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June 1, 2016 |

Boston Landlord Dispute Lawyer Explains Landlord Rights Regarding Pets

No Massachusetts or federal law requires landlords to rent to pet owners. In fact, an experienced landlord-tenant attorney can advise of specific circumstances when landlords can legally deny rental to tenants with service animals in spite of strict federal fair housing laws.

When landlords choose to rent to pet owners, however, they need to understand how to protect their rights — and the rights of other tenants — within the confines of state law.

Do Not Plan to Charge Extra Pet-Related Fees

When deciding whether or not to permit pets to live in rental properties, landlords naturally consider the damage that pets can cause beyond the damage potentially caused by typical human renters. Just one dog that is not housebroken can force landlords to replace carpeting (and often the flooring below) before they can rent to another family.

Once landlords decide to permit pets, they need to understand that the potential for extra damage does not allow them to mitigate the risks by charging extra pet fees. Under the Massachusetts General Laws, landlords can charge security deposits equal to one month's rent, but they cannot charge pet deposits that increase the full deposit amount beyond that limit.

Do not expect to charge higher rent for pet owners, either. With some possible exceptions, the law generally expects the rent to be the same for similar rental units.

Renters Can Be Held to Rules and Restrictions Regarding Pets

It is essential for landlords to establish up-front rules and restrictions when they permit pets. Keep in mind, however, that some tenants may choose to adopt pets after they take occupancy. This is one reason why it is preferable to clearly state all pet-related rules within all tenant leases, regardless of current pet status.

When determining the rules, take the time to envision issues that can create potential liability issues for landlords while focusing on the rights of all tenants. Some common issues addressed by the rules include the following:

  • Types and number of pets: It is not uncommon to limit pets to caged varieties or to permit indoor cats while prohibiting dogs of any type. Other landlords may consider the size or weight of any animal, or refuse to rent to owners of certain dog breeds that are perceived as dangerous. Just as important, to reduce the chances that issues can get out of control, it is possible to limit the total number of pets permitted within any unit.
  • Sanitation requirements: Make sure that pet owners are held accountable for all sanitation issues. This includes cleaning up after pets inside and outside of rental units, and generally preventing pet-related noxious odors anywhere on the property.
  • Pet behaviors: Dogs, in particular, need to be well-trained to avoid issues caused by incessant barking. Just as important, pets need to be well-socialized or otherwise contained to avoid the possibility of attacks on other renters or their pets.
  • Ownership considerations: It is often advisable to make sure that tenants own the pets within their units. Dog-sitting or fostering situations can be prohibited.
  • Pre-approval requirements: Whenever possible, landlords should have the opportunity to meet all pets before they move into a unit. At the very least, landlords should require pet owners or potential pet owners to answer appropriate questions before bringing pets into their homes.

A well-considered set of rules can help prevent future disputes or even injuries. However, state and even federal laws can raise many questions concerning the legal rights of landlords and pet owners. Before establishing a pet policy, it makes sense to consult with an experienced Boston landlord dispute lawyer. Call the Law Offices of Shaun A. Hannafin at (617) 848-4572 for advice on staying within all legal requirements.

Posted in Landlord-Tenant Information

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