Barking Mad! Resolving Tenant Complaints About Pets
Renters Warehouse Blog
As a landlord, few things are more annoying than checking your voicemail; only to realize that you have five missed calls from your tenant -all concerning a complaint.
While tenants are great -and let's face it -we wouldn't be in business without them, tenant complaints can take a lot out of even the most resilient landlord. After all, you can only handle so many grievances before you start to come unhinged! Complaints can range from a dripping faucet (turn it a bit tighter) to suspicious visitors (another tenant's guests, maybe?), and of course, the ever prevalent complaint of -a barking dog (is it even in your building?).
Still, complaints should always be taken seriously. No matter how trivial they may seem to you, the fact is that to a tenant -they are very serious -and should always be addressed promptly, and handled in a satisfactory manner.
If you've been on the receiving end of a few tenant complaints, and are looking for some help resolving them in a professional way these tips will get you off to a great start. Let's look at a few of the most common pet-related complaints now, as well as a few steps for a successful resolution.
"WOOF! Woof woof woof! Woof!"
As anyone who's ever had dogs knows, noise is sometimes an issue. Dogs aren't exactly quiet creatures, and anytime they get excited, the express themselves by raising the volume. Sadly, though, the joyful noise of dogs barking at the mailman, or howling at the moon -aren't the kind of sounds that most tenants will take kindly to. Barking dogs are one of the most common tenant complaints, along with pet odors, pet messes, and vicious animals. This is especially true if you own an apartment or condo, or other multi-family residence.
As a landlord, it's your responsibility to deal with the issue of problem pets at your property, and to take steps toward preventing minor problems from escalating. With this in mind let's uncover a few things that you can do to address, and resolve pet issues.
Resolving Tenant Complaints About Pets
1. Listen to the Complaint
When a tenant comes to you with a complaint, it is important that you take the time to listen. Let them tell you their concerns; don't brush them aside, interrupt them midway through their conversation, or attempt to make light of things. Instead, listen and gather as much information regarding the situation as you can. Ask questions to get to the bottom of the issue, and don't be afraid to ask the tenant to explain their concerns to you again if you don't quite understand the complaint. Here are a few things that you can ask, or say to your tenant if you're unclear, or looking for more information.
- "I'm sorry. I didn't quite catch that last part, could you repeat it again?"
- "Let me repeat this back to you, just to make sure I understand everything."
- "Can I ask you a few questions? I just want to make sure I understand the situation correctly."
Once you've gathered the details, thank the tenant for bringing the issue to your attention, and inform them that you will get back to them once you've had a chance to investigate.
2. Assess the Complaint
Next, it's time to carefully assess the complaint to find out how serious it is. While some situations will require immediate attention, others are less urgent. Having a ranking system will help you to know how to treat the complaint, and which course of action you should take.
Here are a few examples on how most tenant complaints about animals rank:
- An Emergency - Any time there is an immediate threat to a tenant's well-being, you have a potential emergency. A complaint about a loose dog that's growling and snarling at people, or reports of an animal that has bitten or otherwise caused harm to someone should be considered an emergency and handled immediately.
- An Extreme Situation - An extreme situation would be a complaint about an animal that's being kept in violation of the rental agreement; or a dog that's exhibiting signs of vicious behavior -such as barking aggressively. This could also include a report of an exotic animal that's being kept illegally. Multiple complaints about the same issue -such as a dog that's been barking every night for a week, should also be treated as an extreme situation. These type of complaints should be addressed as quickly as possible to keep them from escalating into bigger problems or emergencies.
- A Moderate Situation - A moderate situation is one in which a tenant is concerned or frustrated, but not in any danger. These complaints can range anywhere from issues of pet messes or odors, to first-time noise complaints. While it's important to address these issues, in most cases, they can safely wait a day or two.
- A Low-Priority Issue - Finally, there are low-priority issues. These are complaints about pet hair or a dog that was barking at something in particular -like the mailman. These complaints should also be addressed, but in many cases, they can easily wait up to a week.
- Other Situations
Finally, you may receive complaints about a dog that's barking -only to later discover that the dog in question belongs to the neighbor across the street. In these cases, there's no course of action that you're required to take as the landlord, instead it's up to the tenant to decide whether they want to speak to the neighbor or contact animal control.
When someone raises a complaint about an animal on your property, chances are they will assume the situation is extremely urgent. It is up to you to gather all of the facts, acknowledge the situation, and then determine the best course of action.
3. Find a Solution
Finally, it's time to find a solution. The right course of action will usually depend on whether you allow pets in your complex or rental property -although an emergency situation that involves an animal injuring a tenant may involve the removal of the animal and fining the tenant -regardless of whether you allow animals or not.
Solutions If You DO Allow Pets
Do you allow pets at your property? Then read on!
For most situations, you'll want to do some investigating to gather all of the facts before making a decision. For example, a tenant may complain that a dog is barking constantly, when really, the dog may only be barking once or twice a day. You also should check with the owner of the pet to let them know about the complaint and to get their side of the story. They may be unaware that their animal is causing a problem and once the issue is brought to their attention, they'll take care to avoid future issues.
It's also important to determine if the complaint against the animal involves the tenant being in violation of the pet addendum part of their lease. If it is, then you can take action according to the terms of the lease and state laws.
In many cases, you can deal with each issue by treating it more severe each time that you receive a new complaint.
- First time: You could give the tenant a warning
- Second and third time: You could fine the tenant
- Fourth time: You may have to require the tenant to remove the pet or start eviction proceedings
For low-priority situations -like pet hair complaints, the solution may be a bit less clear. In most cases, though, you'll want to see if there's a solution that would be easy enough to implement. Pet hair in communal areas, for instance, may involve asking the cleaners to be more thorough when it comes to cleaning the communal areas, or it may involve informing the tenant who complained that there isn't anything that you can do over the occasional isolated barking incident, as long as it isn't happening on a consistent basis.
Solutions If You Do Not Allow Pets
If you don't allow pets, or if your tenant is keeping an animal that violates the lease agreement, the best course of action will depend on the lease agreement and often, your own judgement as well.
Here are a few potential solutions:
1. Ask the Tenant to Remove the Pet
If they remove the pet without issue, then there could be no further consequences
2. Fine the Tenant
You could fine the tenant the amount that's specified in the lease agreement for having animals illegally. You could also ask the tenant to remove the animal from the unit.
3. Fine the Tenant and Let Them Keep the Animal
Finally, a third option would be to fine the tenant for being in violation of the lease agreement, and then allow them to keep the animal. If you go this route, you should require them to sign a pet addendum to the lease that lists the requirements that they must abide by when keeping an animal.
An Exception: It's important to note that tenants who have disabilities and a service animal are allowed to keep their animal, regardless of your pet policy. This is because service animals are not considered to be pets but necessities. If you attempt to force a tenant to get rid of their service animal you could be accused of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.
At the end of the day your job as a landlord is to keep your premises safe and provide your tenants with a quiet environment. Creating and enforcing pet policies is the best way to do exactly that. This will also give you something to refer to, allowing you to know which course of action you should take when an issue arises -keeping your tenants on friendly terms; and, of course, saving you from going barking mad!
Do you have pet-friendly rentals? How do you handle complaints about barking dogs?
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