional support animals. In addition, they can’t charge a pet deposit or a pet fee or extra rent because they are a “medical device” and not pets.


What Federal Agency Enforces the FHA?


Congress established the FHA in 1934. It became part of HUD in 1965.

The U.S. Department of Justice enforces rulings made by HUD.


Federal Law Exemptions for Landlords who Reject Emotional Support Animals

Emotional Support Animal

Most laws contain exemptions. According to HUD and the Balance Small Business, here are four exemptions from requiring emotional support animals:

  1. Single-family homes when the owner doesn’t use a real estate agent to rent the house. But the owner can only own less than three single-family homes;
  2. A housing building with four or fewer units with one occupied by the owner (like a fourplex);
  3. Houses owned by private clubs or organizations solely for use by its members; and
  4. Your insurance policy prohibits certain breeds of dogs and the policy get canceled or the premiums rise sharply for violations. Read our post titled, Insurance Policies for Landlords (What You Need To Know).


Must San Diego Landlords Allow Emotional Support Animals?

To emphasize, landlords can’t exclude service animals or other assistance animals despite a no pet policy nor charge a deposit or fee or raise rents. A joint statement by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2004 made this clear.

San Diego Emotional Support Animals

Let’s explore the laws requiring landlords to accept tenants with service animals.


Federal Fair Housing Act Relating to Emotional Support Animals


The FHA recognizes tenants with emotional and/or mental disabilities often require assistance from emotional support or companion animals. The FHA calls these service animals “emotional support animals” (ESAs).

FHA allows ESA animals who help tenants with psychological disabilities to alleviate symptoms like:

  • Anxiety;
  • Depression;
  • Stress; and
  • Post-Traumatic Symptoms Disorder (PTSD) suffered because of accidents, wars, violent crimes, and other traumatic events.

These emotional support animals enhance the tenant’s ability to live independently and enjoy their home.

HUD published a memo stating that under the FHA, “Assistance animals are not pets”. This HUD memo further clarified the role of ESAs as animals that:

  • Do work;
  • Assist;
  • Perform tasks; and
  • Provide therapeutic emotional support for people with disabilities.


Does the FHA Limit Companion and Emotional Support to Dogs?


No, because any animal prescribed by a doctor or another medical professional to assist a disabled tenant becomes an assistance animal.

Thus, a tenant can request accommodation for a snake, cat, bird, ferret, rat, or any other animal.


California Laws about Emotional Support Animals


California maintains laws about emotional support animals. To sum them up, they state:

  • Landlords must allow assistance animals for tenants’ disabilities;
  • Landlords cannot charge pet deposits or fees or raise the rent for keeping emotional support animals;
  • They must only provide “reasonable accommodation for a tenant’s disability”;
  • Assistance animals may be of any type;
  • The animal must alleviate the tenant’s disabilities;
  • A connection must exist between the tenant’s disability and the service provided by the animal; and
  • The animal provides comfort or companionship.

In addition, California laws set these limits:

  • The animal doesn’t make a direct threat to others or property;
  • Doesn’t impose undue financial or administrative burdens; and
  • Doesn’t fundamentally change the types of services the homeowner’s association or landlord provides.

Specific California laws explain qualifying types of emotional support animals include:

  • A dog or other animal not specifically trained to perform acts to assist a tenant’s disability; and
  • Whose owner gets a sense of calmness, safety, or well-being from the animal’s presence and companionship.

Animals other than dogs – In 2000, a federal district court in Northern California ruled companion animals other than dogs are legal. This opened the door in California for different types of support animals like snakes, rats, gerbils, turtles, ferrets, and frogs.

The leading California court case protecting ESAs is Auburn Woods Homeowners Association in 2004 when the Court of Appeals ruled “denial of a reasonable accommodation request for a companion animal could constitute unlawful discrimination”.


Landlord Rights Under California Laws About Emotional Support Animals


California laws require landlords to accept emotional support animals unless they threaten the safety or property of others.

