Problematic Tenant Asks For Dog Despite No Pet Policy

53 Replies

Hi BP community,

I would like to have your advice about one of my tenants.

I rented a property to a lady, her daughter and granddaughter in Nov. They signed a two year lease. 

Four months later, she claimed her relative killed herself and she now had custody of a dog. I refused to let her have it since I have a no pet policy and she threatened to break her lease. The house at this time looked like an episode out of Hoarders and it was a mess. One could not walk into the room because there was stuff blocking doorways, closets. Even though I wanted her to stay because she paid on time, I found her to be very demanding (she did all sorts of bizarre things like claim the neighbors were drug dealers, stalking their activities, hassling others in the community, continuous repairs - I have other properties and no one is as high maintenance as her) and I was upset at the state of my newly rehabbed place. I told her I would release her from her lease without penalty because I wanted her out.

She then said that she would not take the dog since she was not capable of looking after it. They stayed on for several months and during that time, she hurt her knee and could not walk up and down the stairs, and she told me she had to move out due to the stairs. She has had two knee surgeries in this time. She also told me that she had promised her granddaughter a puppy for her birthday in May. She asked me again if I would allow them to have a dog. I said no.

Then she complained and said the rent was too high, could I lower it. Her daughter's ex husband had decreased his alimony to her. I said no.

The two year lease comes to an end in Nov this year and she asked to move out this summer. I said fine, since the timing worked out better for me anyway. However, she told me that she would like to stay only if I allowed her to have a "service dog". This was where I pulled up short. She used the word "service dog". She claims that the dog will help her get out of the house to walk, and that she was sexually abused in the military. She does not work, she gets some sort of stipend from the VA for work related injuries on her arm. She told me the dog will help her get over her sexual abuse.

I have just told her again tonight NO and sent her a list of other places to rent in the area, but after reading all the posts on pet policy on BP, I am aware that I might be in violation of Fair Housing. However, I just feel that she is using the term "service dog" plus all these excuses to substantiate her reasons for getting a dog. She does not want to move because she has so much stuff and also she is beginning to see that the rents in my area are a lot higher. But I can see how her wheels are turning in her head to legally get a dog in. How do I protect myself here? I have had enough of her, I really want her out.

Sorry to be so long winded but I am new at managing properties, I have always used property managers in Australia as the norm is to deal with your tenants at arms length. Thank you for your input!

Sorry to hear about your difficult tenant. Does she have a doctor's letter for the service dog?

Man, this is a complex situation. With service dogs, I'm not so sure. If you legally have to modify the lease to allow her a service dog (which you honestly might), it still appears you're allowed to request documentation from the tenant such as proof of disability from a doctor (to include stating that animal is recommended/required) and certifications that the animal is indeed a service animal. If she's truly disabled, she shouldn't have a problem providing these documents. If she doesn't want to or cannot provide them, then I wouldn't think you're legally obligated to allow it. Unless you just want to give in and let her have a dog (might not be worth your headache to fight this), I would consult a lawyer prior to making any moves.

She will have to show that she has a disability under the American's With Disabilities Act, and that a dog will help with her disability.  You have every right to require her to prove she has a disability, under this act, that requires a service dog.

You would be required to allow a service dog, to someone who is disabled under the ADA, if they asked for a reasonable accommodation for their disability.  But, you don't have to allow a service animal, if having that animal would cause a financial hardship.  For instance, if they want a pitbull, but a pitbull on your property would mean you lose your insurance.

The only time you cannot require her to prove her disability, is if the disability is obvious.  

So, tell her to get proof that she is disabled, under the ADA.  Then you'll take the next step.

I'm not sure any of this is relevant.  Just because she happens to have a new dog and calls it a "service dog" does not mean it is a service dog.  A service dog is an animal specifically trained to help people with disabilities.  She clearly is just trying to strong arm you into letting her keep the animal in your place.  I would bet that she cannot produce any meaningful proof that this is a trained service animal.  I'm worried she has the dog in her place, she knows you don't allow it, the animal has done some kind of damage and she wants to be able to say at the end of the lease that it's normal wear and tear because you allowed a pet.

