When a tenant abandons your rental property and leaves possessions behind, you have the legal responsibility to properly dispose of it according to the laws of your state.
When that abandoned property includes dogs or cats, it adds a whole new level to your process.
The Growing Problem of Abandoned Pets
There are too many sad stories of landlords discovering abandoned dogs or cats in vacated properties who are starving, sick, injured or dead. The process for declaring an animal as abandoned may differ from state to state, but there are some general guidelines you can follow to ensure that the animals won’t suffer and that the former owners are held accountable, all while getting your property back.
Many states require you to store a tenant’s possessions for a time, attempt to contact them and then outline how to dispose of the property. Pets require a completely different process so when you find one, follow these three steps to ensure the animal doesn’t suffer and neither does your rental property.
Step 1. Verify Legal Abandonment
When you suspect the tenant has abandoned the rental property, look for clues that he has vacated, such as changing the mailing address, taken most of his belongings, or changing the utilities out of his name.
Neighbors may have noticed a moving truck, or otherwise learned that the tenant is indeed gone. If you have received notice from the tenant that he’s vacated the unit or if you have legally evicted him, then the pet and all the other possessions may be considered abandoned.
Each state has different rules and laws on dealing with abandoned animals as well as animal neglect. Because they are living creatures, the laws for them are different than what you would do with an abandoned stereo or television. It’s important to become familiar with the laws in your state concerning abandoned pets so you know what to do to help the suffering animal and protect your rental property at the same time.
Step 2. Safety and Security for the Pet and Yourself
If the animal has been abandoned for a long time, it may be hungry, cold, sick, stressed or desperate. While you may feel like you need to rush in and care for the pet, make sure that you always use caution with animals that can hurt you, like big dogs.
For the immediate short term, make sure the animals are secure (not wandering around and endangering others), and perhaps provide them with food and water. Animals can be unpredictable and you are a stranger to the abandoned animal. Even if the pet has behaved well around you before, the circumstances surrounding the abandonment may cause the animal to act differently, even aggressively. Never approach a dangerous animal—like a stressed out, starving big dog—no matter how sorry you feel for it.
When in doubt about the animal’s behavior, err on the side of keeping yourself and others safe.
Step 3. Contact Animal Control
When you discover an abandoned pet, and have ensured that it is not a danger to anyone and that it has minimal yet basic care, immediately contact your local animal control officer through the police department.
Animal control will ask you to file a report, and come remove the dog or cat for you. Depending on the animal’s condition, the former tenant may actually be charged with a crime based on evidence of how the pet was treated.
Between you and the animal control, hopefully you can locate the tenant so he can take responsibility for the abandoned pet and face charges of neglect and abandonment. If the tenant doesn’t claim the pet or otherwise surrenders it, there are several options. Shelters accept abandoned dogs and cats, but there’s a good chance the pet will be euthanized if it is not adopted soon. No-kill shelters are not as common, but will take in abandoned pets as well.
You’ll need to make sure you follow all the laws about holding the pet, contacting the previous tenant and making the shelter aware of the real owner and that you’re trying to get in touch with them.
Animal Abandonment Laws
The abundance of cases of abandoned animals that suffer and die has prompted many states to update and clarify their laws regarding abandoned pets at rental properties and home foreclosure sites. For example, in Massachusetts, lawmakers in 2014 are looking at Bill S.942, which would help out landlords and any abandoned animals in vacant properties. The bill would allow landlords to inspect recently vacated units within 5 days for abandoned animals and increase penalties for offenders.
In 2009, California enacted a law that landlords who discover an abandoned animal can report it to animal control and will not be considered the owner or keeper of the animal and will have no liability where the animal is concerned. The law allows animal control officers to immediately take abandoned pets from the premises rather than wait for up to two days before a property is declared as abandoned. Similar laws in other states enable law enforcement officers to remove abandoned pets immediately so they get proper care.
In the end, you should always contact your local authorities when you discover an abandoned pet to determine the best way to get it removed quickly and placed somewhere that the owner can claim it or it can be adopted into a better home.
For more information on how to help abandoned pets worldwide, visit this great resource we found and see what you can do to help raise awareness and help put an end to this serious problem.
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