Pet Policies

A landlord’s business decision to allow pets on rental premises is an individualized assessment of potential risk of property damage and increased risk of liability for injuries caused by pet behaviors. Pet behaviors, such as chewing, scratching, and marking interior surfaces like carpets, flooring, and woodwork can cause serious property damage. Exterior landscaping can be destroyed by destructive digging behaviors of pets. Pet odors and unsanitary conditions can create waste and nuisance problems on the rental property. Noise from animals can be disruptive to neighboring tenants and excessive noise may violate tenants’ rights to quiet enjoyment of their rental units. Tenant complaints may become more frequent if the noise and disturbance are not properly addressed by the landlord through enforcement of terms and conditions of the pet agreement. Landlord insurance coverages may need to be increased to provide greater protections against claims of injury or damage.

If the business risk is unacceptable, a landlord can set a No Pets policy for his properties. If business risk is acceptable, a landlord can set a Pets Allowed policy that details the terms and conditions for pets on the rental property.

Landlords who have pet friendly properties address concerns of risk through appropriate lease clauses, the use of detailed written pet policies, written pet agreements, and pet deposits, fees, and rents. For many landlords, having pet friendly rental policies can translate into a larger applicant pool, reduced time to rent, lower tenant turnover, and potential for additional rental revenues.

In general, a tenant does not have the right to have an unauthorized pet in his rental unit. Pet ownership is currently not a protected characteristic under fair housing protections. However, landlords as housing providers under the federal Fair Housing Act are required to provide reasonable accommodation to persons with disabilities who require assistance animals. Emotional support animals are considered assistance animals under fair housing guidelines. Accordingly, a landlord must grant reasonable accommodation to a tenant with an emotional support animal even if the landlord’s rental policies prohibit pets.

All tenants, even if they do not have a pet at the time of move-in, should be required to sign the lease agreement containing a pet clause and, as referenced, a separate lease addendum detailing terms and condition of a pet agreement. This alerts tenants that should they want to have a pet at a future date, they will need to comply with lease terms and conditions to move an approved pet into their household.

It is important to address the issue of pets on the rental property in the landlord’s lease agreement. Without an applicable lease clause for pet rules and regulations, there would be nothing to prevent a tenant from keeping any number of pets, and any type of animal on the rental premises without landlord permission.

To be legally enforceable and effective for animal control, pet policies, rules and regulations must be written, specific in nature, and detailed sufficiently in a clear and unambiguous language to adequately protect property, other tenants, and control pet behavior on the property. Pet ownership duties and responsibilities by tenants during their tenancy should be detailed in the pet agreement.

There are many issues to consider when setting adequate pet policies. A landlord should clearly disclose in writing his pet policies to applicants and tenants regarding information and notification requirements for pet ownership during a tenancy. Most pet owners have a domestic cat or dog as a pet, sometimes birds, fish or other small mammals. A landlord’s pet policies can specify the type, species of animal, size, and weight limit of a pet, as well as restrict the number of pets per tenant household. Landlords should always prohibit any animals that are excluded from the liability coverage under their landlord insurance policy, for example,  dog breeds that are considered dangerous.

Pet policies should clearly state that only approved pets of tenants will be allowed on the rental property. A pet policy can prohibit tenants from pet sitting for friends or family and prohibit guests from bringing their pets onto the property.

Having a pet and having an approved pet are entirely different issues that must be clarified with applicants and tenants. Pets must be approved by landlord written authorization before being allowed to move into the tenant household.

A landlord can set pet qualification and approval standards. As examples, a landlord can require all pets to wear identification tags or collars; require proof of required vaccinations, licenses, and registrations per local ordinances; require pets to be spayed or neutered; and require pets to be house trained. Landlord approval of pets is conditional upon the tenant’s compliance with the terms and conditions of the pet agreement. Material violations of pet policies and rules and regulations detailed in the pet agreement may result in landlord action to request removal of the pet from the rental property or legal action to terminate the tenancy.

A landlord’s pet policies should make tenants responsible for their pets. Tenant duties, pet rules and regulations should be clearly detailed in the pet agreement. Some of the common tenant responsibilities include:

  • Tenant has read, understood, and agrees to comply with landlord’s rental policies regarding pets.
  • Tenant shall be responsible for pet at all times.
  • Tenant agrees to keep pet under full control at all times.
  • Tenant agrees to keep pet restrained by hand-held lease or in pet carrier at all times on or off the rental property.
  • Tenant agrees to take all reasonable measures to prevent/prohibit pet from creating a nuisance, disturbance, or annoyance to neighboring tenants.
  • Tenant agrees to not leave pet unattended for an unreasonable period of time.
  • Tenant agrees to clean up after pet and properly and promptly dispose of pet waste inside and outside the rental premises including any and all common areas.
  • Tenant agrees to not leave pet food or water outside rental unit where it may attract pests or other animals.
  • Tenant has disclosed any and all pets in the tenant household. Tenant agrees to request prior landlord written approval of any additional pet or substitute pet.
  • Tenant acknowledges financial responsibility for damage, loss or expense caused by pet.

Regarding the last item above, in general, a landlord can hold a tenant responsible for any damages caused by the tenant, by members of the tenant’s family, by guests of the tenant, by agents of the tenant, and by animals brought on to the leased premises. This includes damages to property of the landlord inside and outside the tenant’s particular rental unit, damages to common areas, damages to property of other tenants, and damages to property of visitors to the property. Also included are injuries caused by any of the listed persons or by their animals.

Pet policies can include requirements for additional deposits, rents, or other fees related to pets but must comply with state statutes and local ordinances. As allowed by statute and lease agreement, a landlord may require a pet deposit to cover costs of pet damages or additional cleaning required to return the rental unit to good condition upon the tenant’s move-out. Accounting and return of pet deposit funds are handled in a similar manner as tenant security deposits. Some landlords charge a non-refundable pet fee payable at tenant move-in as an administrative cost to permit the tenant to have a pet in the rental unit. In addition to the tenant’s monthly rent amount, some landlords may charge an additional amount for monthly pet rent.

For additional risk protections, a landlord, as allowed by state statute, should require tenants carry rental insurance that includes adequate liability coverages including coverage for damage caused by pet accidents. Tenants should review policy coverages carefully to make sure the policy does not contain a dog bite exclusion or other animal-related limitation.

To help mitigate business risk, a landlord should have a strong lease agreement, adequately detailed pet policies and applicable pet agreement, and utilize pet deposits, pet fees, and pet rent as applicable to business necessity and legal compliances.

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