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Help pet owners find or keep rental housing

Finding rental housing that welcomes all pets regardless of breed or size can be very difficult. Use the resources below to offer assistance to someone who is working through this challenging process.

Increase a pet owner’s chances of success by sharing the following tips and ideas:

Allow as much time as possible to search

  • Research animal-friendly listings and realtors using online classified ads.
  • Reach out to friends and family, using networking sites and social media to uncover connections and opportunities.
  • Look for a community apartment guidebook in supermarkets for listings and visit websites like apartments.com and rent.com.

Show off a pet’s best qualities

  • Create a “resume” for each pet that includes a photo, favorite activities, certifications and even a short adoption story. Share this sample pet resume to spark ideas. Extras could include:
    • a letter of reference from a current or most recent landlord.
    • written proof that the dog has completed a training class.
    • a letter from the vet showing each pet is up-to-date on vaccines and spayed or neutered.
  • Invite landlords to meet their pet.
  • Be prepared and willing to pay a reasonable extra amount in rent or pay a refundable pet deposit.

*Tip: Even if a landlord advertises “no pets,” some will make exceptions, especially when they are pet lovers themselves. It is worth asking over the phone or in person with friendly conversation.

When signing a lease

  • A lease that says “no pets allowed” should never be signed, even if other pets are seen on the property, or if a realtor, manager or landlord says it’s okay. The only words that matter are what’s written in the lease.
  •  Pet deposits or monthly fees (if any), should be specified in writing in the lease. Prior to signing, a pet deposit or monthly pet fee can be discussed with the landlord and negotiated.
  • Keep a signed copy of the lease stored safely where it can be easily retrieved if needed.

Is someone at risk of losing their home or their pet? 

Reduce panic by sharing the following information to familiarize them of their rights as a tenant and find legal resources if need be to get the help they need.

*Please note: When dealing with any landlord-tenant issue, seek professional legal assistance. The materials provided here are for informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice.

Tenants have rights

  • Landlords cannot go into an apartment and remove a pet, or show up and force pets out. Landlords have to follow the law and go through a legal process to remove tenants or their pets. Generally the landlord cannot even enter the home without giving the tenant notice except in an emergency, unless the lease specifies otherwise.
  • Their lease may have protections, so have them review it immediately.
    • Typically if a lease does not mention pets at all, then they are allowed to have pets.
    • Some communities and public housing authorities have laws and rules banning certain types of animals or breeds of dogs. Have them check if any local laws or rules are in effect, as these will outweigh the lease.
    • Contracts like leases cannot just be changed without both sides agreeing, unless there is already language in the document that allows the change.
  • Even if the lease does not allow pets, it may still be legal to keep the pet. The right to keep a pet may depend on local housing laws, the type of housing and the type of lease used. Having a legal resources to assist tenants in determining this is going to be important. Also, it is possible that a pet can meet the legal qualifications of an assistance animal, granting a legal right to keep the pet.
  • While not technically “tenants,” unit owners in co-ops and condominiums may also face pet-related housing issues. Co-op and condo boards have strict defined rules they must follow to make any changes in pet policies or to remove unit owners. If the building’s pet policies have suddenly become restrictive or if a notice has been received to remove a pet, it’s important to direct them to seek legal assistance.
  • If being faced with eviction or loss of a pet, there could still be help available. There may be legal resources in your community (see next section) to help you find the answers to help people questions about their lease or about notices they have received from their landlord. These include nonprofit agencies whose services may be low cost or even free.

Many states and cities have organizations that provide information and, in some cases, free legal assistance to people with a housing concern. The easiest way to identify these organizations is to use the Internet to search the following terms:

  • [Your state or city] Legal Services
  • [Your state or city] Legal Aid
  • Free legal services in [Your state or city]

In addition:

  • The National Fair Housing Advocate Online has a good list of legal services, tenant advocacy organizations and housing rights enforcement agencies throughout the country.
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has a good list of legal services, tenant advocacy organizations and housing rights enforcement agencies throughout the country.
  • Your local housing court may have a help center for tenants who have questions about the laws and the legal process.
  • Your local or state bar association may have a resource center or referral service for people involved in housing disputes. Contact them for a referral.

What to do if someone’s landlord says their pet must leave

Consult these resources for some of the common scenarios

  • A landlord says there are complaints that the pet is being a nuisance.
  • A landlord says that the lease says no pets and the pet has to be removed.  
    • Have an attorney or a tenant’s rights agency review the lease if this isn’t clear. If the pet owner suffers from a physical and/or emotional disability, they may have a right to keep their pet as an assistance animal.
  • A landlord says that the pet must leave if the pet owner doesn’t start paying a fee each month. Or, a new landlord takes over the property, and says he will no longer allow pets.
    • Typically a landlord cannot suddenly change the terms of a lease and charge additional fees. And if the lease includes the pet, there may be laws in your state that protect them. Check with your local legal resources to get more information about tenant rights (See "Finding Legal Resources in Your Community," above).

Pets are Welcome is a service mark of The Humane Society of the United States

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