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Everything You Need To Know About Pets In Rental Properties

August 23, 2022

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A Landlord’s Guide To Pets In Rental Properties

In 1988, the first year the American Pet Products Association conducted their annual National Pet Ownership Survey, 56% of households were home to dogs, cats, and other furry (or non-furry) friends. The latest results show that number has grown all the way to 68% of American families or about 85 million households. What’s more, pet spending has increased by an average of 8% year-over-year from $17 million in 1994 to just shy of $70 million in 2017. The message is clear: Americans are obsessed with their pets. 

And why not? For renters and homeowners, a pet is a member of the family. But for landlords, the decision to permit pets in a property can be a complicated one. The purpose of this article is to give you a strong, general understanding of all things pet-related: the risks, opportunity, considerations, and anything else you could hope to know before renting to tenants with pets.  

That being said, there are several things to consider regarding pets and your rental business. Should you allow pets at all? If so, what kinds of pets should you allow—large breeds, small animals, exotic pets, service animals? How can you minimize damage to your property from your tenants’ pets? 

This article looks at all aspects of allowing pets in your rental properties. 

Should You Allow Pets in Your Rental Properties? 

At the end of the day, it’s up to you whether or not you allow pets. But, to make the best decision for your business, it’s vital to understand the pros and cons. 

As stated earlier, Americans love pets. According to the Insurance Information Institute, 72% of US households own pets, equating to roughly over 85 million families.  

In the past, landlords haven’t been very open to pets. Trulia reports that in the 25 biggest US markets, only 20% of landlords allowed cats, and 18% permitted dogs. With these numbers, it’s clear there’s an opportunity if you’re open to the idea. So, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages.  

Advantages 

There are five main advantages to allowing pets in your rentals: 

  • Expand your potential tenant pool: With pets in a large portion of households, many people are searching for rental properties that allow their furry friends. Therefore, allowing tenants to have pets could help you lower vacancy rates and appeal to a much larger demographic. 
  • Happy tenants: Animals are proven to help reduce stress. When you allow pets, you let tenants keep a great source of joy with them. People love their pets. They’ll be grateful you hold the same value. And joyful tenants are better tenants. 
  • Additional income from pet fees or increased rent: Pet owners know they have to pay more to live with their pets. There are three main ways landlords charge for pets that we’ll discuss in more detail later: pet deposits, pet fees, and pet rent. Researching your market will help you know how to charge and what amount to charge.  
  • Tenants might stay longer: Finding a rental property that allows pets can be difficult. Pets also don’t adapt to change in their environment well. Pet owners are more likely to stay where their pets are comfortable. And, because not all properties allow pets, you’ll have a leg up in retaining them. 
  • Sneaking in pets: If you have established pet rules in place and know your insurance will cover anything pet related, you won’t have to worry about the dangerous liability of tenants sneaking in pets.  

Disadvantages 

Now that we’ve looked at the advantages of allowing pets on your property, let’s look at the disadvantages. The first one is the damage risk.  

  • Damage to your property: Pets can tear up carpets, scratch walls, and so much more. What you charge may or may not cover the cost of repairs. And, even if the cost is covered, repairs take time. 
  • Pet odors: Allergens and dander in air ducts might require professional cleaning after the tenant and their fury friends have moved out. 
  • Disturbing neighbors: Barking dogs, hissing cats, and other animals running around might disturb neighbors both inside and outside the building. 
  • Loss of other tenants: Other tenants may choose to leave your property due to allergens or noise associated with pets in the building. 
  • Injury to others: Every dog has the ability to bite and cause bodily harm. Even with the promise of a well-trained animal, there is still a chance of the animal biting another human. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs every year, with 800,000 of those cases needing medical attention. 

The decision is ultimately yours. Beyond these advantages and disadvantages, here are five ways to minimize pet risks: 

