LA’s COVID Eviction Rules Are Supposed To Protect Renters With Pets. Why Some Are Still Getting Pushed Out
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, local eviction limits have allowed renters in L.A. County to keep unauthorized pets at home, regardless of whether they're allowed under a lease. But despite the ongoing legal protections, some landlords are now telling tenants to get rid of their pets — or give up their homes.
The county’s rules around pets not permitted by leases were set to expire on Feb. 1. But last week, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to extend them for two more months.
Dianne Prado, executive director of an organization that offers legal assistance to renters with pets called HEART LA, said even with the extension, “there's been a huge rise in calls about threats of landlords trying to evict tenants with pets, and actual notices that have gone out.”
Prado said for now, the local protections are helping tenants fight to keep their pets and stay housed. But she said every extension of the rules is just kicking the can down the road. Whenever the protections go away, scores of L.A. pet owners will be vulnerable to eviction.
“When there is that rise of evictions, not only does that mean that a tenant could potentially be evicted,” Prado said, “a pet is going to be thrown into a shelter that's already overcrowded.”
Landlord groups have long called for L.A. officials to repeal all COVID-related protections, which have allowed low-income tenants hurt by the pandemic to defer rent payments for close to three years. They argue that COVID-19 impacts no longer require temporary emergency measures.
But tenant and animal advocates say dismantling pandemic-era policies without any plan for all the pets that renters adopted during the pandemic could lead to more animals being surrendered to local shelters, and more tenants facing eviction and potential homelessness.
Your Pets — Or Your Home
In the living room of a Covina townhome, a chihuahua terrier mix is playing a ferocious game of tug of war with her favorite chew toy. This little dog is more than just a cute family pet, Julie Turner said. She’s helped Turner recover from debilitating brain aneurysms.
“She's like my comfort,” Turner said. “She gets me out of the house. This is what my animals do for me. They keep me going. They keep me functioning.”
Turner’s son Eric Caldarella lives with his mom, his brother and their cats, in the home they grew up in. Caldarella said they named their dog Dobby because, when her ears are pulled back, she looks a bit like the diminutive magical servant character from Harry Potter.
“Like our little house elf, exactly,” he said.
The family said they’d had Dobby for more than a year — without any complaints — before she suddenly became a major point of conflict. In mid-December, the family’s landlord gave them a notice about Dobby and their longtime cats.
“It was saying that we had to remove our animals within 25 days,” Caldarella said.
When the family didn’t forfeit their pets, their landlord gave them another notice the next month. It was a 60-day notice to vacate their home, citing violations of their lease’s pet policy.
Caldarella tried telling the property manager that their disabled mother needs pets for emotional support. But he said that didn’t help.
“It never seemed like they had any intention to work with us,” Caldarella said. “It seemed like they had every intention to get us out.”
The family’s landlord did not respond to our requests for an interview.
Protections Have Been Extended. But Renters Still Face Eviction Threats
L.A. County’s protections for unauthorized pets were meant to keep people housed, even if the pandemic brought changes to their living situation that required taking in new dogs or cats.
For renters living anywhere in L.A. County, the unauthorized pet protections are now set to continue through March 31, though it’s possible lawmakers could extend the rules again.
Tenants who live within the city of L.A.’s boundaries will have even more time. L.A.’s city council recently voted to keep unauthorized pet protections in place through Jan 31, 2024.
But amid the confusion over which protections are staying and which are going away, landlords have been preparing to begin evicting renters over pet violations.
Prominent L.A. attorney Dennis Block, who represents landlords seeking to evict tenants, has mentioned pet protections going away on Feb. 1 in a recent tweet and newsletter. The protections were originally set to expire at the end of January — but local lawmakers at both the city and county level have since voted to extend them. In a live-streamed Q&A last Thursday (after local officials voted to extend unauthorized pet rules), Block said, “If we’re in the city of Los Angeles, obviously we can evict come Feb. 1 for unauthorized pets.”
Block’s law firm did not return our requests for comment for this story.
To be clear, nothing is stopping landlords from filing eviction cases or telling tenants to remove unauthorized pets. The local protections only provide renters with a defense they can cite in court to avoid an eviction.
- LAist has put together a comprehensive guide to help you understand L.A.’s current tenant protection rules.
- L.A. renters can reach out to the city and county-funded organization StayHousedLA.org to request legal help.
- HEART LA provides legal services and education to tenants with pets.
- Beyond the rules in place due to the pandemic, assistance animals have additional protections. The nonprofit Disability Rights California has a fact sheet available.
Dianne Prado with HEART LA said tenants can lose their housing if they don’t know how to assert their rights.
“Tenants don't know the process, and a lot of them leave without having to leave,” Prado said. “People will choose their pet over their home, and they shouldn't have to.”
LA Shelters Are Seeing More Pets Surrendered Over Housing Problems
Pet adoptions at county-run shelters increased significantly last year, according to officials with L.A. County’s Department of Animal Care and Control. Adoptions rose by 22% in 2022 compared with figures from 2020, when pandemic restrictions caused adoptions to plummet.
But while more pets are leaving local shelters, the officials are also seeing more pets entering shelters because of housing-related problems.
Last year, almost 20% of people surrendering pets to county shelters said they were giving up their animals due to landlord disputes, a need to move or because they’d become unhoused. The percentage of pet surrenders caused by housing-related problems rose by 9% in 2022 compared with figures from 2020.
Best Friends Los Angeles executive director Brittany Thorn said her organization’s no-kill shelter in West L.A. is also seeing more people returning pets because of demands from landlords.
“It's hard for them. These pets have been a part of their family,” Thorn said. “Not only are they stressed about losing their housing, now they also have to relinquish their animal.”
Pet Restrictions Exist For A Reason, Landlords Say
Landlord advocates say tenants know if pets are permitted when they sign a lease, so they shouldn’t be surprised when landlords ask them to remedy violations.
California Apartment Association spokesperson Fred Sutton said renters who’ve taken in pets should reach out to their landlord and try to reach a compromise. But he said landlords shouldn’t have to let an aggressive dog stay in a property where dogs weren’t allowed in the first place.
“People need to understand that the rental operator is trying to manage the building for everybody, and should be prepared to adhere to the rules that the community had in place when they entered the building,” Sutton said.
Of course, many pets don’t pose any physical danger. Eric Caldarella said for years, no one complained about Dobby or his cats — until his landlord suddenly wanted them gone.
“It seems like they wanted to get rid of us, and I have an odd feeling it's because of the low rent we pay,” Caldarella said, adding that finding a comparable place to live nearby would likely double his rent. “I mean, as of 22 years of living here, it's expected that we pay low rents. It seemed like this was just their way of saying, ‘You have to get out.’”
If push comes to shove, Caldarella said he’ll give up his home before surrendering his pets.
“I would rather live out of my car before I get rid of my animals,” he said.
For now, Caldarella hopes L.A.’s pandemic-era pet protections will keep his family housed. At least for a few more months.
What renters across L.A. County need to know about changes scheduled to come after March 31.
LA’s New Mayor Promises To Speed Up Homeless Housing Through ‘Master Leasing.’ Here’s What That MeansBass says L.A. will be “master leasing” buildings across the city. Experts say the approach could move people indoors faster, but won’t be a panacea.
The city’s law regulating vacation rentals is more than three years old, but a new study suggests violations are rampant.
The need for affordable housing in L.A. continues to far exceed the number of vouchers available to low-income renters.
Featured in countless true crime stories, the downtown L.A. hotel has had a rough start in getting tenants into the building.
Allowable rent hikes depend on where you live, and in what type of building. Here’s your guide to figuring it all out.