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How do I make sure that a tenant is responsible for their pet?

Tenants who are pet owners already have some obligations and responsibilities under the law. They are generally responsible for any damage their pets cause and for making sure their pets do not make noise that unreasonably disturbs neighbors. Landlords can take steps and set and enforce rules to help ensure pet owning tenants do not cause problems. 

What measures can I take to protect my property and other tenants?

If you do not already address pets in your Lease Agreement, you may ask tenants to sign a Pet Addendum or Lease Amendment. If your Lease Agreement does not say anything about pets, pets may be allowed.

It is generally a best practice to provide information about pets in your Lease Agreements. You may want to restrict the type, number, or size and weight of pets. It is common for landlords to charge pet deposits or additional pet rent to cover potential damage.

Service animals, however, are not pets, and are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Emotional support animals may also be protected under many state and local laws. If a tenant has a service animal, you may not charge additional fees, unless there is damage. If the animal disturbs other tenants or neighbors, however, you may want to talk with a lawyer about your options.

Can I set and enforce pet rules?

Landlords may set rules for pets. For example, you may require tenants to clean up after their pets or have rules about excessive barking, noise, aggressive behavior, or damages. If you have a multi-unit property, you might require pets to always be on a leash when in any common areas.

Fines may be an appropriate punishment for violations, especially if included in your Lease Agreement, Pet Addendum, or Lease Amendment. You can also specify that repeat or serious violations could result in eviction, or a demand to rehome the pet.

What questions should I ask about a tenant's potential pet?

When a tenant asks about a potential pet, you may want to ask questions to figure out if the pet is appropriate for the space. Consider asking: 

  • What type of pet do they want to get?
  • How large is the pet? Ask specifically about expected full weight and size, particularly for puppies.
  • What is the pet's temperament?

If your tenant is renting a whole house, a large dog that barks a lot may be an appropriate pet. That large and rambunctious dog, however, may not be a good fit for a multifamily apartment building.

When it comes to service animals, the Americans with Disabilities Act typically limits questions that landlords may ask. The two questions, generally, that landlords may ask include: 

  • Is the animal a service animal that is required because of a disability?
  • What work or task is the service animal trained to perform?

Local laws may have similar limitations on what you can ask about, or require for, emotional support animals. You may want to speak with a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for advice about service animals.

Am I allowed to change my mind regarding a pet policy?

Once you decide to allow a pet, that decision generally becomes part of your Lease Agreement. You typically cannot change your mind about allowing a pet or changing your pet policy:

  • Unless the tenant or pet violates the rules you set.
  • The Lease Agreement ends.
  • Unless your Lease Agreement allows you to do so. 

You may make changes as part of your lease renewal and the tenant can accept the changes, negotiate, or vacate at the end of their lease term. If they refuse to vacate, you may be able to evict the tenant.

Can I evict a tenant for a pet that I allowed?

You generally cannot evict a tenant simply for having a pet that you allowed. Even if your original Lease Agreement says no pets and you made an exception, courts might conclude that you waived the no-pets rule. A Lease Amendment can, however, preserve your right to change your mind later, if you include language that allows you to do so. 

However, if you want to evict a tenant because of problems with a pet, you have options. The first step is to notify them of your pet rules. If problems continue, you may consider sending them a notice to remove the problem pet from the rental unit. If they do not comply, you may want to send an Eviction Notice so that you can take legal action if they do not rehome their pet.

How can I refuse a tenant's reasonable pet request?

There are several reasons you might not want to allow a pet, even if you believe a tenant would be responsible or you approve of a specific animal. You may want to explain to the tenant that:

  • If you say yes to their pet and no to others, this can lead to complaints from tenants who also want a pet.
  • Other tenants may have allergies, so pets could pose health problems.
  • If there are recent upgrades, you may not want to risk damage to new flooring, stairs, and other fixtures.
  • Certain pets may pose risks that increase property insurance costs.

If you have questions about allowing pets or handling a tenant's disruptive pet, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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