Imagine the following scenario: you’ve rented your single family home to qualified tenants. Everything so far is going really well. They pay on time, they maintain the property. Things are going just as smoothly as they can. Then your neighbor calls and tells you they saw a puppy running around in your tenant’s back . You check the lease, recalling that they signed with no pets allowed, and discover you’re now dealing with an unauthorized pet. What do you do?
Evidence of Unauthorized Pets
Getting a new pet is a new and exciting time for anyone, and when you discover your tenants have done just that without seeking your approval first, there are a few steps to take in order to handle the situation appropriately. First things first, you need to check and see if there really is an unauthorized pet. Was the puppy your neighbor mentioned just visiting or is it truly living in the property?
Schedule a walk-through of the property and look for signs of any unauthorized pets living in the home. Chew marks, scratches in the carpet, pet fur, and pet odors are all good indicators that an unauthorized pet may be living in the property. If you see the pet outright, snap a photo if possible. Be sure to document your findings and then proceed to the next step.
Check Your Lease
If your tenants have gotten a pet without your permission, check your lease to see how this type of violation is addressed. Is there a fee charged for violating this part of the lease? Did you actually specify no pets and what to do if they’re found in the property? How about visiting pets? Whatever clauses in your lease address unauthorized pets, be sure to follow them in order to remain consistent.
Decide How to Move Forward
You’ve found the puppy living in the property and determined your lease specifically mentioned pets are not allowed in the home without prior written consent. The next step is to decide how you want to proceed. Are you ok with allowing the puppy to stay? Do you want to charge a deposit, pet rent, non-refundable pet fee? Do you want the puppy removed completely?
Regardless of how you choose to move forward, once your decision is made, address the violation with your tenant. Send them a written notice of the violation to professionally address and document the situation, then analyze their response. Perhaps they didn’t think to mention they were pet-sitting or perhaps they blatantly decided to ignore your pet policy. Either way, be sure to proceed according to your lease and address the lease violation with your tenant. If the puppy is going to stay, make sure to amend your agreement and outline specifics for adding the unauthorized pet to the lease.
Assistance Animals vs Pets
Let’s say your tenant informs you that the puppy is actually an assistance animal, not a pet. Remember, assistance animals are a whole different situation. There are a lot of twists and turns to navigate considering assistance animals are not pets and are covered under Federal Fair Housing laws. Consult with a real estate attorney if you’re uncertain how to proceed in order to best avoid any legal pitfalls.
No matter how the situation plays out, communicating professionally and courteously with your tenant will help to ease any unauthorized pet violations. Stick to your lease and consult the experts if needed!