Stick to your guns.  You're right, she's not only wrong, she's obviously nuts.

Originally posted by @Edward Debbs:

 I'm worried she has the dog in her place, she knows you don't allow it, the animal has done some kind of damage and she wants to be able to say at the end of the lease that it's normal wear and tear because you allowed a pet.

Even if a service animal does damage, you can take it out of the security deposit.  Damage caused by an animal is not "normal wear and tear".

Originally posted by @Dawn Anastasi :
Originally posted by @Edward Debbs:

 I'm worried she has the dog in her place, she knows you don't allow it, the animal has done some kind of damage and she wants to be able to say at the end of the lease that it's normal wear and tear because you allowed a pet.

Even if a service animal does damage, you can take it out of the security deposit.  Damage caused by an animal is not "normal wear and tear".

 I guess I'm referring to dog nail marks on a wood floor, lingering odor etc (some dogs just have a musky smell).  If you agree to letting a pet in the unit, the dog's wear and tear goes on the table.  I wouldn't think pet messes and chewing would be allowable.  

Messy situation... You said the lease is about to end.  Assuming she doesn't move, I would take either this opportunity (the dog) or the lease ending to raise the rent considerably ($100-150 / month).  Also, if you allow a dog there should be a considerable deposit; somewhere between $500 -$1000.  Bank the extra $ since you're going to need it for the repairs when this tenant moves out.  Hopefully these $ amounts will convince her that staying is not in her best interest and she leaves.  Good luck.     

It's my understanding that as soon as she says "service dog," you need to be very careful.  You cannot ask what her disability is if it is not evident, only that she provide a letter from her health professional stating she has a disability that requires a service dog.  There are no certifications or permits required in many states for the dog, so find out if your state has them or not, as requiring certification for the dog if your state doesn't can get you in hot water.  Also, you are not allowed to charge extra rent or extra security deposit for a security dog as it is not considered a pet.  If you have not already issued letters about the hoarding conditions if they have become a violation like a fire hazard, etc., then it may be too late now as it may seem you put up with it for a long while until she wanted a service dog, and I think raising the rate too high on rent may now appear discriminatory as well unless current market has risen that much.   I'd find out exactly what you can request from her, and if she provides it, you're likely stuck allowing it unless you can prove it is harmful, like you'd lose your insurance or something similar.  I think hoarding is now considered an illness as well, so another thing to tread carefully with.   

Hi everyone, 

Thank you so much for your thoughts. That was what I thought, that I should tread carefully. Apparently it is really easy to make your dog a "service dog". My husband's boss went onto a website and after several clicks of the mouse, voila! Her dog is a service dog. The reason? She wanted to bring her pet into restaurants. 

My tenant says she has a physical disability. She can barely walk. She said her dog is here to force her to get out of the house.  She also claims she was abused so the dog is here for emotional support.

I also looked at old posts of pets and the impact on the house. Generally pet damage is one of the most common repair costs after a tenant moves out and sometimes it can go up to $2000. I am not willing to take that chance especially after I feel that she has been up to tricks, threatening to break the lease on a whim. I have not said anything about her hoarding because I am not sure if I am allowed to criticize people's habits. My own house isn't spick and span either, plus I used to be a renter. I hated it when the landlord made a surprise visit to see how messy we were (different country - this was allowed) 

I like real estate investing but boy do I dislike property management - especially managing tenants! 

(BTW I am having a real hard time tagging anyone - it doesn't seem to be working for me on my computer. I key in the @ and the initial, hoping to see the name pop up but it is not happening, I want to thank every one of you who responded)

i just dealt with this. I simply told my tenant that if she can provide a legal prescription from a licensed physician, she can have the dog but must provide proof of all vaccinations as they become due from a licensed veterinarian. She didnt get the dog.

Legally you CAN NOT ask for anything from doctor. You can make sure the dog is registered and vaccines. If you ask for anything regarding her medical situation you are asking for a lawsuit. My husband is injured and we have service dogs. We do not have to pay a pet security fee. However should there be damaged we would have to pay. No matter if it is hotel/rental or anything else for where the injured needs service dog. I would allow her and then tell her you will not be renewing her lease. She has stated several times she wants to move and you can not rent to someone who will not honor their lease or at least make you worry that they will not honor their lease. GET RID OF HER

I can't give legal advice. Didn't read it all as it was all drama.

