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Handling Tenant Complaints About Pets

What to Do When There Is a Problem Pet

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Another common complaint landlords have to deal with is the pet complaint. Constant barking, pet odors or vicious animals can leave tenants irate. As the landlord, it is your responsibility to deal with the issue of problem pets in your property.

Here are the steps you should take to deal with pet complaints:

  1. Receive the Complaint- The tenant informs you they have a problem with an animal on the property.
     
  2. Determine the Severity of the Complaint- The first thing you must do is determine the urgency in which you must deal with the complaint. You should assign a rating of emergency, high, moderate or low to common types of complaints.
     
    • Complaints which are classified as emergencies must be addressed as they are received.
       
    • High urgency complaints are those in which a tenant’s safety is threatened, a tenant’s behavior is violating the terms of the lease or a tenant has had multiple complaints against him or her. These complaints must be addressed immediately.
       
    • Moderate urgency complaints are those in which the tenant expresses a legitimate concern, but they do not involve any safety issues or repeated offenses. These complaints should be resolved quickly, but you need not drop everything in order to address them. They can wait a day or two if necessary.
       
    • Low urgency complaints are those that may or may not have actual merit to them or those where it will make no difference if it is addressed today or in one week.
    Here are some example of complaints about pets that would be considered emergency, high urgency, moderate urgency or low urgency:
     
    • Emergency:
      • Any type of injury caused by the animal.
    • High Urgency:
      • Multiple complaints
      • An animal that is a threat to the safety of any of the residents
      • Illegal animal in the building
      • Dangerous dog breed in the building
      • Exotic animal
    • Moderate:
      • Incessant barking
      • Constant meowing
      • Animal feces or urine in building common areas
      • Owner not picking up after their animal outside building
      • Animal using the apartment as a toilet
      • Extreme pet odors
    • Low:
      • Pet hair
      • Pet had a one-time accident in building that owner cleaned up
      • Dog barks once a day at the mailman
  3. Is There Merit to the Complaint?- Once you are aware that there may be an issue at the property, you must determine if there is actual merit to the complaint. If the complaint is an emergency or of high urgency, you most likely will not have time to determine if there is merit to the complaint; you must act immediately.

    In other cases, address the culprit, tell them what the complaint is and ask them to rectify the behavior. You may also want to speak with other tenants in the property if possible to determine if they have had similar issues with the animal.
     
  4. Take Action- The action you will take will depend on the severity of the complaint and the terms of your lease agreement. You either have a no-pets policy or you allow your tenants to have pets.

    Do You Allow Pets?:

    NO- You Do Not Allow Pets

    If you do not allow pets, or do not allow the type of pet the complaint is about, then the tenant is violating the terms of their lease by having the pet in your property. Depending on the lease agreement the tenant signed and your own judgment, you can:

    • Ask the tenant to remove the animal. If they remove the animal, there will be no further consequences.
       
    • Fine the tenant a predetermined amount based on your lease agreement for illegally having the animal. Ask the tenant to remove the animal from the premises.
       
    • Fine the tenant a predetermined amount based on your lease agreement for illegally having the animal. Allow the tenant to keep the animal. You may have changed your policy since the tenant first moved in and are now OK with having pets in your property.

      If this is the case, you can fine the tenant for breaking their original lease agreement, but can allow them to keep the animal, as long as they sign a pet addendum to the lease. This addendum will spell out all the terms and conditions under which they must operate and the consequences if they violate these new terms.
    YES: You Do Allow Pets

    If you do allow your tenants to have pets, your next step is to determine if the complaint against the tenant and their pet is a violation of the pet addendum the tenant signed.

    If it is, then you can take the appropriate action according to the terms of the pet addendum and your local laws. For example:

    • A first time offense: May get off with a warning.
       
    • A second and third offense: May result in a fine.
       
    • A fourth offense: May result in removal of the pet or an eviction. If there have been multiple complaints against the tenant or the pet, and the situation has not been rectified, you may have to take more decisive action, such as suggesting the tenant remove the pet from the property, or if they have broken the terms of their lease, evicting the tenant.
       
    • A severe offense: Such as an animal injuring another tenant may result in a fine and removal of the pet or an eviction.
 

Exception: Tenants with disabilities who have a service animal are allowed to keep the animal regardless of what your normal policy for pets in your property is. It is not considered a pet, it is considered a necessity for these such tenants. If you attempt to force a tenant with a service animal to get rid of such an animal, you may be accused of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

Your goal as a landlord is to provide your tenants with a safe and quiet environment in which to live and you must take the necessary steps if this safety or tranquility is threatened.

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