What to Do if a Tenant Has an Unauthorized Pet

What to Do if a Tenant Has an Unauthorized Pet

Last Updated: June 1, 2023 by Phil Ahn

A good pet policy is key to protecting your property and tenants. Unfortunately, no matter how detailed and explicit your lease is about not having pets, tenants can still break the rules. If you have a tenant who’s violating your pet policy, you have plenty of options.

What is a Pet Policy?

A pet policy dictates the rules and requirements for having a pet on the leased premises. The policy protects both the landlord and tenant by outlining expectations and conduct around pet ownership.

Given that a lease is a legally binding contract, tenants must uphold the guidelines. For example, the following are types of provisions that are typically covered in a pet policy:

  • Types of pets allowed. Some pet policies might allow for dogs, but not cats. Others may allow only fish, but nothing else. The type of animal allowed will be contingent on what is written in the lease.
  • Number of pets allowed. A tenant may only be allowed to have one or more pets, while others could have an unlimited number of pets.
  • Breed restrictions. Certain breeds of animals are associated with dangerous personalities, such as pitbulls and rottweilers. As such, leases may have provisions that restrict certain breeds to ensure the safety of other tenants.
  • Weight restrictions. A landlord may have a preference for smaller animals due to a smaller living space, or want to minimize the potential for injury by only allowing smaller animals on the property.
  • No-pet policies. Certain leases will simply state that no pets are allowed under any circumstances.
  • Pet deposits or additional monthly charges. There may be additional fees associated with having a pet such as a pet security deposit or an increased monthly pet rent. This is to ensure that the landlord is covered in the event of damages.

Service Animals Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

In some cases, a tenant may get (or bring with them) a service animal even though you have a no pets policy. Emotional support animals, therapy animals, and service animals will likely be allowed regardless of your pet policy because these animals are not considered to be pets under the Fair Housing Act.

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How Tenants Can Get Around a No Pet Policy

Even where there is a no-pet policy, there are ways in which a tenant can bring the pet on the premises without you knowing:

  • Your tenant adopts a pet from the shelter and does not tell you
  • Your tenant begins caring for a pet for a family member or friend who needs help
  • Your tenant is watching someone’s pet for the weekend
  • Your tenant picks a stray off the street and begins caring for it

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

There are times when a tenant will bring a pet onto the premises without your knowledge. However, the pet’s presence may be brought to your attention by a neighbor who heard the pet or noticed the pet outside. When brought to your attention, you should schedule a maintenance check.

Upon suspecting that your tenant is keeping a pet without your permission, you should investigate. There are signs that could indicate the presence of an unauthorized pet within a tenant’s unit such as:

  • Pet odors
  • Pulled threads from the carpet
  • Fur on the carpet and furniture, and in corners
  • Chew/bite marks on the furniture
  • Scratch marks on the walls, doors, and floor

What to Do When There is an Unauthorized Pet

Upon finding out there is an unauthorized pet on the premise, there are a few steps you can take to address the situation:

  • Check the lease
  • Send a notice of a lease violation
  • Begin the eviction process

Check the Lease

If you suspect that a tenant has a pet on the premises, the first thing to do is to check the lease. The lease should clearly state the pet policy and outline what will happen if an unauthorized pet is discovered.

If there is a no-pets policy, then the tenant will be considered to have breached the contract.

Send a Notice of a Lease Violation

With the tenant having breached the contract, the next step would be to send the tenant notice of the violation. It is best to follow formal procedures when dealing with a lease violation. Although you could speak in-person or call the tenant, sending an official notice of the lease violation is essential, in case you need evidence for court.

Begin the Eviction Process

Depending on the state you live in, there will be different requirements when beginning the eviction process. In some states, landlords will need to send a Lease Violation Notice allowing the tenant to cure the violation. In others, landlords do not need to allow the tenant to cure the violation and can immediately begin the eviction process.

Nonetheless, once the notice and timing requirements have been met, you can then file in court to have the tenant evicted.