Q: I unwisely moved in with my now ex-boyfriend. I am not on the lease, although I have been contributing to rent and bills. The relationship has soured and now he has told me that he wants me out in three days. Can he do this? Do I have any legal recourse? –Miko W.
A: There’s a practical answer to your question, and a legal one. Both are rather unsatisfactory, unfortunately. Let’s look at the law first.
Technically speaking, you are either a co-tenant with your ex, or a subtenant of your ex. You may be a co-tenant if the landlord knew and accepted your living there, regardless of the fact that you have not been formally added to the lease (that is, in spite of your not having signed the lease).
That you did not directly pay rent to the landlord may not matter at all; it’s your "open and accepted" presence on the property as a resident that may give you co-tenant status.
If you’re legally a co-tenant, your ex cannot terminate your tenancy or take legal steps to remove you if you refuse to go. Only landlords can take these steps. Miserable co-tenants can continue to cohabitate indefinitely, each refusing to leave. It’s not a pretty picture.
On the other hand, you may be a subtenant, someone who rents from the tenant (your ex). If this is the case, your ex does indeed have the legal ability to terminate and evict, if you refuse to go.
You’d need to understand how your state defines co-tenants and subtenants to know where you fall. That would probably involve a trip to a lawyer … the last thing you need. Then again, if your ex really thinks that he can enforce a demand that you leave by evicting you, he too will have to get involved with the law (file an eviction lawsuit).
Whether you’re a co-tenant or a subtenant, if he tries to oust you by indirect means (like locking you out or throwing your things out on the street), he faces big liability for a "self-help eviction," a costly mistake in practically every state.
Your options are really more in the practical realm of things. If you need time to move, consider yourself either a co-tenant or a subtenant, and explain to your ex that, in any case, he cannot get rid of you short of an eviction lawsuit.
And presumably he’s not eager to be hit with a lawsuit. Assure him that demanding that you leave in three days is not reasonable, but that you’ll move at the earliest opportunity.
Q: We have a "no pets" policy at our property, and many of our residents have let us know that they value this policy and chose to live here, in part, because of it. A new resident has asked to add a roommate, whom we approved; then we learned that the new tenant has a companion animal that she says she may keep because she’s disabled.
We’re assuming that she’s legit and that the dog is necessary, but we’re concerned about our other tenants. Now that there’s a dog on the property, will they have grounds to break their leases and move? –Jon C.
A: If your new resident is a person with a disability — someone who has, has a history of, or is regarded as having a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities — you must follow the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act.
That means, among many other things, changing your rental policies if doing so is necessary to allow that person to live safely and comfortably on your property. A no-pets rule must bend to the request of a person with a disability if that person needs a service or companion animal.
The need for such an animal may be established by a letter from an attending professional, such as a doctor, or from other credible professional sources.
But although you, as the property owner, are subject to the fair housing rules, your other tenants generally are not. In this case, your tenants have a legal right to expect that you’ll maintain a pet-free property — that promise is in the lease, and you know that it played a substantial part in the tenants’ decision to rent from you.
That you are legally required to modify that policy when faced with a legitimate request by a person with a disability does not mean that your other residents must adjust their right, which you gave them in the lease, to live in a pet-free building.
In other words, you’re not following through with an important rental promise, and that you are legally required to deviate from it will not stop your other renters from the legal remedies they may have — which includes moving out.
But before you begin anticipating large-scale move-outs, consider a reality check. You’re not exactly hosting a pack of wild dogs; in fact, a companion animal that is properly trained will probably be well-behaved. You are on solid ground to insist that your new tenant clean up after the dog, give it regular and appropriate exercise, always keep the dog on a leash, and so on.
If reasonable rules like this are broken — and certainly if the dog poses a threat to others or substantially disrupts the peace and quiet of your property by nonstop barking — you’d be within your rights to question your obligation to allow the animal to be on the property.
Although the Fair Housing Amendments Act gives persons with a disability broad rights to keep service or companion animals, these rights are not absolute. Depending on the circumstances, they may have to bend to your legitimate concern that an animal not severely disrupt the ability of others to live in peace, let alone place other tenants at risk.
Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of "Every Landlord’s Legal Guide" and "Every Tenant’s Legal Guide." She can be reached at [email protected].
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