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RENTAL SAVVY

Why pets are a peeve for landlords

It's best to get written consent before moving in with your dog or cat.

March 02, 2003|H. May Spitz | Special to The Times

Pets always have been a source of irritation between landlords and tenants.

With the exception of guide, signal and service dogs, which help the blind, deaf or disabled, landlords have the right to prohibit pets.

Why the reluctance to allow pets? Landlords cite several reasons, including fear of lawsuits, potential damage to property and access challenges.

Dog bites account for one-third of all homeowner's insurance liability claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute, costing about $310 million annually. State Farm Insurance Cos. now requests that a dog with a "bite history" be removed. Farmers Insurance Group has a dog-by-dog restriction and a no-tolerance policy for bites. And the company will not take new business from owners with dog-bite claims in the last three years, even if the family no longer has the pet.

Insurance form questions include: "Do you have any dogs on the premises? If yes, how many?" Some inquire about the breed. One form goes on to ask, "Has the dog been attack-trained?"

The California Legislature has declared, "Potentially dangerous and vicious dogs have become a serious and widespread threat to the safety and welfare of citizens in this state."

The law attempts to address the problem and define the issues in Division 14 of the Food and Agricultural Code. Dog owners are responsible for registering, confining and keeping proper control of vicious and potentially dangerous dogs. Many dog breeders support the law. Check www.leginfo.ca.gov for the law in detail.

What about damage? One property owner showed me a rental whose shredded screens and scratched doors were signs of a dog in residence. The tenant is responsible for such damage.

Pets also can create access challenges for property owners attempting to provide tenant services. Sending in a plumber could necessitate the pet-owning tenant's being present or signing a waiver. What if the dog or cat escapes or the dog bites the worker?

If you have a pet, be honest at move-in. Try places that allow pets first, and appeal to those that don't. Never sneak in a pet.

Get permission in writing for your pet. Rest assured that a pet deposit, combined with security and any other deposits, cannot exceed two months' rent.

Problems between landlord and tenant can lead to eviction, so get everyone to sign the agreement and avoid hassle later. Pet owners need to be responsible for their pets in every sense of the word.

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H. May Spitz is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Reader comments may be sent to hmayspitz@aol.com.

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