What to do about a new neighbor's dogs?
September 11, 2019 9:56 PM   Subscribe

We live in a rental house with a separately rented converted garage. A new tenant in the studio has two small terriers that make a ton of noise and have bitten my wife. Do we have any grounds to force the tenant to get rid of the dogs or to break our lease and move?

We rent a house that has a very small in-law unit (~150 square feet) in the converted garage that is rented by our landlord separately. Last year this wasn’t a problem – the unit was rented by a young woman who was great. We hence renewed our 12-month lease last February to rent the same place again for this academic year (we live in a college town in California that rents Sept. 1-Aug. 31). When we signed the lease the landlord told us that she would find a very similar tenant for the in-law unit for next year. We were surprised to learn that she chose a tenant with two small terriers.

When the new tenant is home the terriers tend to be fine; but she is out of the unit most days 8-5 and is often gone in the evening as well. When she’s gone the dogs frequently bark and howl. My wife and I both work from home several days a week and our movements around the house sometimes trigger their noises, which can be heard throughout the whole house.

The dogs are also aggressive. On Monday my wife was delivering a package to the studio tenant on the side of the house when one of the dogs ran at her and bit her above the knee. The bite didn’t break the skin but was pretty substantial; I think if my wife hadn’t been wearing jeans the bite might have gone through. The studio tenant was apologetic, but my wife was understandably pretty upset.

We contacted our landlord about both these points and said that we were not comfortable continuing to share the property with these dogs. The landlord said we will try to make you both happy but the studio tenant has a lease that permits these dogs. She suggested a gate on the side of the house keeping the dogs separate from the garbage area. The studio tenant continues to be pretty apologetic and is also buying some kind of anti-barking device on Amazon.

I am pretty unhappy about the prospect of living with these dogs for the next year. My preference would be to get the tenant to rehome the dogs for the year. I would also gladly bail on our lease and move if I could do so without incurring a financial penalty. Do we have any grounds to do either of those things? Or do you have any advice about how to improve the situation?

I suppose I should mention that we have a dog ourselves, though she has never bitten anything and does not bark in our absence (I’ve taped her to be sure).
posted by crazy with stars to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is not a good situation, I can understand why you’re upset. Having said that, it sounds like the tenant and landlord are taking (or at least suggesting) measures in the hope it doesn’t happen again, could you possibly wait and see how this works out?

You said the tenant was apologetic about the bite (you’d hope so!) having said that, a bark collar won’t stop the dog biting you, I’d talk to her and ask her what she plans on doing to ensure the safety of you and visitors to the house - if you have small children come over, it could end up a lot worse if it happens again. And she could be in an awful lot of trouble for knowingly having a vicious dog and not doing anything to deal with it. I’d tell her as much.

Obviously you don’t want to get bitten again but if she then agrees and the dogs are down the side of the house with bark collars on that could do a lot to help the issue.

Rehoming the dogs for a year is a big ask and not possible for most people and moving out on your end sounds even more disruptive. I’d talk to her first. Make it clear you’re not happy but you’re giving her a chance to fix the issue. Most people wouldn’t, after a dog bite, they’d go to the police. Either way, I wouldn’t be the one to move.
posted by Jubey at 11:33 PM on September 11, 2019 [11 favorites]

Not really clear on the physical layout of your situation. There are a lot of Ask's about mitigating sound from nearby apartments. Would laying down rugs help? White noise machines? Is there a fenced yard? If no fence, ask that the dogs be leashed whenever they are outside, at a minimum.

And assume your neighbor and the landlord want to cooperate and to fix things*, just like you do. Can you record the neighbor's dogs when she's not home, to demonstrate how loud they are from within your house, and how often they bark? Maybe keep some stats for a few days, and you and your neighbor together can try to figure out if there is something that triggers their barking (like the mail being delivered). Maybe they are just bored, and some really high-value puzzle toys with treats would keep them too occupied to bark? Could the tenant hire a dog-walking service (or local teenager?) to give them a walk and some fresh air in the middle of the day?

*I mean, if one of my dogs bit someone - even just a nip through pants that did not draw blood - I would bend over backwards to cooperate in the hopes that I wouldn't be sued.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:58 AM on September 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

IANAL, but if the landlord and the studio renter don't address this to your satisfaction, you should consult a lawyer. To me, a dog bite sounds like a deal-breaker. As in constructive eviction, which could let you break the lease.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:31 AM on September 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

I would continue to document the problem while keeping in mind the benefits of a good neighbor attitude. So, knowing that whatever gizmo your neighbor ordered from Amazon will not magically solve the issue in a single day, still give your neighbor and the landlord some time to work it out. If the barking is decreasing over time and the neighbor puts work in to keep the dogs from interacting with you (to avoid even a minute potential for a bite), give credit for that without demanding a perfect solution. If the problem worsens or doesn’t change at all, I think you should ask for a more intensive solution here, which IMO is not rehoming (I can’t think of a loving dog owner who would agree to that, I would move out first!) but would be extensive, ongoing dog training, or paying to take the dogs to a sitter during the work day, or paying a sitter to come play with the dogs, etc.