In other words, landlords can deny allowing a support animal if that animal specifically causes substantial physical damage to others’ property or poses a direct threat to the safety or health of others.

In addition, a landlord may deny a request for a wild or dangerous animal to safeguard the public and neighbors. Health and safety concerns are very important.

California landlords maintain the right to request proof of the disability when it’s not obvious. Upon the request, the tenant must provide medical documentation of the disability, the need for the support animal, and a prescription from a health care provider.


San Diego Laws about Emotional Support Animals

Emotional Support Animals Traveling

The City of San Diego published a newsletter explaining the benefits of the ESA law. Tenants living in San Diego maintain the right to live with an emotional support animal.

A San Diego landlord can only deny the ESA if the animal poses a threat to the safety of other people or can cause significant damage to other people’s property like the landlord’s unit.

Suspicions alone do not allow San Diego landlords to refuse an ESA. Only factual evidence of the animal’s specific conduct prevails. Contact past landlords about the tenant and the specific animal to see if the animal caused significant property damage or posed a threat to people’s safety.


How Do San Diego Landlords Defend Claims of ESAs Violations?


Emotional Support Animals LawsThe Service Animal Registry of California provides some good defenses that landlords may raise to reject emotional support animals. These include:

Mental Disability – Does the tenant have a mental impairment disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities supported with proper documentation?

Need for an ESA – Does the tenant’s disability need an emotional support animal that assists, works, or provides therapeutic emotional support verified with a medical prescription?

Health and Safety – You may refuse any animal that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. But you must be able to prove that the specific animal is a threat. General assumptions based on breed or size are not allowed.

Online Prescriptions – HUD states that under the FHA a landlord has the right to demand reliable documentation of the tenant’s disability and a medical prescription. HUD states that an online prescription “is not, by itself, sufficient to reliably establish that an individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal”. Furthermore, HUD states that the one writing the prescription must personally know the individual. HUD disapproves of online prescriptions where the medical provider never meets the patient.




Must San Diego landlords allow emotional support animals? Yes, with a few exceptions and exemptions.

San Diego landlord pet policies may violate federal, state, and city laws if they prevent emotional support animals to live with a tenant having a mental impairment disability.

Exemptions exist under federal and state laws allowing landlords to reject ESAs if:

  • The landlord owns less than three single-family homes and didn’t use a real estate agent to rent them; or
  • A multi-family building with a maximum of four units where the landlord lives in one; or
  • A house owned by a private organization or club used exclusively by its members; or
  • Certain breeds of dogs are prohibited in the house insurance policy where violations result in policy cancellation or a sharp rise in premiums.

Federal, state, and San Diego laws about Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) clearly state that:

  • Landlords can’t exclude service animals or other assistance animals;
  • Despite a No Pet Policy; nor
  • Charge a deposit; or
  • Pet fee; or
  • Raise rents because of the ESA.

Landlords’ rights in California and San Diego when confronting a tenant living with an ESA include:

  • The right to request proof of disability when not apparent;
  • When requested, tenants must provide medical documents verifying the disability and the need for an ESA, and the prescription for the ESA from a healthcare provider who met the tenant;
  • Denial of the support animal with the knowledge that the animal specifically caused physical damage to other’s property or poses a direct threat to the safety or health of others; and
  • A landlord may deny a request for a dangerous or wild animal to protect neighbors and the public.

Note: Contacting past landlords about the tenant and the specific animal may provide evidence of “knowledge”.


Want to Avoid Hassles of Dealing with Emotional Support Animals in Your San Diego Rentals?


WeLease understands that many peculiar laws confuse San Diego landlords. Our staff can help you to deal with them.

Contact us to avoid ESA problems and all your other property management needs in the greater San Diego region.


Steven Rich, MBA – Guest Blogger


Disclaimer – The purpose of this blog post is to help educate landlords about certain laws and how they affect renting properties in San Diego. This post does not intend to provide legal advice or counsel. If you have questions about federal, state, and local laws consult with an attorney.


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