Property Management, Tenant Selection, Real Estate News & Tips

My Tenant Has an Unauthorized Pet – Now What?

By on August 14, 2017 in Education with 13 Comments

unauthorized pet

Landlords and property managers have several reasons why the might create a pet policy for their rental property.

A good pet policy will protect the property, comply with insurance, and keep your tenants safe and happy. For these very reasons, some managers and owners will decide that “no pets allowed” is their policy.

If you have a pet-free property, inevitably you will encounter a tenant who decides to sneak an unauthorized pet into their rental.  

Unauthorized pets are typically discovered by management during a routine inspection or a drive by inspection, by maintenance doing a repair on the house, or by a neighboring tenant who sees the pet or hears barking through the walls.

Landlords and property managers need to be prepared for handling the unauthorized pet situation legally and professionally.

Remember, that your tenant has probably bonded with the pet and removing the animal could be emotional. You need to stick to your lease terms and follow legal procedures to get your tenant to remedy the lease violation.

What does your Pet-Policy and Lease Agreement say?

Your lease agreement should clearly state your pet-policy and outline what will happen if an unauthorized pet is discovered.

If you have a no-pets policy, state that pets are not allowed under any circumstances and if a tenant has one, it will be considered a breach of contract.  Additionally, clearly state what fines will be assessed (if any) if an authorized pet is discovered and how many warnings (if any) you will give.

Before they move in, let your tenants know that you intend to schedule quarterly “maintenance visits” to test smoke alarms, replace furnace filters, etc. If they know you plan to visit the property every few months, they’ll be less likely to try to keep an animal on the sly.

If you discover an unauthorized pet, stick to your pet policy. Send the notice, collect the fine, and move forward with an eviction if necessary.

Here are a couple unauthorized pet scenarios:

  • Your tenant adopted a pet at a local shelter and didn’t tell you.
  • Your tenant decided to move their parents’ dog in temporarily (or forever) because their parents asked for help.
  • A stray wandered into the backyard and your tenants started feeding it and letting it inside every now and then.
  • Your tenant is watching a friend’s pet while they are on vacation.
  • Your tenant’s pet-owning friend is just over hanging out and brought their dog along.

In some of these scenarios, it’s clear that your tenant was only keeping a pet temporarily, and might not think of themselves as violating the pet policy. In other cases, such as adopting a new pet, they made a clear choice to violate the terms of their rental contract.

Regardless of the situation, and whether or not the tenant brought a pet onto the property temporarily, you need to stick to your lease and follow through with lease violation procedure.

What to do when you discover the unauthorized pet

If you suspect that your tenant is keeping a pet you haven’t agreed to, it is a good idea to get photographic evidence, if possible. Then follow through on the terms of your agreement.

Typically, you will send your tenant an official notice stating the lease violation and the timeline in which the tenant needs to fix the situation (ie remove the pet). This timeline is largely dependent on your state laws and what your lease says.  In some cases, you can give your 24hrs to remove the pet while other states may require 3-7 days to remedy the situation.  

Tell your tenant that if they do not comply with the timeline to remove the unauthorized pet, you will move forward with an eviction.

You should also inform your tenant of any fines they incurred due to the lease violation, and remind your tenant that they will responsible for any damages caused by the unauthorized pet.

Official Notice of Unauthorized Pet Lease Violation

It is best to follow formal procedures when dealing with a lease violation. While you could easily text or call your tenant to ask them about the pet that was discovered, using an official notice form is always advisable, should you need evidence of proper procedure in court. Additionally, official notices are more likely to be taken seriously by your tenant.

ezLandlord Forms offers landlords and property managers an Unauthorized Pet Lease Violation form that is a clearly-worded document that notifies the tenant that you are aware an unauthorized pet has been living on the property, which is a violation of the lease.  It further states the pet must be removed immediately and that failure to comply could result in eviction and removal from the property, as well as, additional court and attorney fees.

Other Types of Unauthorized Pets

If you allow pets on your property, your pet policy may require that all tenant animals are registered with management. You can require that a tenant tells you the animal’s breed, weight, and name, and gives you copies of current vaccinations. Along with registering the pet with management, you may choose to collect a pet deposit, a non-refundable pet fee and/or pet rent.

If a tenant does not meet all these conditions for having a pet, it would be considered an unauthorized pet.

