Monday, October 6, 2008

Dog Laws-The Landlords and Dogs

Elderly or Disabled Tenants

The special place pets occupy in the lives of older people or people living with disabilities is well recognized. Finally, at least in some places, the law is taking that special bond into account.

Subsidized Housing

Older or disabled people, living in government-subsidized housing, being forced to give up pets that are their cherished companions - it doesn't make for good press for the bureaucrats responsible. Pressure on those government officials has yielded results. Tenants in "federally assisted" housing for the elderly or handicapped are allowed by law to own pets.4 This rule applies even if the federal government does not own the rental housing - it's enough that a federal agency (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example) subsidizes it. Owners and managers may place reasonable regulations on pets, after consulting with tenants.5 Contact a local HUD office or your county Housing Authority to find out if a particular rental is covered. Several states have also taken action. In California, residents of public housing developments (those owned and operated by a state, county, city or district agency) who are over the age of 60 or disabled may keep up to two small pets per apartment.6 Arizona, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire have similar rules, allowing tenants in state-owned housing developments for the elderly or disabled to have pets.7 (In Connecticut, a tenant may have a pet if the housing project allowed pets when the person applied for admission.) The laws allow the public agencies to make reasonable regulations about pets. In Massachusetts, for example, policy guidelines issued by the state limit tenants to one pet; a dog must not weigh more than 40 pounds,and it must be spayed or neutered. The Arizona statute forbids requiring a tenant to pay a deposit of more than one month's rent. But regardless of standard lease terms, landlords who receive federal money must also make "reasonable accommodations" for disabled tenants, as long as the accommodations don't impose undue hardship on the operation of the property.8 For example, a New Jersey court ruled that a man with paraplegia might be allowed to have a dog that was bigger than the 20-pound limit imposed by the standard lease. The man had trained the dog to retrieve objects for him, and two doctors stated that keeping the dog was important to his emotional well-being. The landlord could not automatically exclude the dog, the court said, without an inquiry into whether allowing the dog to stay was a reasonable accommodation for the disabled tenant.9 Similarly, a Massachusetts woman with a psychiatric disability was allowed to keep her cat, despite a no pets rule in her subsidized apartment complex. At her eviction trial, experts testified that she was emotionally attached to her pet and had "perhaps even psychological dependence" on it. A state appeals court ruled that accommodating the tenant was required under the law; the animal had caused no problems or complaints, and allowing her to keep it would not pose a hardship for the management of the apartments.10 If the management makes reasonable accommodations and the pet still creates problems, the tenant may be evicted. For example, a Connecticut housing complex for the elderly and disabled had trouble with a tenant whose dog frightened and bothered other residents. The dog's owner, a chronic schizophrenic, did not walk his dog in the designated areas or clean up after it, and left it in his apartment for long periods of time. Despite the efforts of a social worker and the dog trainer whom she enlisted to help, problems persisted. A court reluctantly concluded that the management had made the reasonable accommodations required by law, and could proceed with an eviction.11

Private Housing

In most states, only government-subsidized housing is subject to special rules allowing pets. But in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, and New Jersey, elderly or disabled tenants have rights to keep pets in either public or private housing. New Jersey, for example, guarantees the right of senior citizens in any "senior citizen housing project" to have pets. Any building with three or more units, intended for and solely occupied by persons 62 or older, is covered by the law. (Owner-occupied buildings with less than three units are exempted.) Residents can have a dog, cat or any other animal that doesn't constitute a health or safety hazard. A landlord who unreasonably refuses to renew a tenant's lease because of a pet that is properly cared for and not a nuisance can be fined up to $500.12


Many elderly people wouldn't move to better housing if it meant giving up their pets, according to a new study. Researchers talked to 2,300 older people in Evanston, Illinois, nearly one-third of whom owned pets. Of the pet owners, 86% said pet ownership dictated where they lived.13 Federal law allows tenants in public housing to keep companion animals, subject to reasonable regulations established by the public housing agency.14 The agency can charge pet deposits or fees, and can, for example, restrict the size, weight, or number of pets. It can make other restrictions based on the particular property - for example, a high-rise building could reasonably have rules quite different from a smaller building with backyards.

