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This question is based on a social media post of a presumably real situation someone I don't directly know is facing.

Suppose a landlord leases housing to a person, with a requirement in the lease to get a "dog permit" from the landlord to have a dog living in the place, and grants the permit at the time the lease is signed. Then, immediately after the person moves in, the landlord tells them the dog permit has been rescinded, with no prior communication or incident that would have caused a change in circumstances, and threatens the new tenant with eviction if they do not get rid of their pet immediately.

What legal recourse does someone have in such a situation? Are there US jurisdictions where this kind of behavior by the landlord is legal? The person who it happened to belongs to one or more classes likely to be discriminated against, so these antics may be "constructive" to deny housing where the real intent is unlawful discrimination; if so, does that change anything about how the law sees it and how to handle the situation?

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    Landlord/tenant law varies widely from one US state to another. There are many instances in which a landlord's permission for something is required but may not be withheld unreasonably. I don't know whether any state would include having a dog. Also, unreasonably withdrawing permission is different from unreasonably withholding it.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 6:55
  • Related: "Contra proferentem", Wikipedia.
    – Nat
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 1:10
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    This is, it'd be one thing if someone signed a lease fully understanding the terms and consenting to them. However, if the contract was drafted as to be ambiguous, where a reasonable person might think that a "dog permit" couldn't just be arbitrarily revoked, then presumably such ambiguity oughtn't favor the draftsman.
    – Nat
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 1:17

1 Answer 1

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It's hard to imagine a jurisdiction where this would be legal, assuming that the facts are as you present them. Mainly, it comes down to what the lease actually says. If the lease says something that implies that landlord permission is required, then the tenant has to get permission. You can call it a "dog permit", it just boils down to "landlord permission". Unless the lease also states "permission for a pet can be withdrawn at any time, sor any reason" or something to that effect, then the dog is permitted. At the end of the lease term, the landlord can refuse to renew the lease and/or can instead offer a no-dogs lease.

The landlord's only recourse would be to petition the court for breaking the lease, in having a dog without permission, at which point the tenant would present whatever evidence they have that there was permission (hopefully something more substantial than a statement "I asked if I could bring my dog and the landlord said 'hmmmm' with an approving tone"). The courts will not give any credence to "Yeah but I rescinded the permission" unless there is a clause that explicitly allows it.

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  • I would imagine there's something like "permission can be withdrawn", possibly with "for any reason", but with a notice period and with "any reason" not implying "no reason at all" or "a reason which existed and which the landlord knew about prior to granting permission". Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 16:13
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    What if there was a reason? Say, the dog attacked someone or caused some major property damage? Or you give someone permission, expecting them to get 1 or 2 of pets, and then they go and get 30 cats? (Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence, and it's pretty unhealthy for the cats too.) Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 17:51
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    @DarrelHoffman: Then that would be a completely different scenario from the question, so you should ask a different question if you're interested in knowing. Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 18:24
  • Except that a "dog permit" is admissible evidence more credible than "landlord permission". Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 19:37
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    The first thing I thought about the scenario was "how come this said permission doesn't have any ties with the contract"? I mean, if the permission is needed for the lease and then the permission is taken, then the landlord is breaking the contract, plain and simple. Then, any terms regarding what happens when the landlord decides to break the lease would apply - giving a period for the person to move out, having them paying an amount for the tenant, etc. Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 1:35

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