Reducing Shelter Intakes :

Prohibit Rental Discrimination Against Licensed & Altered Dogs & Cats

by Pam Green, © 2010, 2020

This is a plan I presented in 2010 to the Sacramento County Bored of Supervisors as one way to reduce the number of dogs and cats surrendered into the county shelter, thus reducing the costs of running the shelter (a goal important to the Bored) and reducing the number of deaths at the shelter (my real goal, of course).

Sacramento County has been in financial crisis and has been cutting budgets for many county programs. The county animal care shelter has been slashed again and again, to the point where it now has so few workers that care is likely to drop below minimum standards and deaths from preventable disease and from non-adoption euthanasias will soar. This shelter is in danger of deteriorating into an extermination camp.
One way to reduce shelter costs and reduce death rates is to reduce numbers of pets relinquished into the shelters. Enabling people who are currently financially pressured to move to rental housing to take their pets with them would be a significant step in this direction. Also since the single most common excuse for dumping a pet is "we're moving", an ordinance prohibiting rental discrimination against altered and licensed dogs and cats would take this excuse away.
This article is part of a series on helping shelters to survive budget reductions by changeing the rules of the game as played by the shelter and by the community. My goal is to reduce deaths of nice adoptable pets.

(update 2020 : although the overall California economy has improved since this was written, almost all of my reasons still apply. And this plan, though it might begin on a city or county basis, ideally should become state-wide by state legislation.)


Prohibiting Rental Discrimination Against Licensed & Altered Dogs and Cats

a way to decrease shelter intakes, increase adoptions, increase S/N and licensing

thus reducing costs of Animal Services

Dear Board,

As I presented to you in extremely brief form at the hearing 6/14/2010, there is a way to reduce shelter operating costs by reducing intakes and it is a way that would not cost the county anything and that should increase license compliance and might increase adoptions.

It's very simple.

It's based on well established research showing that the single most frequent reason stated by surrendering pet owners for relinquishing their pet to the shelter is "we're moving". that translates as "it's too hard to find a rental that will allow me to keep my pet". so let's eliminate or minimize that cause of shelter surrenders. This should also decrease the pets left to die inside abandoned foreclosed houses. This should decrease the numbers simply turned loose to fend for themselves (and create problems for citizens).

Pass a county ordinance that adds the category "pet" to the list of categories landlords are prohibited from discriminating against in rental housing.

The right and ability of government to prohibit various discriminations in rental housing and in offerings of housing for sale is very well established. Prohibitions of discrimination on race, religion, ancestry are long established, even though no doubt there may still be owners of rental housing who bitterly resent this interference with their absolute control of their property. Likewise prohibitions on discrimination on marital status, relationship of tenants to one another, and even sexual orientation of tenants are well established. Most of all prohibitions of refusal to rent to tenants with children are well established (with the exception of Seniors Only housing), even though it's a good bet that most landlords consider children to be undesirable in terms of their propensity to make noise and to damage property. Making noise and damaging property are of course the two biggest worries landlords have about pet dogs and cats. (Admittedly there are further issues with dogs and cats, namely biting/scratching and failure of owners to pick up excrement, that seldom apply to children.) Landlords are of course forbidden by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) from refusing to rent to those with a bone fide service animal of whatever species while requiring the service animal owner to be responsible for clean up , responsible for damages, and so on.

proposed law

So with that as a background, I propose that the Board pass an ordinance requiring landlords to accept pet dogs and cats who are LICENSED in city/county of residence and who are ALTERED (spayed or neutered).

Landlords would be allowed and encouraged to put into their contracts reasonable rules as to responsibilities of owners and owners' management of pets. Since the San Francisco SPCA has developed such a set of rules that has worked very well for landlords and tenants in SF, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. This SF SPCA set of rules could be made available as being prima facia reasonable. Landlords and tenants would be free to modify this set by mutual agreement, BUT there could be NO SIZE limits and NO BREED bans. Also landlords could not require declawing of cats or debarking of dogs as a pre-condition (there is currently a bill pending in the state Legislature to prohibit such restrictions) ; however tenants would be strictly liable for damage to furniture (in furnished rentals) and to the premises and would be required to keep their dogs and cats quiet at night and to limit barking and yowling during the day. (Note : for dogs who bark or howl when owners are gone, I recommend use of anti-bark collars as one acceptable method of bark control).

The ordinance could and probably should specify that landlords could charge an additional DAMAGE DEPOSIT, not to exceed the lesser of (a) one month's rent total or (b) $500 per dog or cat, and/or to charge a monthly RENTAL SUR-CHARGE of not to exceed 5% per pet, ie to charge HIGHER RENT by a modest amount. The charging of an added damage deposit may run afoul of Calif state law which limits damage deposits to two month's rent plus one additional month's rent if there is a waterbed ; if so that state law needs to be modified to allow for an added deposit for pets (and in my opinion for children). However the provision of a modestly higher monthly rent would not be barred by any law I'm aware of.

Landlords could also limit the number of pets in a rental unit, perhaps one pet per adult tenant or one pet per bedroom in the unit. Or the limit could be set by the relevant zoning laws in the case of a rental house.

reasons and benefits

If you need a rationale for such an ordinance , you can cite the enormous cruelty of the abandonment of "foreclosure pets" to die of thirst and starvation within abandoned homes, You can cite the very large increase in costs to the shelter of pets being surrendered because "we're moving", and you could cite the ADA and the medical research that has shown that having a pet seems to enhance physical health of the owner ( and probably enhances mental health even more, but there may not be research to prove this), thus every person needs a pet as a form of health assistance.

By limiting the right of the renter to have a dog or cat to those pets who are LICENSED, the law would undoubtedly give some portion of those who currently evade licensing a good reason (benefit to themselves) to start licensing their pet. This increase in licensing would bring money in to the shelter support budget. After renting for a few years, the pet owner might even get into the habit of licensing pets, even after moving to their own owned home.

