What Should You Do if Your Tenant Has a Pet Without Permission?
As a landlord, you're going to come across issues with tenants at some point. One of those issues may have to do with pets. While most of us can agree that some pets are cute and fun to have around, every landlord has their reasons as to why they might not want to allow pets in their rental property.
Pets can be a risk for a landlord — they may cause damage to the rental, leave smells behind or cause problems with neighbors, so you may want to avoid any of these issues altogether by not allowing pets at all. If you've discovered that a tenant has pets without your permission, it is important to handle the situation carefully in order to avoid any legal issues.
Specify pet policies in the lease
The lease agreement you provide to tenants should specify your property's pet policy. Review this with the tenant before they sign so they know exactly what you expect as the landlord. If there's not a section about pets in the lease, then there are no legal grounds to keep tenants from having a pet in the rental, so make sure you've updated your lease with your expectations.
Ask your tenant
If your tenant has signed the lease with your pet policy, they're legally bound to that policy and cannot have pets on the property. If you find that your tenant has a pet in the rental without permission, before you accuse your tenant of violating the lease, calmly talk to them about the situation.
Ask them why they have the pet and get some context from their perspective. They may have misunderstood the rental agreement or they have rescued a stray or injured animal and wanted to take care of it while searching for its owner — and it's taking longer than they anticipated.
Explain the issue
Once you've gotten your tenant's side of the story, explain to them that they cannot have pets on the property. You can reference the relevant section of their rental contract and kindly remind them what they signed for.
Give written notice
Along with speaking about it in person or over the phone, provide some form of written notice that highlights the problem and how you would like to resolve it. This can be in the form of a physical letter, but it's better to do it via email or text so that you can easily communicate back and forth as needed while tracking the exchange.
When providing your solution, it's important to provide a deadline by which the tenant must have the pet removed from the property. Give a specific date and time so that there's no confusion as to when the pet needs to be out of the rental.
Refusal to remove pets
If the tenant refuses to remove the pets, you may have the option to evict the tenant for violating the lease agreement. However, this will depend on where you live as each state has its own laws for eviction. This may involve serving your tenant with a formal eviction notice and going through your state's legal process for eviction.
Also, you have to ask if the pets are, in fact, doing a job as emotional support or service animals. That brings us to our next point.
Emotional support animals
In some cases, the tenant may claim that the pet is necessary for emotional support or as a service animal. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
If the tenant has a legitimate need for an emotional support animal or service animal, you may be required to make reasonable accommodations for the animal. However, if this is the case, your tenant should have a letter from a medical or mental health professional that specifies their needs.
Allowing pets in the rental
If you change your mind and decide to allow the tenant to keep the pets on the property, it may be necessary to modify the lease agreement to include specific terms and conditions related to the pets.
This could include requiring the tenant to pay a pet deposit and/or a monthly pet fee, getting the pet approved through an official application process or following certain rules regarding the care and behavior of the pets and maintenance of the rental.
Get everything in writing
Regardless of the outcome, you should document all communications and actions related to the unauthorized pets. This can help protect you as the landlord and provide evidence in the event of any legal disputes.
In addition to addressing unauthorized pets, you can also consider taking steps to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future. This may involve adding a separate signature for the pet policy section specifically or having a more thorough screening process for tenants.
Stay calm and follow the law
Overall, the key for you in this situation is to remain professional and to carefully follow all relevant laws and regulations. By taking these steps, you can effectively address the issue of unauthorized pets and protect your rights as a property owner.