Some tenants will assume that since they live in a pet-friendly property, they can just decide to get a new pet at any time during their tenancy. However, if they do not comply with your pet-policy, they would technically be violating their lease with an unauthorized pet. Make sure to review with your tenants at lease signing what to do if they decide they want to move a pet into the property mid-lease.

What about Service Animals and Therapy Animals?

Landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with service animals and therapy animals under the Fair Housing Act.

If you have a no pets policy, you have to make reasonable accommodations for service and therapy animals. Companion animals, emotional support animals (ESA), therapy animals are terms used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person.  

Here are the basic guidelines for landlords and property managers, as outlined by The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in regards to service animals at rental properties.

  • Service animals are not considered pets, therefore a housing providers “pet policy” does not apply to service animals.
  • Service animals are allowed wherever a person may go, including restricted animal areas like food establishments.
  • Landlords cannot collect a pet deposit or charge a pet fee to persons with a service animal (since they are not technically considered pets).
  • Landlords cannot enforce weight limits or breed restrictions for service animals.
  • Landlords can require written verification from the tenant’s health care provider that they are disabled but cannot ask for any specifics about the disability.
  • Landlords can require written verification from the tenant’s health care provider that the service animal is medically necessary.
  • Landlords can write warnings or even evict a tenant with an assistance animal is disturbing others, posing a threat to others or causing considerable damage to the property.
  • Landlords can charge a tenant for any property damage an assistance animal causes on the property.
  • Landlords can request copies of the animal’s health records to prove the animal is in good health, parasite free and immunized/vaccinated.

Tenant requests for assistance animals are legally enforceable if the renter qualifies for reasonable accommodation.  

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides further clarification on service animals and assistance animals to help housing providers understand their responsibility when it comes to reasonable accommodation.

Reasonable Accommodation for Therapy and Companion Animals

Although the ADA treats companion animals differently than service animals, the Federal Fair Housing laws treat them similarly.  Companion animals do qualify for reasonable accommodations under the Fair Housing Act and enforced by HUD.

If the conditions outlined above are met, where an individual has a verified need for an assistance animal or a companion animal, the landlord or property manager must provide a reasonable accommodation and allow the animal on the property.

In some states, a companion animal is only allowed in the rental unit and not in community spaces of the property, like the pool area or recreation room.


Related Reading For You:

10 Reasons My Rental Application Was Denied

Ultimate Guide for Landlords and Service Animals

How to Get Your Tenants To Pay Rent On Time

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About the Author

About the Author: Kaycee (Wegener) Miller manages marketing and media relations for Rentec Direct, bringing a unique perspective to the world of property management and proudly shares industry news, products, and trends within the community. .

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  1. mark soskin says:

    Hello.
    I have the tenant in my rental for 7 month. Our contract says ” no pets”. A week ago I was informed that there is a dog on my property. I reported this to my management. They explained that the tenant was watching their parent’s dog and wants to keep this dog as theirs. They offered to collect pet deposit $ 500. We wanted to let them keep the dog under certain our requests: keep the dog deposit, pay pet rent $ 50 a month since we have one year old carpet and newly painted walls. Keep in mind that the dog is a puppy, German Shepherd from my gardener description. Also we requested that their dog will be added to renters insurance (by contract the tenant should care rentals insurance upon move in) In return we got email from the property manager :
    The tenants informed us that their dog is an emotional support animal. We are waiting for documentation from the tenants to support this.

    Once a pet becomes a support animal it is no longer considered a pet and no pet rent or pet deposit can be collected.

    What can I legally do. Please advise.
    Thanks.

    Mark

    • This is an unfortunate reality of the nature of emotional support animals and their effect on rental housing. Just when you are ready to implement a perfectly reasonable pet policy, your tenant can go and pay XXX amount of money to have their pet registered as an emotional support animal. Which puts your property and investment at risk. While I personally support the validity of an emotional support animal and their benefits to people, it can be frustrating for a landlord since there is little, to no regulations about breed restrictions, training, or proof of safe behavior.

      At this point, the only thing you can do is do require the tenant to pay for any damages the support animal does to the property. Make sure to reinspect the property now, so you have excellent proof of animal caused damage. If the animal proves to be dangerous to other tenants, the neighborhood or other people, you might be able to ask that the animal be removed from the property.

      I would also suggest writing to your congressman about requiring regulations for emotional support animals for rental housing. It seems like it’s too easy for some individuals to take advantage of the current system, which ultimately hurts those who truly need and benefit from the current ESA reasonable accommodations requirements from landlords and housing providers.

