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Enforcing No-Pet Clauses And Dealing With Tenants With Special Needs

By Jennifer L. Alexander, Esq. April 16, 2014 Posted in Landlord/Tenant Law

Many landlords in New Jersey and elsewhere throughout the Northeast have placed heavy restrictions on (or totally banned) having animals in their buildings. The reasoning behind the restrictions typically ranges from concerns over property damage to pet bites. That said, many standard rental agreements and leases contain no-pet provisions that will permit landlords to evict tenants who are caught in violation.

There are, however, a number of instances in which landlords might not be able to enforce their no-pet clauses. For example, if a tenant already has a pet living in the rental unit and the landlord attempts to add a no-pet provision to that tenant's rental agreement, that provision may not be enforceable. Likewise, if a landlord attempts to enforce a no-pet clause that already exists in a lease or rental agreement after he or she has already known about a tenant's pet for a certain length of time and has never objected in the past, such acquiescence might make the clause unenforceable against that particular tenant.

Additionally, if a landlord has already agreed, despite the wording of the lease agreement, to allow a tenant to have a pet, or if that tenant can demonstrate that having the pet is necessary for his or her health and/or security, courts may find the no-pet clause to be unenforceable.

Handling No-Pet Clauses With Tenants Who Have Special Needs

There are occasions in which a tenant may need to have a pet for purposes of his or her mental health or other medical reasons, such as blindness or wheelchair dependency. More and more, judges have demonstrated that they are willing to hear testimony from experts who can explain the psychological and emotional value of pets. For example, New Jersey's Superior Court has held that enforcing no-pet clauses would be unreasonable when, according to a psychologist's testimony, the tenants involved would suffer from significant health issues if they were to lose their pets. (Young v. Savinon, 492 A.2d 385 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1985).)

Landlords should also be aware that if tenants want to have pets for security reasons, those tenants might be able to defeat a no-pet clause if they can prove that the dog or pet is necessary for their safety. A tenant might be able to do that by showing that the area in which the property is located has a history of crime, or that the building has a history of break-ins and/or drug deals.

Be Careful About Side Agreements

Occasionally, some landlords might allow tenants to get pets for one reason or another, and subsequently, they decide to add no-pet clauses to their leases or rental agreements. If that happens, landlords should take note that the New Jersey Superior Court has held that tenants, who relied on promises made by the landlord and have had a dog for over 10 years, cannot be made to leave their apartments simply because they refused to accept the addition of a no-pet clause when they renewed their leases. (Royal Associates v. Concannon, 490 A.2d 357 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1985).)

Any landlord or homeowner's association board that has questions or concerns about no-pet provisions and their legal rights should contact a knowledgeable attorney at Griffin Alexander, P.C. as soon as possible.


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