  1. Evaluate Personality of Breed: According to statistics found by the CDC, there are some breeds more likely to cause bodily injuries. A CDC Special Report created from 1995 to 1996 collected the number of dog bite related fatalities sorted by dog breed. While this data should be considered in your decision in allowing pets, it does not account for all dogs of those breeds. Dangerous breed lists should be taken with a grain of salt. Many sites claim to have the CDC’s list of the “most dangerous breeds” but this list was not meant to be turned into “the top 10 most dangerous breeds.” The CDC has since stopped publishing statistics by breed because of the misuse of this data. Steven Dale explains in a blog post how not all data variables can be accounted for in-regards to dangerous breed lists
  1. Require Pet to be Spayed or Neutered: Pets that have been spayed or neutered are more likely to have clam personalities and behave. According to the US Humane Society, unneutered dogs tend to be more aggressive and more frequently urine-mark their territory. While aggression is less likely in female dogs, unspayed females will be in-heat monthly and have the potential to bleed on your carpets and wood floors. Additionally, females in heat need to urinate frequently and howl to attract mates. Other problems with unneutered or unspayed pets include aggression, roaming, excessive barking, and inappropriate behavior. Requiring cats to be spayed or neutered is also an important thing to consider. The urge to spray (read: mark their territory) is a major issue for unneutered cats. Most of this behavior can be solved in cats if they are neutered, even if it has been going on for a long time. 
  1. Screen your tenants and get references: When considering an applicant for your property, it is important to speak with any previous landlords and check references, whether they have a pet or not. Be sure to ask about both the applicant’s and pet’s behavior. Remember the question, “Would you rent to them again?” 
  1. Charge higher rent: Do your research and see how other rental properties are handling pets. If you are in a location with few pet-friendly rentals, you may be able to charge more per month if you allow pets. Think about the unique value of your properties over your competition. Pets can also be treated as an additional tenant by charging a couple hundred dollars more per month. This will help to cover any damages or additional maintenance caused by the pet and / or owner. 
  1. Collect a larger security deposit: You will be able to justify requiring a higher security deposit because of the risks associated with pets. This money can then be used after move-out to repair any longer-term damages. Bankrate points out that tenants will be more motivated to ensure their pet does not destroy your property if you make the deposit fully refundable. 

Pet-Proof Your Rental  

If you decide to allow pets, there are things you should do to protect your property and earn more income.  

First off, install pet-friendly floors. Flooring alternatives like hardwood floors and porcelain tiles are often the best choices. The key element is to choose flooring that is easy to clean and maintain while being hard to damage by scratching.  

The top choices will be completely moisture and stain-resistant. Anti-slip flooring is even better because it prevents injuries. 

No matter what kind of flooring you get, though, cleaning is essential. Tenant screening, specifically the portion where you talk to previous landlords or observe the pet, will help with this because it can show you if a tenant cleans up after their pet consistently. 

An airtight pet policy is another key way to pet-proof your rental. Make sure to include this kind of policy in your lease agreement with rules and guidelines that set clear expectations. A signed pet addendum confirms your tenants are responsible for their pets and any potential damages their pets cause. It also protects you legally in case a pet causes harm to your property or another tenant. 

Be sure to include penalties for pet waste that isn’t cleaned up. Think about requiring pets to be neutered or spayed to avoid complications with unexpected “little pets.” You may also want to require that pets are leashed when outside. List a weight limit and consider species restrictions. And always follow fair housing laws concerning service animals. 

However, whether you allow pets or not, you may find yourself with an unauthorized pet on your property at some point and you must be prepared beforehand to deal with these situations.

NOTE: A service animal isn’t the same as a pet. The Fair Housing Act gives service animals special legal status, preventing landlords from discriminating against tenants who need them. According to this federal law, you must provide tenants who need service animals with reasonable accommodations for their animals. You cannot deny housing to someone with a service animal, even if you have a “no pet” policy. As a landlord, you need to understand your obligations for service animals and what that means for your business. 

Pet Fees 

The method by which you charge for pets is important as well. Pet rent, pet deposits, and pet fees are the three major ways landlords collect money for pets. 

A pet deposit is typically a refundable charge collected with a regular deposit before a tenant moves into the property. It typically ranges from $200 to $500 per pet.  

Most landlords combine the deposit and the pet deposit for one large deposit. It’s best to go with a single deposit because then you won’t run into any odd situations where certain money can only go towards pet damage. (Check your local regulations.

A pet fee is a non-refundable charge the tenant pays before they bring their pet onto the property. These usually range from $100 to $350 per pet.  

Pet fees aren’t legal in all states. For instance, California doesn’t allow fees other than late fees or application fees. 

Pet rent is a monthly fee that landlords charge regardless of damage. It usually ranges from $20-$75 per month and is non-refundable. It’s a part of the rent cost. 

The most common method to charge for pets is a combination of a pet deposit and pet rent. Research is critical, though. Figure out what is common in your area and what is reasonable. 

Regardless of your approach, make sure you know state laws and abide by them. Not every state has the same regulations, so you need to be sure you’re following the specific laws regarding your area. 

Tenant and Pet Screening 

Tenant and pet screening can go a long way toward preventing damage to your rental property. Before signing the lease, try to meet tenants and their pet(s) in person. Ask the owner questions. Look at the pet’s behavior and get an idea of its energy.  

Conduct a thorough background check. Interview former landlords and neighbors if you can. Ask specific questions that help you understand what the pet is like and how the tenant takes care of the pet. 

