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Rent Watch

Tenant disability would affect 'nuisance' meaning

October 18, 2009|Martin Eichner | Project Sentinel

Question: One of my tenants is ruining her unit. She has filled her apartment with piles of clutter, and she owns six cats. I want to evict her before she destroys the place, but I also want to obey the law.

She recently gave me a letter from her doctor stating that she suffers from depression and needs her pets as an accommodation to treat her medical condition. I do allow pets in my rentals, but this tenant has taken it to the extreme. The smell and the trash in the unit are horrendous.

I would like to give her notice to clean the apartment and to limit the number of cats. How many cats are too many for a small two-bedroom apartment? Is it reasonable for me to give her notices to remedy these problems?

Answer: Your letter raises several issues. First, the general rule for pet occupancy limitations followed by many jurisdictions allows for no more than three adult dogs or five adult cats. Alternatively, no dwelling can have more than a combined total of five adult dogs and cats. Because this is a general rule, you should check the housing code and animal control regulations in your local jurisdiction.

In general, a "nuisance" is when a tenant causes an unreasonable interference with the peaceful enjoyment of other tenants or the property owners. Excessive smell and dirt could constitute a nuisance.

These conditions also may violate local housing code regulations or specific conditions of the rental agreement. In that case, a landlord can serve a notice to perform covenant or quit, specifying that the tenant must alleviate the conditions.

However, the situation you described about piles of clutter and the excessive number of cats may be a sign of a disability. If your tenant's hoarding arises from a disability, you may need to consider making what is called a "reasonable accommodation" for her.

Under fair housing laws, people with disabilities are afforded additional protections in the form of reasonable accommodations. These are exceptions to rules and policies that are necessary for a person with disabilities to have equal access to housing. To deal with a housing problem such as a tenant who compulsively hoards or clutters, contact your local fair housing organization for guidance and referral social service agencies that may offer help.

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-- Martin Eichner, Project Sentinel

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based mediation service.

To submit a question, go to www.housing.org.

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