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Everything You Need To Know About Pets In Rental Properties

August 23, 2022

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Pets are a hot topic these days when it comes to renting property. 

Should you allow them? How should you deal with them? How should tenants pay pet fees? 

Pets provide a great opportunity for extra income and a way to make your property appealing to more prospective renters.  

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. 

Americans love pets. According to the Insurance Information Institute, 68% of US households own pets, equating to about 85 million families. The percentage goes up to 72% when talking about renters.  

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. 

The first major advantage of allowing pets is obvious: it will increase the number of prospective tenants. For people who own pets, it’s one of the most important factors regarding where they consider renting. Therefore, allowing tenants to have pets could help you lower vacancy rates and appeal to a much larger demographic. 

Another advantage of allowing pets is that you bring in more revenue this way. 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. 

The last advantage comes down to customer happiness. 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. 

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. 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. 

Another disadvantage is that pets can bother neighbors and tenants if you own multiple properties or an apartment complex. Renters may even leave if noise levels get bad enough or the nuisance becomes too much to bear. There are also certain situations where a landlord can be held responsible for a pet attacking a tenant (this is uncommon but does happen). 

Lastly, pets may require you to pet-proof your property. These alterations can be costly and take up precious time. An example of this could be replacing carpet with different flooring that’s more durable. Check with your insurance company to make sure your coverage includes pet-owning tenants. 

The decision is ultimately yours. Consider these advantages and disadvantages, and then go with your gut. You know what works best for you. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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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