A good pet policy is key to protecting your property and your tenants. Unfortunately, no matter how detailed your lease is, tenants can still break the rules. If you have a tenant who’s violating your pet policy, here’s what to do.
Check the Lease
If you suspect that your tenant isn’t complying with your pet policy, the first thing you should do is review your lease. Look at the language and see exactly what it says. Your lease agreement should clearly state your pet policy and outline what will happen if an unauthorized pet is discovered.
If you have a “no pets” policy, then the lease should clearly state that pets are not allowed under any circumstances and if a tenant has one, it will be considered a breach of contract. You may even specify a fine for the lease violation.
A good way of making sure that your tenants comply is by scheduling regular maintenance checks. If a tenant knows that you’ll be checking in on the unit often, they probably won’t try sneaking a pet in.
Here are some scenarios you may come across:
- Your tenant adopts a pet from a shelter and does not tell you.
- Your tenant begins caring for a pet for a family member or friend who needs help.
- A stray befriends your tenant and makes its way into the unit.
- Your tenant is watching someone’s pet for the weekend.
- A pet-owning friend comes over for a bit.
Sometimes the pet is only meant to be staying for a temporary period of time, so the tenant may not think of notifying you. On the other hand, there are some tenants who blatantly violate the terms of the lease and try to conceal their pets from landlords.
Whatever the case, it’s important that you have a specific protocol that can be followed. Enforcing lease terms is essential to effective property management.
Signs of Unauthorized Pets
If you suspect that your tenant is keeping a pet without your permission, you should investigate. There are lots of signs that can indicate the presence of an unauthorized pet:
- Scratch marks on walls, doors, door frames, flooring, or furniture
- Pulled threads from carpet
- Chew/bite marks on furniture
- Fur on the carpet, in corners, or on furniture
- Pet odors
- Poop in the outside area surrounding the unit
Most of the time, a pet will be ousted by a neighbor who has heard a dog barking or has noticed the pet outside. If a neighbor or another tenant informs you of this, you should schedule a maintenance check.
What to Do
Beyond investigating the situation, it’s a good idea to get photographic evidence if possible. You may want to photograph the indications of a pet’s presence rather than try and be the pup-arazzi. Afterward, you should follow through with the terms outlined in your lease agreement.
Generally, the standard protocol is to send the tenant a lease violation notice. Although you can easily pick up the phone and call the tenant, it’s better to use an official document. This way, the entire process is formal, professional, and legal — not to mention you’ll have a record of the incident on file, should you need it. If you allow pets on your property but require that the pet be registered and it is not, this is considered a violation as well. You should send your tenant the violation notice and ask them to register the animal accordingly.
The notice should state the details of the lease violation and the deadline to comply. This time period depends on your state laws and your lease. Sometimes landlords are only required to give 24 hours’ notice, while other times they’re required to give 3-7 days’ notice. You should mention that if the tenant does not comply within the allotted time period, then eviction will follow.
Make sure to mention that they will be responsible for any damages caused by the pet and any fees incurred by the lease violation.
The Bottom Line
Review your lease agreement and make sure your pet policy is rock-solid. If you suspect an unauthorized pet on your property, investigate the situation and send the proper notice your tenant. Keep in mind that service animals cannot be restricted. For more information on pets and your property, visit this page.