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California Provides Assistance to Lenders and Landlords that Inherit Abandoned Pets after Foreclosures and Evictions

“How much is that doggie in the window? (arf! arf!), The one with the waggley tail (arf! arf!).” Those were the words to Patti Page’s hit 45 single in 1953 about a woman who wanted to buy a dog for her boyfriend so that he would not be lonely while she traveled to California. But in today’s deteriorating residential real estate market, that dog in the window may be a family pet that was abandoned when its family was forced to leave because of a foreclosure of their home.
A lender that acquires ownership of a home through foreclosure, and a landlord who has evicted a tenant for non-payment of rent, naturally wants any pets removed immediately so that the property is not damaged further and so that the lender or landlord does not become responsible for the care of the pets. But local governments, pet shelters, animal rescue organizations, and humane societies are hampered in providing immediate food and shelter for such seemingly abandoned animals because pets are personal property with ownership rights.
The State of California is attempting to solve some of these issues by the enactment of 2008 Cal ALS 265, 2008 Cal AB 2949, which went into effect on January 1, 2009 and amended Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1815, 1816. The new law provides that if an animal is abandoned at a premises when the premises has been vacated as the result of the foreclosure of the property or the termination of a lease, then the person or private entity responsible for the premises shall immediately notify the appropriate animal control officials that the animal has been abandoned.
The law specifies that the person or private entity responsible for the premises shall not be considered the keeper of the animal or acquire additional criminal or civil liability, but the person or private entity is subject to all local ordinances and state laws that govern the proper care and treatment of such animals.
The purpose of the law, which was supported by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the California Animal Association, is to permit animal control officials to immediately retrieve an abandoned pet. Many local government agencies in California had been waiting from 24 to 72 hours after a pet was abandoned in an empty home before they would retrieve the pet and provide it food and shelter.
Similar laws may be enacted in other states in 2009. A Houston, Texas 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, No Paws Left Behind, Inc., supports the passage of legislation that would modify the classification of pets as personal property so that these pets could be immediately removed from vacated homes and provided with adequate care.
Animal shelters throughout the country have reported large increases in pets that have been abandoned in foreclosed homes, with some reporting double the number of pets that they encountered just a year ago. Lenders and landlords should expect that the number of abandoned pets will continue to increase as the economy contracts further, causing some pet owners to see their pets as luxuries that they can no longer afford after a foreclosure or eviction. Legal counsel for lenders and landlords should recommend that their clients contact the local authorities to determine how abandoned pets can be removed quickly after a foreclosure or eviction. Lenders and landlords would then be well advised to develop detailed procedures to be followed when they are confronted with abandoned pets.
Whether it’s a ferocious looking pit-bull, or a cuddly but hungry puppy, an abandoned pet can do substantial damage to a residential property after a foreclosure or eviction. In addition, although a lender or landlord generally incurs no legal liability to third persons if a pet is abandoned in a property that has been subject to foreclosure or eviction, the costs to defend such a lawsuit through the summary judgment stage will be substantial. The immediate removal of the pet reduces the cost and legal exposure of the lender or landlord, and is best for the animal as well.