For a condensed version of the information below, click here for a printable pdf.
Unless something else is written in your lease, one of five new laws might change your rights.
Purple text applies to leases and events as of 12/21/11 (2011 Wis. Act 108)
Orange text applies to leases and events as of 3/31/12 (2011 Wis. Act 143)
Green text applies to leases and events as of 3/1/14 (2013 Wis. Act 76)
Blue text applies to leases and events as of 11/1/15 (CR 14-038)
Maroon text applies to leases and events as of 3/2/16 (2015 Wis. Act. 176)
More information on law changes is available here. Have your lease available when calling the Tenant Resource Center so we can help you know what your rights and remedies are, including whether you can sue your landlord for double damages, court costs and reasonable attorney fees.
Do I need permission to get a pet?
Probably! If you are currently in a lease, check your lease before you get a pet. If your lease requires permission to have a pet or to add a pet, make sure you get permission from your landlord in writing and keep a copy for your records. A landlord may just add something to your lease. Make sure both you and the landlord initial and date the change. If your landlord refuses to allow you to have a pet, wait until you move to a pet-friendly apartment. (From our blog: make sure to Assert the Rights You Have and Get It In Writing)
If you're looking for a new apartment, make sure that you have permission in writing to have a pet.
What can happen if I get a pet without permission?
You could be evicted if it is prohibited in your lease. This would be a non-rent violation. The type of notice the landlord can give you, and whether you have a chance to get rid of the pet and avoid an eviction, will depend on several factors. For more information, please see Eviction. Being evicted makes it hard to find housing, can affect your credit, and does not relieve you from paying rent unless the landlord finds someone new to move in or your lease ends.
If one tenant has a pet, does the landlord have to allow everyone to have pets?
No. The landlord may give pet permission to some tenants and not others as long as they do not discriminate against certain tenants because of membership in a protected class, such as race, religion, sex, etc., or do it in retaliation against a tenant for enforcing their rights. It is not illegal for a landlord to discriminate against certain animals or breeds, as long as they are doing it for everyone.
What if I have a disability and depend on a service or companion animal?
This is a special situation, where landlords must allow animals even if they have a "no pets" policy. A service or companion animal should not be considered a pet. A service or companion animal should be treated, from the landlord's perspective, like a piece of medical equipment. Because of federal fair housing laws that require landlords to allow reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, the following apply:
- Landlords may not prohibit a service animal or companion animal from living in the unit.
- Landlords may not charge the tenant extra "pet" rent or "pet" security deposit.
- Landlords may not apply other "pet policy" rules like breed or weight restrictions. For more information from HUD on this, click here.
There are two exceptions, when a landlord can deny a service or companion animal:
- If the landlord lives in the unit, and they or a member of their immediate family have an allergy to the animal.
- If the animal has aggressively threatened someone. (This must be the specific animal in question, and not based on beliefs about their breed or weight.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act gives specific guidelines for what are and are not "service animals," the Act says that "emotional support animals that do not qualify as service animals under the Department’s title III regulations may nevertheless qualify as permitted reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities under the FH Act and the ACAA." The Fair Housing Act, which addresses "reasonable accommodations" in rental housing, is available here.
The tenant may be required to provide a note from a physician that verifies the service or companion animal is needed as an accommodation to the person with the disability. Even though the animal does not need to be a certified service or companion animal and apartment applicants are not required to state anything about the animal on an application, tenants may be required to provide a letter upon request after they move in. This letter should be from a medical professional, and should include 2 important points:
- Tenant has a disability (the medical professional doesn't need to state the kind of disability)
- That the animal is necessary to treat the disability that tenant possesses (no certification or specification of what the animal does to treat the disability is necessary)
If the landlord refuses to allow the service or companion animal, you may contact:
- U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD has publications available about fair housing and can direct you to your local fair housing office.
- Fair Housing Centers.
- In Dane County, for more information about service or companion animals, call Access to Independence.
