Natalie Youn is in love. Her darling Maltese puppy has silky white hair and big brown eyes, whose hobbies include long walks in the park, playing fetch and chewing on slippers. What should Natalie do if she wants to have her true love, a Golden Retriever, move into her apartment?

Depends on her landlord and the rental situation. What type of pet is best? If the lease specifies “no pets” what’s the best way to convince the landlord to let a dog join the household. What are the rights of the elderly and disabled?

Before picking a dog, get a collar on personality types. Every breed is known for its temperament, some more calm, others more energetic. For example, Dalmatians and Golden Retrievers love running, being high-energy sorts, and are not usually suggested as apartment dwellers. Maltese dogs, a small fluffy puff of white usually weighing less than 10 pounds, are considered by many as fine apartment dogs. A good resource for information can be found at or through your local humane society.

In San Francisco, The Open Door Program was created to foster greater acceptance and understanding of pets by landlords. A branch of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the program offers the following suggestions, plus from other sources:

  • Write up a pet resume. Include the pet’s age, activity level and breed traits, preferably highlighting a history of good behavior. If the pet has been obedience trained or has special training, include that information. Include something outstanding about your pet, such as unlikely to shed (like a poodle) or slow to bark. If the pet is spayed or neutered, include that information, too.

  • Exercise. Detail how often, when and where you will take the dog out for outdoor entertainment and relief activities. If there’s a nearby park, all the better.

  • Has the pet lived in an apartment already? If so, perhaps a letter from a previous landlord would notch up your chances.

  • Specify who your vet is and how often your pet is groomed and taken for shots. Detail how fleas will be kept controlled. If it’s a cat, mention if it is indoor only. Explain that cleanup is a priority of its litter, and is always placed in a sealed bag.

  • Include a photo of your pet, along with its name. Seeing a picture of little Max or Sassy may just win their hearts. Mention how and why you obtained the pet if the story is particularly heartwarming. One tenant explained she was single and wanting kids–but a dog would do the trick to assuage her maternal yearnings until the right fellow came along.

Landlords may appreciate that pet owners are more familiar with the neighbors and neighborhood, and creating a sense of community. Tenants working at home, or close to home, may find that a plus when convincing landlords. Letting in the plumber is less of an issue if the tenant is available, since some tradesmen won’t enter premises with a dog. Cats seem harmless, but can slip out the door and be lost. Who will have the responsibility if a pet runs away? If asked, be ready to explain.

Offer to sign a pet agreement, and provide extra deposit funds to cover any pet damage. Most state and local laws limit security deposits taken, even with the added pet deposit. Pet agreements are handy; since they supply written proof the pet owner will tend the animal as agreed. Information highlighting the name, age and breed of the pet is also included, along with date of the rental agreement. Other concerns addressed by the agreement, such as having sufficient liability insurance, are also often detailed.

For the elderly or disabled, a special place for pets is found in the Federal Housing and Urban/Rural Recovery Act, Section 227. “As a condition of tenancy or otherwise, no owner may prohibit or prevent any tenant in federally assisted housing from owning common household pets living in the dwelling accommodations.”

Assistance dogs, such as dogs for the blind, have a special set of laws in many states. Refusing to rent to a person with a guide, hearing or service dog is prohibited in more than 30 states, including California, Louisiana and New York. Non-profits groups, such as Canine Companions and the Delta Society, may provide further information for those with assistance dog needs. 

Above all, don’t sneak in a pet and hope no one notices. Breaking a no-pet rule may be grounds for eviction, and leave you in the doghouse–with no place to call home.


Send tips or a letter to the editor to or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 124.

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