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Allowing Exotic Animals in Your Rental Properties

April 7, 2022

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It’s one thing to allow your tenants to have cats and dogs in your properties. 

It’s another thing entirely to allow exotic pets like hedgehogs and lizards on your properties. 

If you want to allow exotic animals, you have to understand that they create additional concerns beyond those of cats, dogs, and goldfish.  

For example, many exotic pets need to eat live crickets or something similar. As a landlord, you have to weigh the risk of hundreds of live crickets escaping. Do you have safeguards in place? What do you do if this happens on your properties? 

Allowing tenants to keep exotic animals in your rental properties requires forethought and carefully developed rules.  

In order to protect your most valuable assets (your properties) while also allowing yourself to cast a wider net when it comes to applicants, you need to have a plan for exotic animals. 

Get Specific in Your Lease 

In many ways, dealing with exotic animals is similar to your policy on pets like dogs and cats: You need to be thorough and specific.  

Have a clear, detailed exotic pet policy in place. Make it easily understandable for both you and potential tenants. Your pet policy should cover: 

  • Cleaning up pet waste and other messes 
  • Loud noise and quiet hours 
  • All limits and restrictions related to breed, weight, and number of pets allowed per unit 
  • Disease prevention and vaccination requirements 
  • Specific rules regarding pets in common areas 
  • Rules around pets being left outside 

Remember, the idea here is to be as thorough as possible. Cover your bases and do your research. Consult with a lawyer. You want to make sure you’ve thought of everything.  

Have an In-Depth Screening Process 

Your screening process is crucial when it comes to exotic animals. You need a solid understanding of what your tenant is bringing onto the property. Taking a deep dive on the front end could save you heartburn later. 

Depending on the animal, be sure to ask questions like: 

  • How old is your pet? 
  • Do you have a vet? 
  • Is your pet fixed? 
  • Has your pet had any obedience training? 
  • What do you do with your pet when you leave your home for the day? 
  • Has your pet ever lived in a rental before? 
  • Does your pet have any history of aggression? 
  • Is your pet undergoing any current disease prevention methods or treatment for anything? 
  • Has your pet ever injured anyone? 
  • Can your current landlord provide a written reference for your pet? 
  • What care arrangements are in place if you are on vacation or away for a prolonged period? 
  • Is your pet housetrained? 
  • Does your pet cope with being alone during the day? 

Add any other questions you might want answers to. The above isn’t an exhaustive list. It’s something to get you thinking seriously about what you need to know before someone brings an exotic animal onto your property.  

We also recommend considering a pet interview. Meeting the pet in person can help you get an idea of its temperament and behavior.  

Important Note: It’s essential to know that Fair Housing Laws protect tenants with disabilities. This means that you can’t reject someone just because they have a physical disability and require a service animal or emotional support animal. This also applies to landlords with a “no pet policy.” 

Know Regulations and Laws 

You must know all applicable regulations and laws as a landlord. For example, in Arkansas, you can keep a wolf as a pet but not lions or bears. The more you understand the law, the better off you’ll be. The worst thing you can do is run afoul of the law regarding exotic animals.  

Most landlords are legally liable for allowing exotic pets on their properties. It’s easy enough to put restrictions into leases or CC&Rs, but be careful not to violate federal and state laws.  

For instance, things can get complicated if you have a resident who says their beloved pet is a service iguana or a therapy hedgehog. Why? Because unlike the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act has a much more expansive definition of what a service animal is.  

The Americans with Disabilities Act—which applies to commercial areas like stores and restaurants—limits the definition of service animals to include dogs and horses trained to perform a specific service for the owner. 

The Fair Housing Act, on the other hand, takes a broader view that includes untrained “therapy” animals. It has a few restrictions, but not many. 

If the tenant gets a medical professional to sign off on an affidavit that says their hedgehog is medically necessary due to depression, you would be wise to meet with a lawyer. 

And, if you don’t want to ban any exotic pets, you should strongly consider asking the pet owner to maintain liability insurance to protect other residents, guests, and yourself. 

Be aware that regular renters’ insurance may not include liability arising from exotic pets. Therefore, you’ll want tenants who seek the few carriers available that write liability policies specifically to cover damages caused by exotic pets. This may cover everything from reptiles that spread salmonella, disease-carrying birds, or even hedgehogs that damage flooring.  

Additionally, consult with a risk management professional. Ensure that your business is covered against potential lawsuits from any damage an exotic pet may cause. 

Charge Fees 

You’re taking a risk by allowing an exotic pet, so make sure you’re compensated fairly. Charge a pet deposit and a monthly fee, as laws permit. Do your research on typical exotic pet fees for your area and the kinds of exotic pets you allow.  

With a thorough screening process, the hope is that these fees are just extra assurance. Also, pet fees are standard, so adding in fees for exotic pets shouldn’t dissuade potential renters. 

Conclusion 

Exotic animals don’t have to be a thorn in your side. With the right lease clauses, a thorough screening process, an excellent knowledge of local and federal laws, and fair fees, you can set yourself up for success. 

Allowing exotic animals on your properties will expand your pool of potential tenants. And if you’re following these guidelines, you can ensure a great experience for yourself and your tenants! 

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