Think about how much time this tenant is wasting of your life physically and mentally every day, week, month.

Once you calculate that paying the rent isn't enough to keep them as a tenant. Your unit will get worn down and are only delaying heavy repairs and more costs by waiting to get them out.  

EVICT

P.S. An emotional support dog is not the same and is not covered the same as a service dog. So let her tell you what type of animal it will be (emotional or service) and go from there. You can say no to emotional support dog. Just do not explain that to her as far as the difference.

Actually, I believe a public business can say no to emotional support dog, not a service animal, but housing is different.  A landlord cannot deny it if the tenant has a letter from a health professional stating the need for one.  Here is a good overview of Fair Housing requirements.  I'd especially do more research on the exemptions as if you rent out single family and don't use any manager, you may be exempt, anyway.  

http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/assistance-animals-tenants-rights.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

Originally posted by @Grace Ng :

Hi everyone, 

Thank you so much for your thoughts. That was what I thought, that I should tread carefully. Apparently it is really easy to make your dog a "service dog". My husband's boss went onto a website and after several clicks of the mouse, voila! Her dog is a service dog. The reason? She wanted to bring her pet into restaurants. 

My tenant says she has a physical disability. She can barely walk. She said her dog is here to force her to get out of the house.  She also claims she was abused so the dog is here for emotional support.

I also looked at old posts of pets and the impact on the house. Generally pet damage is one of the most common repair costs after a tenant moves out and sometimes it can go up to $2000. I am not willing to take that chance especially after I feel that she has been up to tricks, threatening to break the lease on a whim. I have not said anything about her hoarding because I am not sure if I am allowed to criticize people's habits. My own house isn't spick and span either, plus I used to be a renter. I hated it when the landlord made a surprise visit to see how messy we were (different country - this was allowed) 

I like real estate investing but boy do I dislike property management - especially managing tenants! 

(BTW I am having a real hard time tagging anyone - it doesn't seem to be working for me on my computer. I key in the @ and the initial, hoping to see the name pop up but it is not happening, I want to thank every one of you who responded)

 The bolded is actually not quite true and is a common misconception.  The only service animals that must be admitted into public places...like a store, restaurant, etc...are either a dog or miniature horse (no other type of animal) that has had rigorous and extensive training to help their owner with a specific PHYSICAL disability.  Emotional support animals do not fall under this safeguard, at least not for public places.  Of course, store/restaurant owners are not allowed to ask someone about their disability, so that could be a moot point if the animal is a dog.

However, housing is different and the rules are more broad.  Whether it is a hotel/motel or a rental.  In those situations, any support animal...physical and/or emotional...needs to be accepted with few exceptions.  It doesn't even have to be a dog.  No additional pet fee or pet security deposit can be asked for.

Second most important, you need to stay within the guidelines of the law.

First most important, you need to get the broad out of your property as soon as you can! 

Her lease is up for renewal. You can choose to not renew. It has nothing to do with the dog. You want the place empty so you can do upgrades and increase rent. Sounds like you've given proper notice. Make sure it is clear and in writing according to the terms of your lease. Case closed end of story!

So here's a news flash - hoarding is now considered a disability! You can search BP forums for more on that. 

Two year lease with discount on rent = bad idea ; this thread proves it. 

And it's a shame that there is a mix of bad advice posts sprinkled in on this thread with the good posts ...

To tag users, you need to type more than one character after the @ unless your one character is a question mark. 

There was quite a bit that I couldn't read. What I took from it was a long list of problems and your tenant gave you the opportunity to break the lease. Take the opportunity.

She has been pushing your limits and once you allow this it will only get worse. Not only that, of she is harassing the neighnors, then your reputation as a landlord is on the line.

I hope that helps.

@Joel Owens if you think it was hard to read all through that drama, imagine what it was like for me to type it out!  

