It’s an age-old grievance that many renters have with their landlords–pets or no pets allowed? Some landlords set a strict “no pets clause” right on the lease when renters first come on board, clearly stating that no pets are allowed on the premises under penalty of eviction, particularly dogs. Some landlords may make exceptions for small pets that remain in a cage or tank such as fish, lizards, or hamsters. However, what happens if your landlord tries to apply a new “no pets clause” in the middle of your lease? Can they even do that? The short answer is no, but let’s see what the attorneys at Dog Law have to say on the subject.
Let’s start with the types of rental agreements you’ll have:
1. Lease agreement: Leases are agreements that are set for a predetermined amount of time, from just a few months to over a year. Once the terms of the lease are set, neither party can amend the contents; this means that a landlord cannot legally attempt to implement a “no pets clause” into the lease after it has already taken effect, and at that time cannot evict you nor your pet. However, once your lease expires, the landlord may draft a new agreement to include a “no pets clause” if they wish.
2. Rental agreement: A more simplistic agreement that is more flexible for both parties than a lease and typically runs on a month-by-month basis. Since the tenant renews the agreement every month rather than every several months or more, the landlord is more easily able to add a “no pets clause” to a new agreement, but must give 30-days notice to the tenant to inform him/her of the change.
What if your landlord already had a no pet policy in place when you first moved in? You are probably facing one of the following scenarios:
Scenario #1. You brought the pet with you initially: If the building in which you are renting from already has a no pet policy in place, but neither the landlord nor the staff choose to enforce the rule with full knowledge of your pet upon moving in, they cannot simply evict you after a sizable amount of time has passed. What is considered a sizable amount of time may depend on where you live and a judge’s rulings should the grievance go to court. In New York for example, a landlord has three months to do something about a known pet before any later claim becomes invalid by the court.
Scenario #2. You got the pet some time after moving in: If you bring in a pet after moving in, there are three possible results:
a. Unknown to the landlord: If you try to sneak the pet into your unit without informing the landlord first, you can be accused of breaking the lease or rental agreement if the pet is discovered which can be grounds for eviction
b. Known to the landlord: If you get permission or the landlord knows about the pet and does nothing, you have a strong chance of keeping the pet in court due to basic fairness rulings
c. Special case: If you get a pet for therapeutic or medical reasons (service dog) that can be corroborated with your attending physician, you stand a really good chance of being able to keep the pet by the ruling judge; courts have also been known to rule in favor of tenants wanting a dog for protection if there is a reasonable fear for personal safety due to known crime rates in the area or threats made against the tenant
Sometimes landlords may try to evict a tenant based on nothing more than a dislike for a pet. Some planned unit developments will carry many extra rules that might seem excessive and unreasonable like what color you can paint the walls or what kind of pets (if any) are allowed. If that is the case, sometimes a tenant can get a no pets policy invalidated if the tenant can prove that the policy is unfair or discriminatory to people with a legitimate need for a pet (service or therapy dog) unreasonable or was not instituted properly:
Unfairness: If you feel you are being singled out among other residents who may also have pets for personal reasoning on the part of the landlord, you can take up your grievances in a court if necessary
Unreasonableness: This is a more difficult avenue to achieve success, as rules stipulated by the property owner can be for sanitation, noise, or safety reasons; such rules are often put in place to protect the other residents of an apartment or condominium complex in which units are placed very close together
Improper proceedings: If the group who instituted the rule did so without following their own rules for doing so, a tenant may be able to use that to keep the pet; however, the group can later reinstate the rule through proper channels, so any victory would be temporary at best
If a tenant feels the landlord is being especially unfair to him regarding his pet, the tenant can contact the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Commission to report any unfair discrimination and get free counseling on how to proceed. However, it’s usually better and cheaper to solve the issue without going to court through personal negotiation or the use of a third-party mediator to hammer out a solution. If the situation escalates to a wrongful eviction of the tenant, he may be able to sue the landlord for any damages incurred (psychological, financial, etc).