Call for Action: Landlord accuses tenants of breeding dogs, causing $30,000 in damage

What landlords and renters can learn from the case

News 3 Now is sharing a Call for Action story about a nightmare tenant situation that will have you checking your college student’s apartment lease.

Lisa Whiting lives in Waunakee, where she purchased a duplex recently with the hopes of fixing it up for her daughter to live in. Miranda Whiting is on the autism spectrum, and her mother was hoping she could someday live independently in the property.

“It’s heartbreaking, because I worked so hard to make this a place for my daughter, so she doesn’t have to go to a group home, so she can have a life that’s independent,” Lisa said. “It’s like I’m starting over.”
Lisa has to start over because of what she says happened before Miranda could move into the home. To help with the mortgage, Lisa rented out the property to Jeff and Katrina Galle. She says unbeknownst to her, the couple started breeding their three dogs and ended up with more than a dozen animals in the home, causing an estimated $30,000 in damage.

“Everything was going fine, and then they turned out to be professional breeders and had puppies in January of 2019, in addition to the adult dogs that were here,” Lisa said.

The couple run a Facebook page called Sunny Hurricanes Siberians, where pictures of the puppies can be found. The exact number of animals that were in the home at one time isn’t clear, though both parties agree it was more than a dozen. The damage from the dogs, Lisa says, was unbelievable.
“Immediately when I walked up, the smell is the first thing that hit me,” she said.

Lisa accuses the animals of soiling the carpet, chewing up trim, destroying her backyard and leaving a smell that still lingers to this day.

“We had people in respirators and full masks and hazmat outfits, just to be able to work and function in here,” she said.

Jeff and Katrina declined an on-camera interview but defended themselves in a series of emails to News 3 Now. They contend that Whiting has fabricated the damage, accusing her of taking pictures of a different property. The couple also say the puppies did not violate the lease, citing a Waunakee ordinance that they don’t count as legally registered animals until they are five months old. We checked this claim out with city officials in Waunakee, who told us that is not accurate. Section 14-1 of the Waunakee Code of Ordinances defines a dog as “any canine, regardless of age or sex.”

The couple also told News 3 Now that they had pictures and witnesses to verify the condition of the property when they moved in and when they left, but declined to share them, citing legal concerns should the case go to court.

We asked the Tenant Resource Center what folks can learn from this case. Here are their three takeaways:

Take time to go through your lease. This sounds obvious, but all too often it’s easier for people to just sign on the dotted line, since understanding the legal jargon can be difficult. The TRC has housing counselors who can sit down with you and explain the more complicated portions.
Document, document, document — and not just in writing. It’s great to get everything in email or paper form, but pictures are most helpful.
Fill out your move-in checklist. Per state law, landlords have to provide you with a move-in list, and tenants have seven days to fill it out. Lots of folks skip this step, but it’s the easiest way to document issues before you make a move. It’s also a good idea to request a walk-through with your landlord at the end of your lease to go through any issues with the rental unit.

Lisa says she waived the final walk-through with her tenants because she found the damage to be so severe. She has also decided to go to court.

“I truly feel this house has been devalued significantly,” she said.

Do you have housing questions? Give the Tenant Resource Center a call. They have a 24/7 hotline where you can leave a voicemail and expect a call back within 24 hours. Their housing specialists also take walk-ins Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can call them at 608-257-0006.

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