By limiting the right to those pets who are ALTERED, the law would give some of those who procrastinate or decline to alter their pets a reason to do so. Having fewer unaltered pets in the hands of ordinary pet owners ( ie those who are not experienced and serious and highly responsible breeders) would mean fewer accidental litters and fewer casually bred "let's let children see miracle of birth" ( and other stupid reasons) litters. Fewer irresponsibly bred litters will mean fewer shelter intakes. Fewer "free to good homes" puppies and kittens (and adult dogs and cats) quite likely means higher adoption rates at the shelter.

The prohibition on breed bans and size limits (often a disguise for breed ban, as the breeds that landlords worry about are all fairly large size) means that fewer nicely behaved large breed dogs (more expensive to feed and less apt to be adopted than cute small dogs) will be coming into the shelter. After experience with tenants with well behaved large dogs, landlords may eventually figure out that tenants walking large dogs around the grounds and parking lots may deter ill intentioned criminals from lurking there and attacking tenants. Remember that a large dog who is well behaved with an owner who is responsible is not a problem. A small dog who is badly behaved or with owner badly behaved is a problem. Size in and of itself is not a problem. Breed in and of itself is not a problem, even though it may be that some badly behaved humans tend to gravitate to certain breeds because those breeds have an unfortunate reputation.

Note that the rental contract rules will certainly include rules about pet poop pickup, rules that whenever outside the private space of the tenant the dog or cat must be on leash or in a carrier, possibly rules that designate which of two or more elevators is the "no animals" one, and so on and rules as to what outdoor areas are available for pet walks, pet potty areas, etc while other common areas are non-pet.

To deal with barking problems, the answer is not surgical debarking , but rather various training strategies or use of one of several varieties of anti-bark collar (usually called "bark collar" but really the term "anti-bark collar" would be more descriptive). Destructive scratching problems in cats can be dealt with by various training strategies or by use of "Soft Paws" which are caps that are glued on over the cat's claws. Clawing is really only an issue in a furnished unit. Tenants who continue to allow their pets to be a problem to other tenants could be evicted for failure to live up to the Pet Owner Responsibility Rules.

There would also be a clear clause that any dog or cat that becomes dangerously aggressive will be cause for termination of the rental and eviction of the tenant. (Don't evict the pet and let the tennant stay : that would dump the pet into the shelter. Evict the tennant for their irresponsibility in allowing thir pet to become aggressive ; proper rearing and training probably could have prevented that from happening.)

publicizing the anti-discrimination law

Once such a pet anti-discrimination rule is passed, the newspapers would be asked to include a notice about it at the head of their rental classifieds. They already do this for the other housing discrimination prohibitions, so there is no reason to think they would object to adding the pets rental rights notice. Perhaps a similar notice could go at the head of the Pets section as well.

The shelter would also inform everyone who enters the shelter of the new law, by having a printed handout. The information would be on the shelter web site too of course. Most of all anyone seeking to surrender a pet because "we're moving" would be given verbal and written information and a handout to take to any potential landlord informing him of the law and of any penalties for his violation of it . The "no rental discrimination against pets" ordinence should include landlord penalties for violation , just as there are penalties for other forms of housing discrimination).

Please give this idea careful consideration. It would not cost the county any money or labor. It would reduce shelter operating costs by reducing intakes. It would increase license compliance would increase spay / neuter rates and would increase shelter adoptions to those who would love to have a pet but are inhibited by current anti-pet rental policies. It would probably also result in every tenant who used the law becoming a more responsible pet owner, and in the long run that would save a great deal of suffering to animals and to people, as well as saving the county money.


afterthoughts about potential issues

There is a potential issue of how to properly let landlords accomodate other tenants who are either (a) severely afraid of dogs or cats or (b) have allergies to dogs or cats. Of these the allergy sufferer issue is the one that raises legal conflict, as the ADA would require a reasonable accomodation be made. Fear of or dislike of pets is legally on a par with dislike of children : it should not legally be a reason to exclude pets or children.

Now the motel and hotel industry has been accomodating the needs of guests for non-smoking rooms and for hypoallergenic rooms for some time. They set aside some portion of their total rooms for these designation. I'd assume that they adjust these allocations from year to year based on customer demand.

For apartment buildings and complexes, it would be perfectly reasonable to have the ordinance specify that some moderate portion of units, perhaps 10%, could be legally designated as non-pet rental units and to specify that some part of the common grounds be off limits to pets. Surely the large majority of the units would have to be pet-accepting ones., because otherwise the anti-discrimination law would fail of its purpose. Only a small minority of potential tenants really have an allergy problem verified by a doctor. (Hypoallergenic units would need to be allergen reducing in many ways besides having any allergens from previous pet occupancy cleaned out. Elimination of carpeting is one of the most important allergen reducing steps.) Any allergy oriented units should be grouped together at one end of the building or complex so that the common areas for these units could also be grouped and so these units would have an exit route that did not take them through the areas where pets are present. For buildings with more than one elevator, one could be designated as "no pets" ; for those with only one elevator, if it's only two or three stories, maybe the elevator would be no pets and the pet owners would have to use the stairs.

For single family houses of course there is not a problem.

The other area not discussed is that of pets other than dogs and cats. There are of course some types of pets that landlords seldom object to : fish, caged birds, caged guinea pigs, caged rabbits. The large parrots can pose a problem in apartments as some have extremely loud screaming voice calls. The constrictor snakes and venemous snakes would also be potential problems. In any case, I don't think an ordinance is needed to address these issues or in any case I am not proposing to address them.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 7/13/2010 revised 7/13/2010, 1/29/2020
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