How to Handle Unauthorized Pets
If you’re a landlord long enough, it’s not a question of “if” you’ll have to deal with a tenant that has an unauthorized pet, it’s question of “when”. So, let’s go over how best to handle the situation.
What are the signs that there is Unauthorized Pets in the property?
Let’s start with making sure some of your tenants don’t have unauthorized pets right now that you’re unaware of. Use these tips to monitor your tenants:
- Connect with the neighbors – they’re your best resource for keeping tabs on your tenants when you’re not there.
- Random Drivebys – you don’t have to enter the property, just stop by and check out the yard for any pet waste or signs of digging, etc.
- Interior Inspections – you can do these during maintenance calls (or train your handyman to do) or during a periodic inspection. Biggest “tell” is animal smells. Also look for pet food, fur, scratch marks and check blinds for signs of chewing, which for some reason cats like to do.
Documenting an Unauthorized Pet
We recommend always operating with the mindset that you could end up in court, trying to prove to a judge that the tenant had a pet. So, you shouldn’t just start throwing accusations about. Take pictures of any proof you find, get something in writing from a neighbor or handyman, etc. You may even want to record a call with the tenant (if your state laws allow) where you go “fishing” for information and get them to admit they have a pet. You’d be surprised how many tenants don’t consider getting a pet without telling their landlord an issue, so they’ll freely admit it!
Options to Address an Unauthorized Pet
The first step is to review your lease to confirm it states no pets and if you have any penalties listed. If you don’t have a no pet clause in your lease, you probably won’t be able to do anything about the tenant’s unauthorized pet. We highly recommend updating your lease to make sure you have a pet clause that covers penalties. Assuming your lease has these, let’s go over some logical options.
Terminate the Lease
Usually a lease states that if any terms are violated the landlord has the option of terminating the lease. To do so, you’ll need to follow your state laws, but this usually involves starting an eviction process of some type. If the tenant is consistently paying rent late or otherwise a problem, this may be the “last straw” that pushes you over the edge to get rid of them.
Often though, this “nuclear” option is the least desirable because the tenant is someone you’d prefer to keep. Getting rid of them will mean lost rent revenue due to vacancy and Rent-Ready expenses. So, let’s consider some more practical solutions.
Demand Pet Removal
Even though we used the word “demand”, we hope you call the tenant and have a courteous discussion about the unauthorized pet and get them to agree to remove the pet. Whether they agree to or not, you’ll want to send a letter worded that they must remove the pet or face termination of their lease.
Just about everything in business has a price. So, this option involves figuring out a price to turn the unauthorized per into an authorized one. Let’s look at some common solutions.
Monthly Pet Fee: Typically, you’ll want a monthly pet fee to offset the extra wear and tear a pet will cause to your property.
Extra Security Deposit: Depending on the laws in your state, you may be allowed to increase the security deposit to offset any potential damages the pet causes during the lease. Be careful with this one as many states have a cap on security deposits and don’t allow separate pet security deposits.
One-Time Pet Fee: You can usually legally get around your state’s security deposit limits by charging nonrefundable Pet Fees. Our lease states that if an unauthorized pet is found, we may not only back charge for monthly pet fees to the start of the lease, but may also charge a Pet Fee Penalty of $300. Notice we said “may” charge. Everything is negotiable depending on the situation.
Renter’s Insurance: This may be a great time for you to get some extra protection by requiring the tenant to get Renter’s Insurance to keep the unauthorized pet. We typically require tenants with pets to not only get Renter’s Insurance, with us added as additionally insured, but to also get a policy that covers animal bites.
If the tenant agrees to remove the pet, just make they’ve gotten rid of the pet and it stays gone. It’s not uncommon for a tenant to send their pet to a family or friend’s house for a week or two, to make it look like they’ve complied, and then sneak the pet back into the home.
Leverage your neighbors and service people to keep an extra eye out. Lawn service, contractors and pest control guys can tell the landlord if pets or other shady activities are happening at their property.
You may confront your tenant about their unauthorized pet and find out they have a legal service animal. If this is the case, there’s really nothing you can do as federal laws don’t allow you to charge any fees, penalties or terminate the lease! You even have to be careful about how you require the tenant to prove they have a legal service animal. We hope you found this article helpful, please add a comment if we’ve missed something.
3 thoughts on “How to Handle Unauthorized Pets”
I can see why people do that. I’m looking and I have 2 cats. But one is a ESA. And my cats don’t chew or otherwise tear things up. They are trained not something most people do or know how to do.
The FHA doesn’t apply to owner occupied buildings w/4 or fewer units… so I disagree with “ there’s really nothing you can do as federal laws don’t allow you to charge any fees, penalties or terminate the lease!”…
Jay, you are correct!