Dog Laws-The Landlords and Dogs II

Negotiating a Fair Lease

Some landlords prefer to rent to pet owners, finding them a more responsible class of tenants. Some allow small dogs. And some will make an exception to their usual no dogs rule if they become convinced that they're dealing with a responsible owner - which means that an official no dogs policy isn't always the final word.
If you want to negotiate something with a property owner or manager, be realistic. It's obvious why many landlords are reluctant to rent to dog owners: dogs can cause serious damage to apartments and yards, they can be a nuisance if they bark and a menace if they bite or frighten people. Landlords are worried that the place will be damaged, other tenants or neighbors will be disturbed, or that the dog will hurt someone. Their concerns are reasonable: they risk losing time and money and, in some instances, may even face legal liability if the dog injures someone. Deal with these concerns up front. The checklist below should give you some ideas of where to start.
Before agreeing to rent to you and your dog, a landlord has a reasonable right to expect both convincing evidence that the dog won't cause problems, and provisions in the lease or rental agreement that spell out your responsibilities.


  • Get references from previous landlords or neighbors - brief letters saying what a nice, well-mannered pet you have.
  • Show the landlord anything else that indicates the dog will be a good tenant: obedience school certificates, proof of spaying or neutering, vaccination and licensing records.
  • Bring the dog along on a second visit to the new place, if the landlord agrees.
  • Have the dog spayed or neutered, if you haven't already. Many problems are caused by female dogs in heat, which attract noisy and persistent suitors. And having the dog sterilized shows that you're a responsible owner.
  • Offer to put down a substantial damage deposit, over and above what the landlord usually charges, to show your confidence in the dog's good behavior. (State or local law may limit the amount of the deposit; California, for example, limits security deposits to twice the amount of the monthly rent, or three times the rent for a furnished apartment.)1
Whatever agreement you work out, it should always be clearly set out in writing - no exceptions. If you have a dog, never sign a lease that contains a standard "no pets" clause, even if the owner or manager has offered oral assurances that it's all right to have the dog. If the landlord later reconsiders, or sells the property to a new owner, you could land in the middle of a legal battle. (This is discussed more fully in"Enforcing a No Pets Clause After Allowing a Dog," below).
You can modify a rental agreement or add a separate addendum to cover pets. Here are some clauses you can modify to fit your situation and add to a standard rental agreement or lease.
  • "Tenant may have one dog, his Miniature Schnauzer named Pepper, on the premises."
  • "Tenant may have one dog, which weighs less than 50 pounds, on the premises."
  • "Tenant will remove dog droppings from the yard daily [or, if the yard is private, weekly]."
  • "Tenant will repair, or pay for repair of, any damage done to yard or house by dog."
  • "Tenant will keep the dog inside between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m."
  • "Tenant will pay a $300 refundable security deposit, in addition to the standard security deposit of $500, to cover any damage that may be caused by the dog."
  • "In lieu of paying an increased security deposit, tenant will pay for steam cleaning of the carpets when she moves out."
  • "Tenant will keep $100,000 of liability insurance to cover injuries or damage caused by the dog." This clause is necessary only if there's some reason to fear the dog might injure someone. (See "Landlord Liability for Tenants' Dogs," below.)


Several organizations concerned about animals and people have programs to help landlords and pet-owning tenants get along.
Project Open Door, an ambitious program of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), seeks to show landlords how to make renting to pet-owning tenants a satisfying and profitable experience. The SPCA offers:
  • checklists to help landlords screen pet-owning tenants
  • model policies for tenants with dogs or cats
  • model agreements to add to standard leases and rental agreements, and
  • free mediation if landlords and tenants have problems.
Tenants can get good materials, too, on how to negotiate with a landlord.
Other animal welfare organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States and the Massachusetts SPCA, also publish guidelines for tenants and property managers.
For more information, contact the San Francisco SPCA at 2500 16th St., San Francisco, CA 94103, 415-554-3000. Or check out its website at You can reach the Humane Society of the United States at 2100 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037, The Massachusetts SPCA is at 350 South Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02130, 617-522-7400,


Special laws may apply to tenants in mobile home parks. For example, in California a mobile home park cannot prohibit pets, and cannot charge a fee for keeping pets unless it actually provides special facilities or services for pets.2 In Oregon, a tenant may keep a pet that's legally living there, if the landlord adds a no-pets clause to the rules.3


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