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When should rental agreements prohibit large fish tanks and exotic animals?

While many tenants think fish do not count as pets since they are contained in an enclosure, a fish tank that leaks may cause a lot of damage. The risk with other exotic pets, like snakes, is that they can escape, cause damage or slither into neighboring units striking fear into other tenants.

If you want to prohibit these types of animals, you may wish to include pet restrictions in your lease before the tenant moves in or at lease renewal. If you choose to allow them, you may want to increase the security deposit or add pet rent.

What should you do if you discover a tenant is keeping a wild animal on your property?

If you discover a tenant is keeping a wild animal, you have a few options.

  • If it is illegal to possess the animal, you can always demand the tenant remove it immediately or contact the appropriate wildlife law enforcement agency.
  • If it is legal to possess the animal and not in violation of the lease, you may negotiate with the tenant to persuade them to relocate the animal and agree to future restrictions.
  • If the animal is in violation of your lease, you can use the remedies provided by your lease.

If you allow the animal to remain when it is not allowed under the lease, propose a Lease Amendment with your tenant to avoid losing your authority to enforce pet rules in the future. If you suspect a tenant has a wild animal but are not sure, you may need to provide a  Landlord Notice to Enter before you go to check.

How to handle a tenant that installs a large aquarium?

A large aquarium is a combination of a pet and a piece of furniture. First off, the fish or other aquatic creatures must be allowed by your lease. Next, the tank itself may be subject to lease restrictions such as a prohibition on wall modifications, or similar provisions that prohibit waterbeds. The tenant may also be responsible if the tank causes damage to the flooring or drywall.

Whether the tenant needs permission to install the aquarium depends on your lease. If you allow the aquarium to remain, you may want to inspect it to ensure the surrounding area is protected from damage and inform the tenant that they would be responsible. Additionally, you may want to add a provision requiring the tenant to report any leaks that do occur, as water damage can cause hidden problems.

What can property managers do about nontraditional pets?

The landlord and property manager generally have a pretty wide degree of latitude on how to handle nontraditional pets as long as the lease permits them. You typically do not need to allow nontraditional pets just because you allow cats and dogs. However, if you do not put a rule in the lease that you can point to for justification, you cannot force a tenant to remove a pet just because it scares you or grosses you out. To avoid unforeseen situations, you may want all pet owners to complete a Pet Application Form for Rental before allowing tenants to bring pets into their rentals.

What you choose is also a business decision. You will want to consider the risk of damage, the potential to increase rental income by improving tenant satisfaction, and whether the pet would affect other tenants or increase your liability.

Can property owners evict a tenant’s pet?

Technically, evictions are for people, but there are circumstances where you can ask a tenant to remove a pet. Be mindful that service animals are not considered pets, and special rules apply for guide and service animals. Some examples of when you can remove a pet include the following:

  • It is not allowed by the lease.
  • It creates a nuisance like excessive barking.
  • It causes damage, like mold, or destroys structures.
  • It escapes the rental unit and gets into another tenant's unit.

Typically, you may give the tenant a written notice of the lease violation and demand they fix the problem. If they refuse to remove the pet, or do what is needed to cure the problem, your next step may be to file for eviction for failure to cure the lease violation. Attempting to physically remove a pet on your own could subject you to legal liability. 

If you need help with a tenant’s unwanted pet or updating your lease agreements to add rules or restrictions for pets, ask a lawyer.

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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