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.
This article has been updated and was originally published August 17, 2017