Exotic Animals 

Everyone knows about cats and dogs, the two most popular kinds of pets in the US. What about exotic animals, though? What if someone wants to bring a hedgehog or a snake onto your property? If you’re going to allow exotic animals, you need to carefully consider the rules beforehand.  

If you decide to allow tenants to have non-traditional animals, creating a detailed exotic pet policy for your lease is the first step. The policy should cover: 

  • Cleaning up after pets 
  • Loud noises and quiet hours 
  • Restrictions regarding breed, weight, and number of pets allowed per unit 
  • Disease prevention and vaccination requirements 
  • Specific rules on pets in common areas 
  • Rules regarding pets being left outside 

The tenant and pet screening process is particularly important with exotic pets. You need to know what kind of animal the tenant wants to bring to the property. Be sure to ask if the pet has a vet, if it’s lived in a rental before, if it’s aggressive, how to handle property inspections while the animal is present, and so on. 

Keep the Fair Housing Act in mind; it can apply to exotic pets, too. You cannot reject someone simply because they have a disability and need a service or emotional support animal.  

Speaking of laws, it’s critical to understand your area’s regulations regarding exotic pets. For instance, you can have a wolf in Arkansas but not lions or bears. Breaking the law regarding exotic pets is a nightmare, so be sure you know what you’re getting into ahead of time. 

Things can become complex when tenants have service pets or therapy pets. It is in your best interest to meet with a lawyer if someone has an affidavit from a medical professional saying their exotic pet is medically necessary. 

Furthermore, understand that traditional renters’ insurance might not include damage from exotic pets. Thus, you need to point tenants to the select carriers that write liability policies for issues caused by exotic animals.  

Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals 

As mentioned above, federal law protects tenants with service and emotional support animals. A general understanding of these laws is critical for running your business. You never know when you may encounter a situation involving these kinds of animals. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” This specific definition shows that service animals are a category all their own. They have certain rights and regulations that apply specifically to them. There is one (somewhat funny) exception to this definition: miniature horses.  

The Fair Housing Act defines an emotional support animal, on the other hand, as “an animal (typically a dog or cat though this can include other species) that provides a therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship.” These animals aren’t trained for specific tasks like service animals. Their primary role is to provide comfort to people with physical or emotional issues. These animals require a letter from a medical professional to be deemed medically necessary. 

However, it’s no secret that some tenants are trying to pass their pets off as emotional support animals to avoid pet fees and restrictions. Even worse, some tenants are victims of scammers themselves, so it’s important to inspect their emotional support animal letter no matter what. A thorough review process with a clear understanding of ESA fraud red flags is the best approach. 

Fair Housing Law 

The purpose of the Fair Housing Act is to protect individuals who might experience discrimination when searching for appropriate housing. Most commonly, this applies to race, age, and gender. There are also specific laws that extend to individuals with mental or physical disabilities who require the assistance of an animal companion. Even if your rental property has a no-pet policy, you are not allowed to violate the rights of a disabled individual who requires support from a service or assistance animal. 

And there is a difference between the two. A service animal has been specifically trained to perform tasks. Think seeing-eye-dog or seizure-protection-pup. An assistance animal on the other hand does not need to be specifically trained to perform a service. Typically, assistance animals are there to provide emotional comfort and reduce anxiety. The handler only requires a note from a doctor or therapist to classify their pet in this way. As outlined in the Fair Housing Act, a landlord is required to make reasonable accommodation for both service and assistance animals. 

Check Your Insurance 

It’s important to remember that no matter how great a pet is they’re still animals. Pets large and small have the ability to cause harm to people and property. Double-check your insurance policy if you decide to allow animal tenants in your rental. It’s important to understand the amount of liability coverage you have through your insurance company. Also, ask your insurance company if there are any limitations or exclusions to this coverage. This might include a list of “dangerous breeds” that would not be covered under the insurance policy. You should also ensure that your tenants obtain renter’s insurance that covers pet damage, so that you can avoid as many unfortunate situations as possible. Finally, be cognizant of the neighbors for any pet complaints, particularly if they’re your tenants also. If there are major allergies or even anxieties, allowing pets may be more trouble than the tenant is worth. 

Conclusion

Pets are a staple of American life. Thus, it’s important to consider allowing them onto your property. There isn’t one right decision, though. It comes down to your business and how you want to manage your affairs. Be sure to give it careful thought. 

If you choose to allow pets, the guidelines we’ve covered above are critical to protect your property and ensure everyone has the best experience possible. Pets can be wonderful, but the more proactive you are, the better things will turn out. 

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