Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Allowing Pets in Apartments, Homes and Associations

      With the increased level of pet ownership, issues regarding “faux emotional support animals” (a situation where an owner/tenant is bending or breaking the rules to obtain a pet accommodation when pets are banned) and the need to attract more tenants and buyers, many apartments, landlords and condominium associations have started to adopt pet friendly rules.  If you are considering allowing pets as a landlord or association, you should consider adopting special rules and regulations to control the living and activity of any pet allowed in your property.

     The starting point should be the registration of any permitted pet.  This would include an application describing the pet, its weight, color, breed, sex, vaccination status, county registration and spay/neuter information.  Each owner should also be required to provide a current vaccination and rabies certificate from their local veterinarian.

     A set of rules should be provided to each owner with specific limitations and restrictions.  These could include a requirement for annual vaccination, a limitation on the number of pets (and no guest pets), a limitation on certain breeds; a weight limitation (many owners/associations have a twenty to twenty-five pound weight limit); a leash requirement; a specific place for pet defecation; a solid waste removal requirement and provisions to prevent breeding, noise/barking; restrictions on leaving pets on a balcony or outdoors; restrictions on leaving pets alone for long periods; and a removal policy for any violent or aggressive behavior against other owners and guests.  All Rules should be acknowledged that they have been read by a tenant/pet owner.

     A pet deposit is often a special condition of landlords that permit pets.  The deposit should be separate and apart from the security deposit.  The deposit can be either refundable or non-refundable.  Most deposits are in the $200 to $300 range.  For Associations, a common area deposit can be used to include damage caused by owners and their pets to common areas.

     All pet owners should be required to provide appropriate renter’s insurance which should provide coverage for both damage caused by the pet and for any personal injury caused by the pet, be it a simply excited dog knocking someone over or a vicious cat or dog that bites or scratches someone on the property.  Some basic renter policies exclude or limit animal coverage, especially as it relates to certain breeds, so this issue must be reviewed before allowing certain pets.

      For associations and apartment buildings that have had solid waste issues, it is now common to require DNA registration of all approved pets and to adopt a fine for failing to pick up after a pet goes on common areas.  As part of any approval of a pet, the animal’s cheek is swabbed and the dog’s DNA is registered by a company that provides a monitoring service.  If uncollected feces are found, the solid waste is collected and a small sample sent to the testing company.

     Once tested and compared to the DNA information on file, the testing company can determine if any registered dog is the responsible pet.  Once identified, the pet’s owner can then be fined for the violation plus the cost of the test.  The average cost for a service like this is about $50 per pet at the registration phase and $75-150 to test the feces to determine a match.  Combining DNA testing, fines for violations and Poop Bag Stations can eliminate most issues relating to uncollected waste.

     Proper planning, deposits and rules can go a long way to eliminate most issues relating to allowing pets.  This will expand the pool of buyers/tenants and prevent common problems from hidden pets, faux ESA animals or unregulated animals in places where pets are permitted but no procedures have been adopted.

Michael J Posner, Esq., is a partner in Ward Damon a mid-sized real estate and business oriented law firm serving all of South Florida, with offices in Palm Beach County.  They specialize in real estate and can assist landlords and associations in addressing animal issues.  They can be reached at 561.594.1452, or at mjposner@warddamon.com

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