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Apartment complex becomes 'Dogs allowed' without warning

March 01, 2009|Janet Portman | Inman News

Question: We moved into our apartment complex 15 years ago. One of the reasons we chose this one was that it did not allow dogs. Recently we became aware that several buildings in the complex were designated for rental to tenants with dogs. A dog run was created near our balcony. Now I've learned that the entire complex (about 700 apartments) is open to dog owners. We tenants were never notified about the change in policy. Do we have any recourse?

Answer: When landlords advertise certain amenities or policies, and particularly when these ads become promises in their leases, they are legally bound to follow through during the life of the lease. For example, an ad that promises "We pay gas and electric" will be binding on the landlord during the lease (or, if the tenancy is month to month, until the landlord gives proper notice changing this policy). This is true even if the promise isn't in the rental document -- it's enough if the promise is prominent, of real value and likely to have been relied upon by prospective tenants.

Your landlord's no-dogs policy may well have qualified as a binding promise when you moved in, and if you signed successive leases over the years, it could have continued to be a major reason why you decided to continue to rent there. But landlords may change policies, at lease-renewal time and with proper notice given to monthly tenants. And here is where things get tricky.

A landlord who wants to begin allowing dogs, but has a building full of tenants enjoying the explicit or implied promise that no dogs will be seen, will have to systematically withdraw the no-dogs policy in current tenants' leases (at lease renewal time) or in month-to-month rental agreements (with proper notice) until all current residents are renting with the understanding that dogs may be brought into the building. Only then can the landlord properly rent to new (or even current) residents who want dogs.

It doesn't sound as if management took this approach. It probably figured such a policy wasn't worthy of proper notice. Had you confronted management early on, you might have been able to at least delay the appearance of dog-toting tenants (that is, until the renewal date of the most recently signed "no dogs" lease).

But perhaps you can still salvage part of the complex as dog-free, at least for a while. If you can, gather similar no-dogs tenants who live nearby and ask for a meeting with management. The prospect of an en masse move-out by a substantial group of long-term tenants may spur them to compromise. As for the dog run below your balcony, that is a major annoyance You're within your rights to ask that it be moved.

-- Janet Portman, Inman News


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