Berkeley to consider prohibiting no-pets policies for tenants

Sonia Brin/Staff

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With a new recommendation, Berkeley may pounce on a more fur-friendly regulation that would prohibit a no-pets policy.

Authored by Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, the recommendation was included on the agenda for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting to be referred to the Housing Advisory and Animal Care commissions.

“This is just a starting point,” Arreguin said. “Landlords (currently) have the right to say you cannot have a pet. That shouldn’t automatically be a barrier.”

Assistance animals, such as emotional support animals and service animals, are often exempt from landlords’ no-pets policies, according to the recommendation. This has led some tenants to claim that their pets are assistance animals when they do not qualify as such.

Some landlords say they cannot determine whether a pet is an emotional support animal due to unclear legal requirements and descriptions. The recommendation aims to provide clarity for landlords and tenants by permitting all small pets, regardless of whether they are assistance animals.

Arreguin noted that there are several issues that still require discussion and negotiations with both commissions, such as the allowed size of pets.

“We’re not allowing pot-bellied pigs,” Arreguin said. “We’re talking about small pets under 25 pounds.”

Arreguin said an immediate effect of the policy would be a decrease in the number of animals in city animal shelters, which he said are currently filled to capacity. He added that the policy would also encourage people to adopt pets.

But opponents of the recommendation cited concerns such as pet allergies and animal behavior issues. Numerous considerations, such as the type of pet, behavior of the pet, layout of the apartment and how much open space is available, must be made, according to Councilmember Susan Wengraf.

“I think it was poorly conceived and poorly written,” Wengraf said. “It’s a very complex issue and should not be legislated.”

According to Sid Lakireddy, president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, allowing pets in confined living arrangements can lead to a disturbance in public health. Asthma, which is on the rise, could be triggered by pets, Lakireddy said.

Whether or not a tenant can have pets should be a direct negotiation between the landlord and the tenant, Wengraf said.

“Rents will go up, and security deposits will go up, because people who own those properties can’t afford to fix the damage,” Wengraf said.

Arreguin said there have been misunderstandings about the recommendation, which he aimed to address in revisions discussed Tuesday. He hoped that the recommendation would increase housing options for responsible pet owners.

A final proposal will require several months of discussion, according to Arreguin.

For Councilmember Kriss Worthington, a “blanket policy that allowed all landlords to allow all animals” would not be appropriate. But he hopes that after discussion, the council can agree on “a very positive policy that would respect tenants and landlords.”

Contact Adrienne Shih at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @adrienneshih.