Legal Q&A

Seeing Better Days

written by Various Authors

Tenants’ reasonable requests should always be considered, especially with the economy and landlord-tenant law in unchartered territory.

Q. A tenant has asked that the date their monthly rent is due be changed to coincide with the arrival of their unemployment check. Is this a reasonable request?

A. Your tenant wants to make sure they have funds to clear their rent check, and it sounds like they’re making a good faith effort to stay current with you, even while the global economy and landlord-tenant law are in uncharted territory. If all your tenant wants is to be able to slip the check under the door on a different day of the month, I’d be sending her a handwritten thank you note right now. 

But your question—“is changing the due date reasonable”—bears some consideration. First, to “change” the due date requires a 30-day notice under state law, and the due date is going to remain changed until you change it back. Using this method also means it’s not technically effective until the next month (which doesn’t align with what your tenant is asking for). 

In theory, you could have the entire rent for the calendar month of August due on, say, August 14 (even though you’d received August’s rent after the tenant has already enjoyed two weeks of occupancy without paying). This feels unusual, but the default rule under state law is actually that rent is payable at the “termination of the respective periods, as it successively becomes due,” not at the beginning of those periods. 

For this reason, most written leases or oral agreements have rent “due and payable, in advance, on the 1st of the month” (or so the standard boilerplate goes). Aligning due dates to the 1st is also efficient. It’s an easy date for the tenant to remember, and it simplifies administration for the landlord. 

Is it reasonable for you to change the terms of the contract to move the due date? This is up to you, but it seems like it would be easier to just tell your tenant that they can pay the rent due for the month on a date after their unemployment check clears, and if they are timely on that date, you won’t consider it late. (According to its website, the EDD begins paying unemployment checks roughly two weeks after the initial claim is submitted, so I imagine this would be in the middle of the month at the latest.)

Having said that, between the mayor’s moratorium and Supervisor Preston’s legislation (which eliminates nonpayment of rent evictions for rent payments that came due during Governor Newsom’s suspension of evictions), tenants and their advocates are emboldened to not only withhold rent but refuse to enter reasonable arrangements with landlords to come current eventually, or even pay what they can for now. (Whether right or wrong under the circumstance, this practice is becoming more common.) If this tenant wants to stay in good standing with you, and all they’re asking for is a bit more time, you can tell them that you enjoy having them as a tenant and you’re more than happy to wait a bit for their benefits to come in.

—Justin Goodman

Q. Our doorman did not allow a tenant's guest to enter the building with a dog. The tenant's guest has filed a fair housing complaint against me. Is this legal?

A. We hear a lot of stories these days of people both in public and private spaces relying on fair housing and disability protection laws in order to bring their pets into private accommodations. While the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) afford very broad rights to animal owners, these rights are not unlimited. On the assumptions that your building has a no-pets policy; that the tenant’s guest’s dog was not a service animal (like a seeing eye dog); and that the tenant’s guest is claiming they should have been allowed to deviate from the no-pets policy, the short answer is that you can enforce the no-pets policy, subject to certain exclusions for reasonable accommodations.

A disabled tenant, prospective tenant, or even a family member or friend of a tenant or prospective tenant may request a reasonable accommodation of a landlord’s rules, regulations, or policies at any time. Disability is defined very broadly as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A request can be made in any form. You may only ask for verification of the disability if it is not obvious or visible and you do not have prior knowledge of the disability. Verification does not need to be from a doctor—a therapist, nurse, or social worker is sufficient. If it is not obvious, you can also ask how the requested accommodation would alleviate this person’s particular disability.

A request can only be denied if the request was not made by or on behalf of a person with a disability; if there is no disability-related need for the accommodation; or if the accommodation requested is not reasonable. You are required to either grant or deny the request in a reasonable amount of time, and failure to respond constitutes a denial of the request. However, a requestor is not entitled to an immediate response.

In general, when it comes to comfort animals or companion animals, courts are very liberal in allowing them. It is nearly impossible to deny a request for a companion animal without risking liability for housing discrimination.

But, a landlord is not responsible for granting accommodations that are not requested; nor is a landlord required to grant accommodations that are not requested for the tenant or applicant’s benefit. If the dog were brought to the property for the tenant’s benefit—say, as part of therapy—then you would be required to permit the dog, and if the tenant also requested a reasonable accommodation to permit the dog, you could risk liability for refusal to allow the dog to enter the building. You are required by law to accommodate your tenants’ disabilities, when requested—however, you are not required to accommodate a tenant’s guest’s disability.

—Shoshana Raphael

The information contained in this article is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. Justin A. Goodman and Shoshana Raphael are with Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, P.C. and can be reached at 415-956-8100.