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Pets and Landlords

Attitudes about pet animals are understandably passionate. One person's companion is another's nuisance, just as one man's floor is another man's ceiling. Obviously, there's a big difference between a wild boar and a goldfish, and some people argue that there are "good pets" - like cats which stay inside the apartment - and other household animals. The law, however, doesn't make these distinctions. So, before you buy a puppy or a parakeet or a boa constrictor, finish reading this article.

If you're a tenant, be cautioned that a tenancy is matter of agreement. It's a contract between you and your landlord. Most residential leases do not allow tenants to have a pet without the landlord's written permission, which your landlord has no obligation to give. There's no constitutional right to keep a pet, and many landlords are concerned about liability, cleanliness, safety, and their other tenants. So, check your lease. If it prohibits pets, you'll need your landlord's written permission. Also, if your landlord grants permission he can also probably revoke it even without a good reason. Since a lot of landlords feel that having pet animals in a building is not good for the property, tenants with pets should look for a "pet friendly" landlord. The same is true for tenants living in condominium units. Either the unit owner or the condominium association can restrict pets.

Much the same is true for owners of condominium units. Central to the concept of condominium ownership is the principal that each owner must give up a certain degree of freedom of choice in exchange for the benefits of association with other owners. When you buy a condominium unit, you're expected to know the restrictions in the Master Deed, Declaration of Trust, and Rules and Regulations. As a unit owner, you're also presumed to accept these restrictions when you make your purchase. Some documents do permit a unit owner to keep one household pet, but most condominium associations don't permit pets without prior permission from the trustees. It's perfectly okay for the trustees of a condominium to decide that pets may interfere with their health, happiness, and peace of mind, even if your pet is a docile bundle of cuddly fur. Most associations impose fines for violations of their by-laws or regulations, so don't flaunt these restrictions unless you're prepared to pay the price.

A pet, by the way, is a pet. The law doesn't make a distinction between quiet, inside pets and outdoor pets, such as dogs. Goldfish are pets. Snakes are pets. Gerbils and hamsters are also pets. As a practical matter, landlords often overlook low-maintenance, undetectable pets such as tropical fish in a fish-tank since they aren't likely to stir up complaints or chew up the apartment. But to be on the safe side get your landlord's permission if your rental agreement requires it.

There are a special rules for handicapped tenants. In public housing, a landlord can't prohibit a handicapped tenant from keeping a pet if the tenant's ability to function is related to the pet's companionship, as long as the pet is not dangerous.

When it comes to a landlord's pet restrictions, check with your local real estate agent. All real estate agencies are required to include information about pet preferences in the listing contract and specify whether the apartment allows pets and must ask tenants if they will have a pet.

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