Renter has unauthorized pet. What can I do?

As a landlord or property manager you expect your tenants to abide by the rules you have set. However, sometimes they deliberately do not. This article shares everything you need to know to correctly deal with such a situation.

Your tenant’s neighbor has just informed you that he saw your tenant walking 4 dogs down the street, right before he took them inside the property you have rented out to them. 4 dogs? That can’t be right… your rental agreement states that pets are not allowed. So what is your next move?

Check your contract

Make sure you double-check your contract to see if you added the pet policy clause. If your policy is strictly no pets allowed, then under no circumstances should the tenant keep any. If they do, it will be considered a breach of contract. It is still considered a breach of contract if you have set the upper limit of pets allowed and your tenant’s pet count exceeds that. For example, if your lease agreement allows one pet and the renter has 4 pets, they are in violation of the agreement.

However, if you have not added a pet policy in your lease contract, you will probably not be able to do much about your tenant’s pet. If this is the case, you should update your lease agreement to add in this clause and the penalties that go along with breaching it. We recommend using HomeKasa’s ironclad lease agreement so that you have all aspects covered in your best interest.

Your lease agreement spells out the repercussions of violating the agreed-upon terms. For example, a fine may be charged for a parking violation. You even have the right to evict your tenant if they breach the contract for pet policy. Also, check whether the pet policy is a term or a warranty in the contract. If it is set out as a term, breach of this clause will terminate the contract and you can legally evict your tenant. This is because a fundamental clause of the contract has been breached. If it is set out as a warranty, you may be able to fine your tenant because it will still be a breach of contract, but the contract itself does not come to an end, because warranties are not as fundamental to contracts as terms.

Communication is key

Even if your policy states that no pets are allowed inside the property, you can tell your tenant to contact you and discuss their plans openly and honestly with you if they are thinking of keeping a pet. Perhaps your contract states no pets are allowed, but you don’t mind a small fish tank in the apartment. Either way, having a conversation about it (even if your final answer to the tenant is ‘no’) is always best. At least after this, your tenant cannot claim they were in the dark about your pet policy.

Pros and cons of renting to pet owners

Keep a check

If you are not lucky enough to have neighbors inform you that your tenants are secretly pet lovers, you can keep a check on them yourself. Make sure you schedule maintenance checks with your tenant. If these are regular enough, your tenant will probably not sneak in a pet. On the off chance that they still do, you will be quick to find out through these visits.

How to find an ideal tenant

Sometimes a friend of the tenant will come over and live with them for the week, or your tenant may be watching someone else’s pet for the weekend. In these scenarios, your tenant may not think to notify you because the pet situation is just temporary. If this is still of serious concern to you, tell your tenants that they must notify you about this situation in advance if it arises again.

On the other hand, some tenants just blatantly violate the rules that have been set out to them before renting out your property. In any case, you must enforce the lease terms that are set out in the contract and their consequences. Enforcement of rules is very important, as it sets a standard of property management. It also makes sure your tenant will not be violating any other clauses in the contract. An example of this would be renovating your property without permission.

How to screen tenants?

Investigating

Your tenant may be smart enough to hide their unauthorized pet when you come in for maintenance checks. This can be done in many ways, one of which is leaving the pet at a friend’s house till you leave the property. But just because you do not physically see the pet in the property does not mean it is not there. While you are inside the property for an inspection or a maintenance check, look for the following signs, which should give you a good idea of whether or not your tenant is breaching the lease.

  • Scratch marks on walls, floors and doors
  • Scratch marks on sofa (the fabric will usually look like it has been plucked with a pin over and over again. This is especially true for tenants that own dogs or cats)
  • Furballs in the corners of the room
  • Fur on the tenant’s clothes, sofas and carpets
  • Dug up mud in the garden or yard outside
  • Pet odors
  • Pet chew toys and food
  • Pet bowls for food
  • Litter box inside or outside of the property

Other than this, it is always good to have documented and photographed evidence before you can file for damages or to have your tenant evicted. HomeKasa makes it easy to document the condition of your house before, during, and after renting. If you have neighbors who have informed you about the unauthorized pet, ask them to take a picture of it whenever they see it next. Take pictures of the signs listed above as you see them in the property while doing a maintenance check.

Conduct random drivebys. You will not be entering the property, but you can check the yard or look into the house from the outside for any signs of a pet. Drivebys do not need advance notice to the renter as you will not be entering the property.

What to do next

So you have discovered your tenant is hiding their pet from you. Now what? As the property manager, you need to remember to be professional. If you are carrying out a maintenance check of the property and you see the signs of a pet, you can tell them right there and then what their options are. You can also go home and call them to explain these. However, the best way to do this is to send them an official notice. This way the entire process will be legal, formal, and you will have documentary evidence if the need for it arises. Also, the tenant will not be able to deny you communicating with them about their options as they could if you had phoned them or spoke to them in person. HomeKasa has pre-made templates for such situations and also allows you to communicate with your tenants from the platform. It keeps a record of all communications.

The official notice you send to them should include details about their violation; how they have violated the lease, their options here on out, and their deadline to reply. Their deadline will depend on state laws and what you have set out in your lease. This can range anywhere from 24 hours to a week. Tell them they are liable for any damages to the property the pet may have caused, and also liable to pay the fees for the lease violation. Also mention that if they do not comply with your rules, eviction may follow.

Renters' options

You must be firm when enforcing your rules on the pet policy you have set out in the lease, but don’t forget to be compassionate too. People are usually very attached to their pets and cannot just give them away on a moment’s notice. Here are some options you can give your tenant:

  • If you are very firm in your ‘no pets allowed’ rule, tell them they have a certain period of time to give away their pet, or find a new place to live for themselves.
  • If you are willing to bend the rules a bit, you can negotiate with your tenant. Ask your tenant to pay a higher rent per pet if they want to keep their pets. Also, ask for extra security deposit per pet. Tell them they will be liable for any damages caused to the property by their pet.
  • If you do allow pets in your property but only when they are registered with you, you can still send them an official notice. This will set out the options they have, which would be to register their pet with you, or find another home for it. To register their pet with you, you can require them to fill out a form to give you all the information on the pet. This can include the name, breed, vaccinations, weight, and age. This is important to know so that your tenant does not house a pet that is illegal to keep in the U.S. This includes any exotic pets, bats, and big cats such as lions and tigers.

No matter what your pet policy is, keep in mind that service animals are an exception. Service animals are trained animals that help disabled people with everyday life. U.S federal laws do not allow landlords to charge extra from tenants who keep service animals with them or evict them because of the pet.

Keep all communications with your tenant formal and professional, but also respectful and empathetic of their feelings, at the same time. Pet owners are usually very attached to their pets so keep that in mind before you send them a notice saying they must get rid of their pet in the next 24-hours. Remember to find a good balance; take your responsibilities as a property manager seriously, while also keeping your tenant happy. Visit HomeKasa for more articles on pet policies pertaining to rental properties.

HomeKasa offers the best property management software. You can set lease agreements, screen tenants, manage multiple properties, collect rent, communicate with renters, and more, all from one place. It’s free, get started now.

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