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Screenshot: Aleksey Boyko (Shutterstock)
Dogs are man’s best friend, but they are not your landlord’s best friend—for obvious reasons. We don’t recommend hiding a dog from a landlord for a number of reasons, but if you’re going to, you should do it smartly.
Why hide a dog?
Maybe you got a new apartment in a rush, didn’t have the luxury of being picky, signed on the first dotted line you could in an effort not to become homeless, but ended up in a place that won’t let your dog come with you Maybe your great aunt died and bequeathed you her beloved pooch. Maybe your roommate got a dog without telling you, or you saw an adoption ad that was simply too much for your heart to take, so you acted without thinking. The facts of the case don’t matter: You have a dog and you live in a rental that doesn’t allow them.
There are two kinds of dog-based restrictions: Your landlord could flat-out ban them, or charge you a fee if they find out you have one. There are then three kinds of fees: Pet deposits are usually refundable, while pet fees are not, but you typically pay the latter out only one time. A pet fee is more like an admissions fee, while the pet deposit is designed to pay for any damage the pet causes, just like a regular rental deposit. If your dog doesn’t scratch up the place or pee on the carpet, you get the money back.
And then there’s pet rent, which is exactly what it sounds like: a monthly rent payment you make simply to keep your dog in the apartment or property. Pet rent can vary based on your location, how many pets you have, and what types of pets you have. A bunny or cat probably isn’t going to cost you as much pet rent as your big dog.
So, how do you hide the dog?
First of all, we can’t overstate how little we actually recommend doing this. If your landlord does bust you, you could be forced to choose between your stable home and your pet, get taken to court, or owe a bunch of money. Plus, living in secrecy is no fun for your dog. Going on walks under the cover of night, being reprimanded for barking, and even just catching the vibes from you that something is off won’t be a good time for your four-legged friend. Imagine if you need to take them to the vet suddenly. In your panic over their health, are you going to remember to conceal them meticulously under a blanket as you sprint outside? Is that delay fair to them?
Anyway, here are some tips:
- Set a precedent about repairs and visits. Tell your landlord clearly (but kindly) what times you work, what times you’re home, and that you would prefer to always be notified in advance before they pay a visit or send a maintenance person. Don’t be rude, but make it clear that you pay for your space and while you respect their technical ownership of it, you are uncomfortable with people entering your apartment suddenly or when you’re not there. Then, pray thy landlord cares that much about thy wishes.
- Try to get a hypoallergenic dog. If your neighbor has an allergy and starts sneezing nonstop one day out of seemingly nowhere, it won’t take long for them to figure out they’re only experiencing symptoms when they’re home. They could contact the landlord and an investigation could get underway. If your pet is literally sickening another paying tenant, your landlord isn’t going to be particularly forgiving or likely to let it go.
- Try asking for permission. This could go wrong, of course, and tip your landlord off to the fact that you’ve already got a dog—but you can try asking whether you could theoretically get one. Offer upfront to pay a fee. You never know until you try.
- Keep all dog-related stuff in one spot. Designate a special drawer for your pet’s toys, treats, blankets, brushes, and food. You can’t leave the doggie detritus spread out around the place because you don’t know when your landlord (or a snitch) might stop by.
- Keep the crate in the bathroom. If space allows, put a dog crate in the bathroom. Even if your landlord stops by unexpectedly, it’s not that suspicious for you to want to keep the bathroom door closed during their visit. Put an occupying, quiet toy in the crate and pray your dog doesn’t bark. For bonus noise reduction (and belief about why the door is shut), deputize a roommate or your partner to go in there and run the shower.
- Make sure your dog is well trained. If your dog is aggressive or hyperactive, this isn’t going to work. Just accept that now. Work on training, but if your dog isn’t picking it up quickly, you might need a new plan.
- Take the dog out early or late. We hope you don’t love sleeping in or staying up late, because you can’t take your dog out for bathroom breaks in the middle of the afternoon. Imagine running into your landlord or a gossipy neighbor. Invest in pee pads for daytime use and acclimate your dog to early-morning and late-night walks. Oh, and if—rather, when—your pet goes to the bathroom on your floor, clean it up immediately. Leave no immediate or long-term trace of the fact that you ever had a dog in that place.
- Enlist an accommodate. A friend who lives nearby or maybe even a like-minded neighbor should be aware of what you’re up to in case the landlord drops by for an extended visit or you have days-long maintenance scheduled. Sneak your dog over to their place and don’t forget to pay them for their services. (We didn’t say this was going to be cheap.)
- Consider going the emotional support animal route. The Fair Housing Amendments Act guarantees you the right to dictate an emotional support animal, no matter what the rules of your property. You can’t even be forced to pay a fee or deposit for an ESA. Online services like support pets are fast and will get you medical certification in your state.
What to do if you get caught with a dog
If you get busted, you can try a few different things. You can play dumb and say you didn’t know pets weren’t allowed (even though it’s almost certainly spelled out pretty clearly on that lease you signed). You can act contrite and even offer to pay a fee or pet rent. You can simply leave, especially if your landlord is telling you to pick between the pet and your place—just make sure they’re willing to break your lease over the issue and you won’t end up paying for two apartments until it expires.
Know the laws in your area, as they can be a big help you if you get caught. In NYC, for instance, a landlord waives their right to enforce a no-pet clause if the tenant has kept their pet “openly” and “notoriously” or the landlord has known (or should have known) about the pet for at least three months. This means, though, that you shouldn’t hide your pet, but rather allow your landlord to see it and hope that they don’t bring it up for three months after that. Under the same law, if the landlord doesn’t begin a court case—yes, a court case—to enforce the clause, they again waive their right to enforce it. If you do get taken to court, make sure you have a detailed record of all the times you were seen by your landlord, door person, neighbors, and maintenance people with the dog.
Laws vary from locality to locality, so you need to look yours up right away. Obviously, there are risks here: you could go to court, get tossed out on your ass, have to give up your dog, pay a lot of money, or just make your pet’s life—and your own—miserable. Then again, everyone’s circumstances are different, so do what you gotta do.