Tenant Leasing Illustrated – December 2018 – Who, Who, Who Let the Dog Rider Out?

A recent study in the journal Learning & Behavior made cats and kittens all over the world smile and nod their furry little heads in agreement by suggesting that dogs are trainable, but not “super smart”.

Well, our family dog Casey broke that mold and was super smart (yes Casey, named after one-time Mets manager Casey Stengel).

Putting aside her preparation of algorithms, reading of Kant and jotting down witty thoughts in her journal, Casey showed her intellectual bona fides whenever she needed to go out in the middle of the night by coming up to my side of the bed on her hind legs and poking me with her front paws.

She knew a sucker when she saw one. Such a genius!

But our psycho-poo was not exactly user-friendly.

She looked adorable and cuddly (see below) but as with all sociopaths and commercial leases which landlords assure you have been pre-negotiated, looks can be deceiving.

After Casey was off in a better place sinking her teeth into celestial deliverymen, I overheard our grown sons aptly describing their family pet to a horrified dog-loving buddy as a possessed Satanic hound of hell.

Casey had a cute exterior but it hid a twisted alien soul, much like Frank the Pug, the extraterrestrial in doggie disguise from Men in Black (I did once catch Casey in the backyard puffing on a stogie, hmmm).

But Casey’s tendency to growl first and ask questions later almost cost her.

As a teeth-baring young pup, we were forced to consider giving Casey away before she went doggie postal on an innocent child. Lucky for her, our then 11 year old son Jordan went all Perry Mason and pleaded in Casey’s defense, the result being that we brought in local legend and uber-trainer Mr. Chang.

All Mr. Chang had to do was walk in the house and Casey would immediately drop down to a submissive position on the floor and pee.

Frankly, Mr. Chang was so intimidating that when he came in the house even I would drop down to a submissive position and pee. In fact, just thinking about Mr. Chang, er, excuse me…

Eventually, with Mr. Chang’s help, Casey went on to live a happy snarling life, wildly in love with my wife Robin and moderately tolerating the rest of our family and humankind.

In another life, she would have made a fine landlord.

In today’s world, many want their tenant’s best friend beside them at the workplace, be it canine, feline or otherwise. The ability to bring pets to the workplace has become a priority amenity in some industries, all part of attracting young workers, particularly in the techie world, along with foosball, ping pong and unlimited beer (maybe we should have given Casey unlimited beer).

For the first time, we are seeing “doggie” lease clauses and riders as tenants negotiate for the right to bring their pets to work.

It is understandable that landlords would look to regulate pet behavior and avoid getting bitten by having a Casey terrorizing other tenants in their building.

Much of what is included in these clauses and riders is common sense and fairly reasonable but, as with anything dreamed up by landlords, these requirements can be overly constraining and greatly restrict a negotiated right and large selling point to employees (or in the case of office suite businesses, to client-members).

Make sure your pet rider is paw-fect by following these eight suggestions:

  • Grant an affirmative right in your lease. It is not enough that your lease is silent. Include an affirmative right for you and your employees to bring pets into the premises, ideally in the body of your lease, not in the rules and regulations which are subject to change. Otherwise, your lease might permit your landlord to subsequently issue rules limiting this right.
  • Keep restrictions reasonable. It is common sense that any pets should be non-aggressive, vaccinated, leashed and housebroken, should not be left overnight or unaccompanied, and that you will be responsible for damage to the premises and building (including landscaping). Some leases will include other negotiated restrictions, and you need to carefully describe what is allowed.
    • For example, we have seen limits on weight (e.g., only dogs under 30 pounds) and aggregate population (e.g., one dog per an agreed upon number of rentable square feet). Such restrictions are business decisions based on your needs and the wishes of your employees and/or clients.
    • Your lease may prohibit specific animals, either limiting to dogs or specifically excluding a laundry list of other animals (e.g., monkeys, rabbits, snakes, reptiles, etc. – we have even seen leases that felt the need to spell out skunks, scorpions and tarantulas!).
    • Your lease may prohibit specific breeds viewed as more vicious, such as Pit Bulls, Dobermans, German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Philadelphia Phillies fans. Sometimes these lists are too inclusive and include breeds not known for aggressiveness or frankly are just not known (is a “Tosa Inu” a breed of dog or a dessert that I ordered last week?).
  • Termination for nuisance. Your landlord will expect a remedy in the event that your pet(s) becomes a nuisance. Nuisance should be defined narrowly to cover truly bad behavior, for example urinating or defecating in the premises, biting or other aggressive behavior, and be subject to materiality and reasonableness standards. The remedy should be termination of the right to bring the pet into the premises or, if it occurs multiple times, any other pets into the premises, not a default under your lease that could lead to a termination of your lease. If the violation is caused by your licensee, you may prefer to terminate the licensee’s rights regarding pets, not the rights of your entire organization. We also suggest a “three strikes” policy or other warning system allowing you some leeway before losing your rights.
  • Exception for service animals. There should always be an exception for service dogs and animals.
  • Indemnity. You should expect that your landlord will require an indemnity against any costs, losses and expenses arising from occupancy by your pets. This may be covered in the lease’s general indemnity or in a specific indemnity, but in either event you should as always exclude landlord’s own negligence and willful misconduct.
  • Insurance. Some leases will require that your commercial liability insurance specifically address, in an endorsement or rider, injury to persons and/or damage to property caused by such pets. You will need to confirm the availability and cost of any such endorsements or riders with your risk management professionals.
  • Compliance with laws. Some jurisdictions will have specific statutes or ordinances that address pets in places of work and it is not unreasonable for your landlord to require that you comply, at your cost, but you should do your due diligence and be aware of such required compliance before finalizing your lease.
  • Unusual animals. We have had media clients that needed the right to bring unusual animals into their premises for photo shoots. In this instance you can provide your landlord comfort by agreeing that such animals will be kept in a cage when outside of the premises, brought to the premises by the freight elevators and accompanied by a professional animal handler.

Notwithstanding her fiendish disposition, Casey was well loved and all three of our now grown sons have expressed interest in having a dog of their own someday. As Groucho Marx reputedly once said, “A lease (ahem, book) is man’s best friend outside of a dog. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Follow the eight suggestions above, and your doggie-pet lease provisions will be best in show.