Prohibited Pets Could Put You In The Doghouse
A couple years ago I fell in love with my now 12 pound, somewhat disabled, dachshund-terrier and brought her home to my one bedroom apartment in the city. The problem is, it is clearly checked off on my lease ‘no pets’. She doesn’t make noise, never poops or pees (in the apartment), has never damaged any part of the apartment, and generally doesn’t bother anyone in the building. In fact, new tenants are often surprised there is a dog in the building when I leave to walk her sometimes.
My worry is that, if the landlord somehow finds out about her, can he evict me? Can he evict her?
I hope you didn’t name your dog I.P. Freely or Killer. It doesn’t seem that your dog is causing any damage or threatening the neighbors, but that is not the issue. The fact is that you are in breach of your lease and could be evicted for having your pooch because it seems like the lease has a clear “no pets” provision. Your landlord could serve you a 3-Day Notice to Cure or Quit. That is, get rid of your dog or move. If you do not comply, you could be served with an unlawful detainer (eviction) lawsuit alleging that you are in breach of your lease.
Sometimes we see cases where the landlord who lived in the building visited the tenant and even played with the pet. In one instance we heard from a tenant whose landlord illegally entered the unit to express the puppy’s anal glands! In those cases one can argue that the landlord waived the “no pets” provision in the lease. You imply that your landlord is unaware of your dog. That’s a problem.
If you live in a rent controlled apartment and your rent is lower than market rate, that’s another problem. You may have provided your landlord the perfect excuse to get rid of you in order to double the rent.
So what do you do now? You can ask your landlord to allow your dog to live in the premises. If the landlord agrees, you should ask him to put it in writing. As you can see this option is fraught with pitfalls because you have alerted the landlord to the fact that you have a dog. You should get as much information as you can before you talk or write to the landlord. For example, ask around the building to see if the landlord has permitted other tenants to have pets. You can also offer to increase your security deposit to take care of any damage that you dog may cause.
If you are disabled you can request that the landlord provide you a reasonable accommodation and allow you to keep the dog as a companion animal. This is a common and legal request that has been consistently supported by disability case law. Low income pets owners can get help from PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support).
Or you can do nothing. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. If the landlord sells the building, it is common practice for new owners to ferret out tenants who are breaching their leases. Usually they want to increase their income and that’s a great way to do it. Beware of a pending sale and consult an experienced tenant counselor before you reveal that you have a pet to potential buyers in what is commonly called an estoppel certificate.
Interestingly there is a growing movement to forbid landlords from discriminating against pet owners. The San Francisco Animal Control and Welfare Commission is currently considering a resolution supporting the idea that could lead to a new ordinance. You should write them to support their efforts: City Hall, Attn: Commission of Animal Control & Welfare, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 362, San Francisco, CA 94102, (415) 554-6074.
I unequivocally support these efforts, but I still need to berate you a little. As a lawyer, it is extremely frustrating to me to speak to tenants who have knowingly violated their leases by acquiring a pet and who are forced to either give up their cherished animal or face eviction. I don’t enjoy assuming the role of hard-hearted bastard to tell them their case is a loser. In general, if you have a clause in your lease prohibiting pets, don’t get one until you receive permission, in writing, from the landlord.