4 Steps to Resolve a Tenant's Pet Complaint

Keeping Your 2-Legged and 4-Legged Tenants Happy

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Pets can cause all types of problems for landlords. Common complaints from tenants include constant barking, pet odors, and vicious animals. As the landlord, it is your responsibility to deal with the issue of problem pets in your property. There are four basic steps for a successful resolution.

Listen to the Pet Complaint

The tenant informs you they have a problem with an animal on the property.

Determine the Seriousness of the Complaint 

Some complaints will require more immediate attention than others. Once you hear the complaint about the pet, you should assign a rating of emergency, high, moderate or low to the tenant's complaint.

  • Emergencies: These complaints must be addressed as soon as they are received.
    • Example: Any type of injury caused by the animal.
  • High Urgency Complaints: These include situations 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.
    • Example: 
      • Multiple complaints.
      • An animal that 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.
  • Moderate Urgency Complaints: These involve cases in which the tenant expresses a legitimate concern, but it does not involve any safety issues or repeated offenses. These complaints should be resolved quickly, but you do not need to drop everything to address them. They can wait a day or two if necessary.
    • Example: 
      • 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
  • Low Urgency Complaints: These may not have actual merit to them or will make no difference if they are addressed today or in one week.
    • Example:
      • Pet hair
      • Pet had a one-time accident in the building that the owner cleaned up
      • Dog barks once a day at the mailman

Step 3 Determine If the Complaint Is Legitimate

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 high urgency, you likely will not have time to determine if there is merit to the complaint because 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.

Step 4 Take Action

The action you will take will depend on how serious the complaint is and the terms of your lease agreement. You either have a no-pets policy, or you allow your tenants to have 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.

    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 tenants. If you attempt to force a tenant with a service animal to get rid of it, 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.