San Diego is on the map as one of the dog friendliest of cities. Beaches, hiking trails, and even some stores and cafés accommodate four-legged visitors. It’s all here, from dog sports to doggy daycare. But the welcome mat has a flip side, and it’s raising questions about the rights of both dog and property owners. It’s not the perks; it’s the digs. A growing pack of owners face housing restrictions that are redefining the size and shape of man’s best friend…ever downward.
“I never had a problem before moving to San Diego,” says Maureen Dayon, who recently gave up one of her dogs due to her new townhome’s breed restrictions. Like most rentals and properties with HOAs (housing associations), the townhome also has weight limits that further prescribe the type of dog a tenant may keep. Dayon still has Jack, a black lab-pit mix who frolics at the Laurel Street dog park while she tells her tale. It began in 2005, when she moved here from Florida to live with her boyfriend. When the relationship ended, Dayon had to move into a hotel for almost two months before finding an apartment that would take Jack, who doesn’t conform to most weight or breed restrictions — or both.
“Places didn’t advertise their pet policies,” Dayon says, making it that much harder. On her next move, she and her new husband, a marine sergeant, faced the same problem. They eventually rented an older house in Serra Mesa, but when Dayon became pregnant, the couple sought a larger home.
By now they had a second dog, Miley, a pit bull mix Dayon was fostering — meaning she didn’t own Miley, but was sheltering her temporarily — through a rescue organization called It’s The Pits. Dogs that are fostered have a higher chance of adoption, rescues say. Dayon describes Miley as timid.
When the couple toured the Mission Valley townhome they hoped to rent, the manager advised her there was a 35-pound weight limit per pet. No breed restrictions were discussed, Dayon says. Since Miley was a foster dog, she only mentioned Jack — and the fact that he was “larger.” The manager replied that they were “trying to get corporate to allow” dogs that exceeded the limit. Three weeks later Dayon was told that Jack would be allowed in. A written pet policy she had requested wasn’t provided, Dayon says.
It wasn’t until she signed the lease that Dayon saw the breed restrictions, prohibiting pit bulls. By then she had movers lined up and her husband was about to leave for Afghanistan. Restarting the house hunt wasn’t much of an option.
Dayon’s dogs were pit bull mixes, and she reasoned that the pet fees gave them additional leeway. “My pet deposit was more than my move-in deposit,” she says. On top of a steep rent, the couple was also charged $35 per month “pet rent.”
It was after they’d moved in and Dayon’s husband left for Afghanistan that she got a call from the leasing office.
“We were looking in your window and saw that you have a pit bull,” Dayon says, relating the conversation. “We definitely don’t allow pit bulls.”
The dog in the window was Miley, whom a photo shows to resemble primarily a “pit bull” — a catch-all breed category that encompasses the American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier.
“You haven’t seen our pet policy. It’s on page two,” Dayon was told.
According to the townhome’s website, its pet policy is: two pets per home; a maximum weight limit of 35 pounds per pet; a $500 refundable deposit; monthly pet rent of $50 per pet; and breed restrictions that prohibit Rottweilers, Dobermans, Chows, pit bulls, and German Shepherds. “Additional breeds may be restricted,” the site states. No mention is made of pit bull mixes.
Dayon told them Miley was a “lab mix.”
In September, as she unloaded a new crib one day, Jack left the garage and bounded up to a neighbor walking by. Dayon says he jumped up, but didn’t harm the woman, who nevertheless filed an incident report with the leasing office. Soon after, Dayon says, “I got a 36-hour notice to get rid of Miley.”
Faced with moving again, Dayon decided to return Miley to the rescue organization. “I literally had a nervous breakdown,” she says of their parting. It was hard on the animals, too. “Jack lost ten pounds in the week after she left.”
Shannon Van Dorn, a Los Angeles attorney, is now at the center of a case that may set a precedent on issues for renters across the state. Van Dorn’s case against a Homeowner’s Association in Los Angeles challenges its pet weight restriction (25 pounds) as a violation of a California civil code that allows a condominium owner to keep one of “any” dog, cat, bird, or fish subject to reasonable rules and regulations of the association. Her claim states that the association’s rule unreasonably dictates the type of dog a homeowner may have. “There is really no case law to follow here,” she says in an email interview; the statute has not been challenged since it was implemented in 2001. Initially, the association sued Van Dorn for keeping a 75-pound golden retriever. Van Dorn, who says her lease allowed the dog, counter-sued.
Deborah Schowalter, a property owner who rents her Mission Hills duplex to dog owners, says the San Diego County Bar Animal Law Committee “years ago started recommending that landlords not put weight restrictions, as they were unenforceable and not justifiable.”
That concern is echoed by agent Steve Berg, owner of San Diego Castles Realty, in a September blog post, “HOA Rules Gone to the Dogs.” In it, Berg describes how his well-qualified client couldn’t make it into escrow because of his dog’s 45-pound weight; another case that “may go legal.” Berg says he only recently learned that most condominiums have pet restrictions — and “they all seem to be different.” Why, he asks, is a 29-pound dog okay while a 31-pound dog is not? The limit set by the various HOAs “is random at best. Sometimes it is 30 pounds, other times 35 pounds, and still others, 15 is the magic number…”