- Disability Rights Wisconsin is a statewide organization that provides information about the legal rights of persons with disabilities.
- Your local Aging and Disability Resource Center.
How do I find landlords that rent to pet owners?
Check the regular rental listings–many landlords advertise that they allow pets. Some humane societies also keep lists of landlords who rent to people with pets. If you are looking for an apartment in Dane County, contact the Dane County Humane Society at (608) 838-0413, ext. 113. You can also search rental websites for units that allow pets.
How can I convince a landlord to rent to me and my pet?
Negotiate with the landlord
Contact the person who has the authority to grant you permission. This may be the resident manager, property manager, or owner of the building.
- Use some of our negotiation suggestions.
- Ask why the landlord has a no-pets policy. By asking up front about your landlord's concerns, you can learn more about how to best present your own request. Considering your landlord's position will encourage them to be more open to yours.
- When negotiating with the landlord, be careful about waiving a lot of rights in order to get permission for a pet. If the landlord seems unreasonable, you may want to keep looking for another apartment.
Market yourself as a good pet owner
Prepare a "pet resume" and include proof of your claims. Include the following in the resume:
- Good rental history. Write about your pet's great rental history. Since some landlords require pet references, include letters of reference from current or previous landlords who can verify that your pet did not damage the apartments, and letters from neighbors who can attest to your pet's good behavior and your own sense of responsibility.
- Training. Mention that your pet is well-behaved. If your cat is litter box trained or uses a scratching post, be sure to say so. If your dog does not bark when left alone or has attended obedience classes, mention this and include receipts or a graduation certificate.
- Veterinary records. State in the resume that your pets are well cared for and include copies of health certificates showing that your pets are spayed or neutered, free of fleas and ticks, and up-to-date on their vaccinations.
- Renters insurance. Depending on what kind of pet you have, you may be able to purchase liability insurance for any damage your pet may do. If you have this insurance, mention it in your resume and include a copy of your policy.
- Interview. Invite the landlord to "interview" your freshly groomed, well-behaved pet at your current home to show that your pet has not caused any damage.
Check out more detailed information and sample dog and cat resumes, or contact the Humane Society in your area.
In addition to presenting a pet resume, offer to sign a pet addendum to your rental agreement that makes you responsible for possible damage to property or injury to others.
Be a good pet owner
- If you have a dog, make sure to clean up its waste.
- Consider crate-training if you feel your dog may be destructive while you are not at home.
- Make sure your cat has access to a scratching post and that one or more litter boxes are readily available. If your cat is scratching something it shouldn't be, try putting aluminum foil or double-stick tape in that area to deter the behavior.
- Talk to a veterinarian or other pet owners for advice on behavior issues.
Can landlords charge pet owners higher security deposits?
The State of Wisconsin imposes no limits on security deposit amounts. Landlords may charge pet owners more, but they must follow all the same laws about returning it. "Non-refundable" pet deposits are illegal. For more information on Security Deposits, see our pages for Security Deposits in Madison, and Security Deposits in Wisconsin.
Can landlords charge pet owners more for rent?
Yes, landlords may charge a monthly pet fee of whatever amount they choose. It is always worth trying to negotiate if you feel the extra amount is unreasonable. However, you should plan some extra time for this, and get everything in writing. See the section above on convincing landlords to rent to you and your pet for specific things you can mention to negotiate with your landlord.
Can landlords automatically withhold money from pet owners' security deposits?
No, landlords may only charge for actual damages. If your pet did damage the apartment, the landlord may charge you for the repairs. If you are paying additional rent for your pet and being charged from your security deposit, make sure you're not being double-charged. If your landlord charges for pet damages, you can ask them (or a judge) to credit you for the amount you've paid in pet fees. Ask to see receipts for charges a landlord claims. If you feel you are being charged unfairly, contact the Tenant Resource Center for more information, or see Security Deposits (Madison or Wisconsin).