According to a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, 68% of households in the United States own a pet. This statistic explains why most rental property owners and property managers consider permitting pets to be a crucial component for rental success.
Texas is also a pet-friendly state: over 20% of rental listings in Dallas permit large breeds. Whether you allow pets into your DFW rental property or not, it's better to prepare for how to deal with unexpected pets before you find yourself facing down the issue in real-time.
This type of issue can take many forms, from too many pets, prohibited sizes or breeds, or even the appearance of pets in properties that forbid them. So, as an investor, what can you do when you find yourself in this situation?
As an experienced DFW property management company, we're happy to answer this question! However, keep in mind that this article is not legal counsel. When in doubt, get in touch with your attorney or with the property management pros here at RentHub!
Scenarios That Could Lead to Unexpected Pets
- A 'friend' with a pet comes over 'for a while'
- A tenant ends up caring for someone else’s pet for some time
- A resident comes across a stray which they decide to care for
- A renter adopts a pet without notifying you.
Occasionally, the situation is a 'temporary' setup (such as caring for someone else's pet)—so the tenant does not think it’s necessary to notify you.
However, there are also cases when your renter knowingly or unknowingly violates the lease contract and tries to conceal a pet from you. Whichever the case, you need to have a plan in place (and backup in your lease) for how you will handle the situation.
Steps to Take Upon Discovering a Pet Violation
Residents who are aware that they are violating their lease agreement are bound to be rather creative in trying to hide this fact from you.
Confronting this kind of renter without sufficient proof could seriously damage your working relationship with the renter, even though they have already decided to ignore your lease. Worse still, you may end up in court. Take a picture or two of the pet or ask disturbed neighbors to provide something in writing.
If You Have a 'No-Pets Policy'
Send the offending tenant a notice clearly stating the timeline within which they need to remove the pet. This will depend on the terms of your lease agreement as well as Texas law. You might want to add a clause stating the consequences of non-compliance or work with your DFW property management team to handle this for you.
Lease Violation Penalties
Any penalty amount needs to be stipulated in the lease agreement. It’s not unheard of for renters to send their pet away for some time and sneak it back. In either of these two cases, you might want to monitor the situation to ensure that the pet stays gone.
Allowing the Pet to Stay
Depending on your relationship with the tenant, you might want to penalize them the amount indicated on the lease agreement but allow the pet to stay. If you have multiple tenants, the rest might also try to break the lease terms should they find out that you allowed the offending renter to keep their pet. This means you may need to consider revising your lease terms long term to include additional charges and fees such as 'pet rent.'
If You Allow Pets in Your Rental Property
It’s not uncommon for tenants living in pet-friendly properties to think that they can get just about any kind of pet. Your first step should be to establish whether the renter's choice of pet (such as a tiger or alligator) violates your lease agreement. If found guilty, take appropriate steps depending on the terms of your lease agreement.
- Whichever your course of action, keep your communication with the tenant as formal as possible.
- Provide them with a written letter detailing your course of action, the penalty amount (if any), and the timeframe within which the pet needs to be removed.
Exceptions to Your Pet Policy Rules
Irrespective of your pet policy terms, the Fair Housing Act requires you to accommodate tenants with service animals. As these are not considered pets, pet policies do not apply. You are not allowed to charge a pet fee or deposit on any tenant with a service animal. Property owners are also not allowed to enforce breed and size restrictions on service animals.
However, you can warn a renter—or even issue them with an eviction notice—should you believe that the service animal poses a threat to others or might destroy your property. Service animals are typically highly trained and behave more like a medical device than a pet.
Service animal classification also extends exclusively to dogs and miniature horses: if your renter is trying to pass off a goat as a service animal, it's time to get your attorney or DFW property management company involved.
How Can You Prevent Unexpected or Unauthorized Pets?
One way you can prevent unexpected pets in your rental property is by having a clear and concise lease agreement in place. Have a set protocol already determined for how you will deal with such occurrences. Keep in mind that no action will be deemed a violation if it is not contained in the lease agreement.
It also pays to work with experienced property management services to help enforce the lease and select renters who will follow through the first time. A property manager also comes in handy when you are no longer able to manage your investment portfolio firsthand.
If you are a property owner in the DFW area, we can help you protect your real estate investments and maximize your income! Learn more when you download our free resource, Protecting Your Investment Property: A Guide.