      • htaquee says:

        We encountered similar issue. They provided us certificates of two registered emotional support dog (USAR) but not letter of verification from the tenant’s health care provider that the service animal is medically necessary. Can we not get similar written letter for emotional animal?

        I will appreciate all the help provided to us. Is there any govt dept for helping landlords? our property is in Everett,WA,USA

        • I believe you allowed to request a medical verification letter for emotional support animals from the tenant. This is actually more legitimate than having proof from a ESA registry.

          You cannot ask a tenant why they need an ESA or what is wrong with them. But you can request that their health care provider submit a letter saying that the tenant has a medical need for an ESA.

          Here is some more information: https://www.rentecdirect.com/blog/service-animals/

          • Husain Taquee says:

            Thank you for your reply. I tried but my property manager is refusing to ask for that letter from tenants because she says she is afraid of being sued. and asked me to get govt (hud) letter saying that landlord is allowed to ask for such letter. And Hud is not responding to my emails even though Hud agent on phone confirmed that I am as landlord allowed to seek letter of proof from tenants medical practitioner that they require such ESA.

            Any suggestion how can i make my property manager (Mogan Real Estate Management company) to get that letter from tenants?

            My property is in Washington State of USA.

          • It sounds like the manager isn’t working for your best interest as an owner. It might be time to look for a new manager. You can also ask if you can add a lease addendum specific to emotional support animals, including requesting . I would speak with an attorney in your state who can help you and will clarify your legal rights in Washington State. He will be able to help you draft a legal letter to your property manager asking that the tenant provide proper documentation. A lawyer might be more expensive but he will be more responsive than HUD and will be able to provide you with the answers you need. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

  2. Justin says:

    Author is dumber than a box of rocks. I’m not going to evict a good tenant and risk several thousands of dollars because they have a little cat or dog.

    I wonder if the author even owns property.

  3. John says:

    Justin has a point, but comes across as an Internet troll. The author had good, valid points, a real landlord (not an Internet troll and probably a renter) can decide as an adult about the value of reaction or to proactively note up front, as author explains. The bigger story should be about this emotional support animal crap that is plaguing the country. I’m tired of dogs in restaurants, stores, rentals.

    • Thanks John, I appreciate your support and feedback. And yes, I too am very curious about how emotional support animals will be handled moving forward. It seems a little out of control at the moment. And it’s especially frustrating when people don’t understand the current laws. I am all for further clarification and regulations on ESA in restaurants, pools, airplanes, rentals.

  4. Anita says:

    What is a landlord allowed to do if there was not a “no pets” clause in the original lease? It’s a month to month lease.

    • If your tenant has an unauthorized pet and you have a no pets clause in the lease agreement you both signed, you can move forward with a cure or quit notice, per your state’s laws. If your tenant claims the animal is an Emotional Support Animal, you must make reasonable accommodation for the pet per Fair Housing guidelines.

  5. John says:

    Anita, as was mentioned, IF pet is a ridiculous ’emotional support animal’ (not sure I’d want to rent to someone who needs fluffy at side at all times, but I can’t say that), then all you can do is ask for medical verification for the ‘need’, but I guess you can’t ask bout the ‘need.’ Also, I’ve seen this proof in whacky CA and it’s just as ridiculous (probably gotten on ebay. I learned of all this when a colleague showed his ‘letter’ and the ‘vest’ he got on ebay so he could take Fluffy on a plane. But, he was an emotional case so I suspected there could be some truth there, but he did clearly show me the easy loopholes. Since, I’ve seen train conductors, bus drivers and others chastize and evil call authorities when patron had a growling mut and called it ’emotional support.’ Finally, said colleague ran into issue flying internationally because foreign plae operator didn’t have that silly ‘law.’

    As a landlord, you can’t treat and ESA as a pet, can’t ‘retaliate with fee or increased rent, etc. In CA, mo-to-mo still requires 60 days notice if over a year. If I was concerned, I’d find other ways to raise rent, but it may be tough. I think all citizens, not just landlords need to start writing letters – I saw a pet on a lap of a guy at a restaurant as HE ATE. I was done r I’d have raised hell, I just left. This morning a terrier was at my side in starbucks (the grand champion of tolerating everything, except Christians) and pets are routinely in GROCERY STORES…

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