While you are letting your neighbor work with her dogs to reduce the problem, I would stop doing things like bringing packages to her—eliminate your physical contact with the dogs.
posted by sallybrown at 6:59 AM on September 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

I agree with Jubey, but if you would indeed be happy to move out, you could propose that as a solution. Your landlord might decide that's less of a headache than trying to deal with the conflict.
posted by metasarah at 7:00 AM on September 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

"She has a lease that permits these dogs"

If there is no clause in the lease that specifies that animals kept on the property must be reasonably quiet and non-aggressive, there needs to be. What kind of a fool landlord is cool with loud aggressive dogs? I don't think the landlords hands are exactly tied here as it is their lease.

That said, if they are going to install the gate they suggested, and the neighbor is taking steps to mute the dogs, it is probably worth giving it a chance. And make the neighbor come get her own damn packages.

There is apparently some anti-barking procedure that works. We had an upstairs neighbor whose dog barked every second that the neighbor was not home. We complained to the landlord and the barking ceased almost instantly, and forever. I don't think they re-homed the dog as I could still here it walking around up there (toenails on hardwood.)
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:04 AM on September 12, 2019

I'm sure I'll be lambasted for mentioning this, but aggressive dogs that bite need to be reported to the proper authorities.

I would say that gives you a bit of leverage but how and when you use it is your choice. I really like the suggestion above to speak to a lawyer and figure out your options.
posted by sardonyx at 7:16 AM on September 12, 2019 [10 favorites]

Your wife was bitten by a dog. Was she in the other tenant's outdoor space? Or just walking to the door? The difference to me is that if the dog was in a fenced area that she entered, or the dog was on a line and she went into the animal's range, then the owner isn't being completely irresponsible. Otherwise, I would let the landlord know that you will be filing a complaint with the police. I've been a landlord. Your landlord has an obligation to deal with noise and safety issues. Tenants with pets always claim the pet is an angel; then it tears up the door, or wrecks hardwood floors.

Get a decibel meter for your phones, keep a log of noise by decibel level. Most towns have noise ordinances. The dogs in the separate building may not be in violation,but they are definitely a nuisance.

Can you even find a different place now?
posted by theora55 at 7:44 AM on September 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

There are probably more things that your neighbors can try for the barking (thundershirts for the dogs, etc). But if I was in this situation, I think I would look for another apartment. Even if you're legally bound to the lease, your landlord may be completely willing to let you go...I've had to move early a couple of times to relocate for school or a job and it was always fine. Maybe start by finding out if they're open to the idea. There should be a local org that can give you some advice on tenants' rights if they're resistant (in Berkeley, there's the Rent Stabilization Board and Tenants' Union, for example).
posted by pinochiette at 8:19 AM on September 12, 2019

I woulda called animal control in a hot second. Don't know if they'd have taken the biting dog away immediately, but at least there'd be a record and leverage over the dog's owner to make damn sure it doesn't happen again.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:51 AM on September 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

It's understandable that you are frustrated. However, I think you need to at least attempt to have them work on the solution. Then, if the dogs continue to bark, you have a better case for approaching the landlord to break the lease.

Were the dogs annoying you but you didn't raise the issue until the bite? Or was the neighbor not dealing with the barking issue?

Also, yeah, don't go near her place anymore. Get the gate, see if things work, and don't approach the dogs. Try to make this work. It's okay to be frustrated and not want to leave, but if you don't even let them try to solve the problem, you might risk not being able to leave without a penalty.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:23 PM on September 12, 2019

I completely feel for you and it's a sucky situation. Have you tried befriending the dogs? If you haven't done that, stay away from them. I have a very anxious great dane that will bark bloody murder at strangers but not at people she knows well. I can't believe the number of people that are saying to call animal control or try to get your neighbor evicted. Make friends or move somewhere else but don't make finding animal friendly housing harder for this young woman.
posted by Marinara at 7:00 PM on September 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

Also please be mindful that the dogs are behaving the way they are not out of some inherent evil or bad nature, but because they are bored, poorly trained, lonely, frightened or some combination of those things. The solution here lies with change/action from the owners, but take care that the results of your complaints don't actually punish the *dogs* -- take them away from their owners, have them seized by animal control -- for something they can't, themselves, control. Though you are justifiably angry, the animals are not to blame here.
posted by mccxxiii at 9:36 PM on September 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Calling animal control is the appropriate response to being bit by a dog of any size. Is it too late for you to report?

That said, if the anti-barking and containment strategies they're proposing actually solve the problems you mentioned, could you live with that? It does seem like they're taking the complaints seriously. I would wait and see at this point, but resume being a thorn in your landlord's side about excessive barking if the devices genuinely don't work and then escalate to breaking your lease without penalty if it continues to be unbearable over the next few months.
posted by rawralphadawg at 7:22 AM on September 13, 2019

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