@Steve Babiak thanks, I had to switch browsers to get this tagging thing to work. Thanks for the tip about hoarding. First of all I need to make sure that what she is doing is indeed classified as "hoarding" but I will definitely do a bit more research here on the forums.

@Jennifer T. Interesting that only trained animals qualify as service dogs. But you are right, I doubt that restaurant owners and stores are going to bring it into question. I just don't like it when people abuse the system like this, this is something I am finding out that there are a lot of laws and regulations here but if you know how to twist it to suit you, it can hurt others not benefitting from it. Do you know what I mean? Sorry English isn't my strongest, I hope I am communicating clearly.

Thank you all for your awesome input everyone. I can't really evict her because she pays the rent on time but if she wants to leave I am not going to make her stay.  Thanks for allowing me to vent a little here and for taking time to read through my post. I appreciate it very much!

Grace it doesn't have to be the rent paying on time for grounds for eviction.

You should have many outs in your lease if it is set up properly. For example if your tenant has unauthorized people over 18 in the property or executes a sub-lease when not allowed per the lease.

If the tenant has criminal activity. If you have period inspections in the lease and the tenant is not complying etc.

Lot's and lot's of reasons you can move to evict other than rent not being paid.

I agree with @Jon Magnusson

The dog issue isn't going to be the only issue. This renter doesn't seem stable and considering the condition of the apartment things may only get worse. I would also raise the rent considerably (but reasonable, if that makes sense) and hope that she decides to take her problems elsewhere. I had a renter request a service dog and allowed the service dog to come with all paperwork and an additional deposit (this was also another needy tenant). That worked out decent but sounds like this tenant is really all over the place, which is creating unnecessary work for you.

Actually an eviction is very different than just choosing to not renew her lease.  Not renewing her lease is much simpler and there are no courts involved (or at least shouldn't be!).

Basically, a lease is a contract.  She agrees to pay $XX/month in rent for X number of months.  You agree to accept $XX/month in rent for X number of months.  But once that amount of time is up, the contract has ended and both of you have options.

She can choose to give you (I'm assuming) 30 days notice that she will not be renewing the lease and will be moving on X date.

You can also give her 30 or 60 days notice (depending on what is required in your area) that you will either not be renewing the lease or will allow her to stay on the lease but will be raising the rent to $XX or just leave it on a month-to-month status quo.

Once the lease ends, you are under no obligation to keep her as a tenant if you don't want to.

For example, many years ago, I was renting part of an old historic home that had been broken out into separate units.  I had lived there for two years and was on a month-to-month.  The landlady and I had a great relationship, no problems, my rent was always on time.  But she needed to do some structural work to the house and the part I was living in needed to be vacant in order for her to have the work done.  So she gave me a 30-day notice to vacate.  I was bummed!  I really liked that house.  But I understood, I found a new place, and I moved out.  And that is typically how that works...at least that is how it should work. 

Now, if I had wanted to be a jerk and refused to move out after she had given me a notice to vacate, then she would have had to take me to eviction court.  Again, not because of non-payment of rent, but because I was ignoring the notice to vacate.

Not a lawyer, no legal advice given. 

Grace,

You are way too nice.  I had a similar tenant, i.e. hoarder with all kinds of delusions about the neighbors, being watched through windows etc.  She even told me that she was positive that "someone" was going to rape her....  I had suspicions of mental instability during her prospective tenant interview, so I followed my gut and put her on a month-to-month.  The third time she tried to manipulate me (3 strikes and you're out...literally!) I asked her to leave.  She called a lawyer and he tried to defend her, but I cited the law and the lawyer responded with "My client will abide by the terms of the rental agreement and vacate by the end of the month".  Never heard from her or her lawyer again.  

You need to GET RID OF THIS TENANT in a way that is legal as quickly as possible.  If she is giving you options to get out of the lease why would you hesitate?  My other question is, once you saw that she is a hoarder (which can create a fire hazard), why didn't you take action at that point?  My only conclusion would be that your apartment is already a dump and it is really hard to find tenants, so you let the tenant "manage" you. 

Act now or this woman is going to give a lawsuit that is going to cost you big!

Sorry for the "tough love" but, you don't want to learn this lesson the hard way, i.e. lawsuit.  

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