United States: West Coast Real Estate Update: April 17, 2017

Susan J. Booth, Karl J. Lott and Douglas A. Praw are Partners, Ashley K. Jason, Paul J. Park and Daniel D. Dow are Associates and Geoffrey M. Geddes is a Public Finance Project Manager in Holland & Knight's Los Angeles office

Stacie Goeddel and Robert M. Haight Jr. are Partners in Holland & Knight's San Francisco office

California Assembly Member Proposes Bill to Limit Abuse of Service Animal Accommodations

As dogs have transitioned from children's backyard playmates to must-have accessories while their owners are shopping or dining, building owners and property managers have been faced with making an increasingly difficult determination as to whether a dog is a bona fide "service animal," an "emotional support animal" or an ordinary pet. Existing laws that allow individuals with disabilities to keep an "emotional support" or "comfort animal" have led to abuse of such accommodations by people who falsely claim they need their pets to cope with some fictitious disability. On the internet, a person can purchase an embossed certificate, a service animal identification card, a vest as well as a medallion purporting to give legal status to a service animal, even though such documentation is not required by law.

In the California legislature's first attempt to combat the abuse of disability laws that provide accommodations for service animals, Assembly Member Anna Caballero introduced AB 1569. Under the bill, if current or prospective residential tenants request a disability-related reasonable accommodation to keep an animal in their apartment and the disability or the need for a service animal is not readily apparent, the apartment owner or manager is authorized to request that a third party provide verification of the disability and the need for the service animal. To mitigate the use of "mail order" certifications, the bill would require that the third party, among other things, have specific knowledge of the tenant's medical condition based on an individualized examination. Additionally, the bill would declare certain types of documentation alone to be insufficient verification. Examples of this documentation include: 1) identification cards or certificates identifying the animal as a service animal; 2) emotional support animal prescription letters; 3) letters from doctors or other letters obtained from online sources; and 4) documentation that does not indicate the medical provider ever met the person or performed an individualized examination.

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which will hold a hearing on April 18.

Los Angeles and Pasadena Advance Tenant Protections

Undaunted by the California Court of Appeal's recent decision striking down San Francisco's ordinance providing tenant protections against Ellis Act evictions (see Holland & Knight's West Coast Real Estate Update: April 11, 2017), Los Angeles and Pasadena are moving forward with their own tenant protections. On April 5, the Los Angeles City Council's Housing Committee unanimously approved a preliminary ordinance tightening restrictions on how and when landlords can evict tenants under the Ellis Act. In the same week, Pasadena removed an exemption — called a "loophole" by city council members — that allowed landlords to avoid paying relocation expenses to tenants evicted pursuant to the Ellis Act, so long as the landlord provided the tenants with at least 30 days' notice of the eviction.

Los Angeles' proposed ordinance would require developers to replace rent-controlled units taken off the market under the Ellis Act with affordable housing projects. It would also require landlords to make relocation payments to evicted tenants and file annual reports with the city on the status of units withdrawn from the rental market. While tenants' rights advocates applauded the proposed changes, questions remain about how effective enforcement of the rules might be. Currently, prosecutions of Ellis Act violations are rare in Los Angeles, and evidence of landlord infractions can be hard to find.

Pasadena's new ordinance greatly expands the number of tenants that qualify for relocation assistance. In the past 13 years, only 91 Pasadena tenants received relocation assistance after being evicted under the Ellis Act. With the new ordinance in place, Pasadena landlords will be required to pay between $1,894 and $4,454 per tenant, but tenants with household incomes greater than 140 percent of the median income for Los Angeles County will not qualify for the assistance.

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