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Keeping a cat when lease forbids it

From Project Sentinel

Question: I received a cat as a birthday gift, but my rental agreement says pets are not allowed. Over the last few months, new tenants have moved in with pets. I want to keep the cat. Should I discuss this matter with the on-site manager or the property owner, who signed the month-to-month agreement?

Answer: The “no pet” policy may have changed since your tenancy began, or the pets for these tenants may have been allowed under the companion animals exception or if they are service animals. Such pets can be prescribed for medical reasons and are allowed under federal and state laws.

Because your agreement prohibits pets, you need to address this matter with the manager or the owner before you are served a three-day notice to either remove the cat or move.

Because you are a month-to-month tenant, if the cat is allowed and is not considered a companion or service pet, you may be asked to increase your security deposit. This amount can be as much as twice the monthly rent for an unfurnished unit and three times for a furnished unit. A separate pet deposit above this legal maximum is not permitted.

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To increase the deposit, you should be served a written 30-Day Change of Terms Notice listing the additional amount. Security deposits for companion or service animals cannot be increased during a tenancy and should not exceed the standard amount charged other tenants.

Any alternatives to credit reports?

Question: I’ve always relied on credit reports to determine financial stability for potential tenants. Because identity theft is becoming such a problem, I hesitate asking anyone for a Social Security number. Is there another source I can use?

Answer: A credit report is one of the best sources to verify financial stability, but there are other sources. You can ask for banking information and employment history. If you contact the banking institutions, you will need an authorization or release from the prospective tenants before the institution will discuss or reveal personal information.

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You may find a tenant reporting service in your area. These services keep records on eviction suits, regardless of the outcome, filed against tenants. Other resources are court records, personal references and former landlords. Court records for many counties are now available online. Also, an applicant could provide a credit report with personal information blacked out.

Changing income requirement

Question: I own a large apartment complex, and for years I have had an income formula of two times the monthly rent as an eligibility requirement for applicants. I want to change the formula to 2 1/2 times the monthly rent. To avoid the appearance of treating tenants differently, do I have to post the new formula?

Answer: There is no law requiring you to post the financial eligibility criteria you use for applicants, but it may be in your best interest to do so. Posting a notice announcing the policy change may dispel any appearance that you are treating some applicants differently and avoid potential complaints of discrimination. Discrimination means treating some people differently than others based on a characteristic or status that is protected under the law.

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The federal Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, familial status and disability. State law covers these bases and also protects from discrimination based on sexual orientation, age, marital status, source of income and arbitrary personal characteristics.

If anyone reported that you were applying your eligibility criteria in a discriminatory manner, you would need to respond to the complaint. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

This column is prepared by Project Sentinel, a rental housing mediation service in Sunnyvale, Calif. Questions may be sent to 1055 Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road, Suite 3, Sunnyvale, CA 94087, but cannot be answered individually. For housing discrimination help, call the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment at (800) 233-3212 or the Southern California Housing Rights Center at (800) 477-5977.


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