What to Do When Tenants Complain About Pets

Property Management and Your Pet Policy

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Landlords have to deal with many different types of tenant complaints. Sometimes the issue revolves around pets. It could be excessive noise, strong odors or a vicious animal. Learn what steps a landlord can take when a tenant complains about a pet.

How Serious Is the Complaint?

Some tenant pet complaints are nuisances, while others require immediate action. Below are some examples of complaints that could be classified as emergency, high priority, average priority and low priority.

  • Emergencies: These are issues that pose an immediate threat to the health or safety of the tenants or neighbors.
    • Example: The animal has injured a person or another pet.
    • Response Time: Immediate Response Required.
  • High Priority: These are situations where the tenant feels unsafe, a tenant’s behavior is violating the terms of the lease or a tenant has had multiple complaints against him or her.
    • Examples: 
      • Multiple complaints.
      • An animal is a threat to the safety of any of the residents.
      • An illegal animal in the building.
      • Dangerous dog breed in the building.
      • Exotic animal.
    • Response Time: Within 24 hours
  • Average Priority: These are complaints where the tenant has a legitimate concern, but it does not involve any safety issues or repeated offenses. These complaints should be resolved quickly to keep your tenants happy, but you do not need to drop everything to address them.
    • Examples: 
      • Incessant barking
      • Constant meowing
      • Animal feces or urine in building common areas
      • Owner not picking up after their animal outside the building
      • An animal using the apartment as a toilet
      • Extreme pet odors
    • Response Time: Within a few days.
  • Low Priority: These may not have actual merit to them or will make no difference if they are addressed today or in one week.
    • Examples:
      • Pet hair
      • Pet had a one-time accident in the building that the owner cleaned up
      • Dog barks once a day at the mailman
    • Response Time: Within a Week

Investigate the Complaint

You will want to talk to the tenant who made the complaint and the tenant whom the complaint is about in person to get both sides of the story. 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.

If You Have a No-Pets Policy

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 have several different options:

  • Pet Removal- Ask the tenant to remove the animal. If they remove the animal, there will be no further consequences.
  • Fine and Pet Removal- 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 property.
  • Fine and Allow Pet to Stay- 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.
    • Must Sign New Pet Addendum- 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.

If Tenant Is Allowed to Have a Pet

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 fixed, 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.

Service Animals

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 tenants. If you attempt to force a tenant to get rid of a service animal, you may be accused of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

Bottom Line:

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.