Landlord Tenant Q&A: CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI

CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. I’m a landlord and a dog lover, so I always advertise my rentals as “dog friendly” when I have a vacancy. So far I have had no bad experiences…I’m very careful about interviewing both the dog owner and their dog(s) before making a commitment and I collect a pet deposit. However, I recently rented a house with a yard to a family with two dogs who have become very territorial and I’ve become uneasy about the safety of delivery and repair people who come to the property.

I have let the tenants know they must be home to control the dogs whenever something is being delivered or when repair people are there, but I’m beginning to think pet insurance may be in order “just in case.” Who is protected by pet insurance…the renter or owner? Is it offered by most general agents or is it hard to find?

Also, I did not include pet insurance as a requirement in the lease for the rental that was signed three months ago. What kind of notice do I need to give the tenant and, at this point, how do I change the basic lease? What are my options if the tenant refuses to comply?

A. These are very good questions. Your direction to the tenants to always control their dogs is good advice. I would put that in writing in a friendly letter to them.

I would further suggest including that you are concerned about the territorial behavior of the dogs and ask that they get insurance for their protection as you said, “just in case.” However, if you did not require it in the initial lease, you may not amend the lease or any terms of the lease until it is up for renewal unless they are willing to cooperate. Without a pet addendum that addresses this issue or an actual incident of aggressive behavior, I see no recourse for you in the Landlord Tenant Code, the Hawaii Revised Ordinances pertaining to dogs or the lease itself. Collecting a pet deposit is good but it is very different from insurance for a possible injury caused by a dog.

“Pet Insurance” is actually a policy called “Homeowners 4.” The name is misleading because it is for people who do not own… for tenants, lessees. Most insurance companies offer this type of insurance. It protects tenants as a result of lawsuits concerning their pets (you must let the insurance agent know up front that you have a pet). This type of insurance also covers contents against fire, plumbing-related water damage, electrical surges, and much more. It is inexpensive and may be required by a landlord if the term is spelled out prior to signing the lease. In a claim covered by the policy, the tenant’s Homeowners 4 would take first priority; it would defend both the tenant and landlord up to the policy limits. Should the suit exceed its limits, the landlord’s liability policy may also be called upon.

If you are seriously concerned and would like the tenants to obtain insurance prior to renegotiation of a new lease and they refuse I would suggest offering to reduce the rent for one month by the amount they would pay to obtain the insurance. This may make them amenable to getting it, especially if they are made to understand they have liability with or without insurance. This small amount of money you would spend could add a great amount of protection and peace of mind for you. You could then require it when the lease renegotiates. It would be prudent for you to discuss the situation with your insurance agent to be sure you have the proper protection in place as well.

I would strongly suggest having a pet addendum when anyone allows a pet in a rental; it doesn’t matter whether the pet is a dog (be it a Great Dane or a Tea Cup Poodle), a cat, rabbit, bird, or pig. A good pet addendum answers many questions and prevents many misunderstandings up front. As a dog lover you probably treat your dog as a family member and would not dream of allowing her to misbehave; however, all pet owners are not the same. I am not an insurance agent (although I consulted with one in writing this article), so please contact your insurance agent to confirm the information that I have provided.

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