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How to Pet-Proof Your Rental Property

April 19, 2022

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Americans own approximately 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), this means roughly 44% of U.S. households have a dog and 35% have a cat.  

So, being a pet-friendly property can offer significant benefits. Especially in terms of increasing how many people will consider living at your property.  

However, there can also be drawbacks to pets. 

These drawbacks, though, don’t have to prevent you from allowing pets on your property. If you pet-proof your rentals, you can avoid many common pitfalls. 

In this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at how pet-friendly floors, clear policies in lease agreements, pet fees, and tenant screening practices can help you pet-proof your rental. 

Pet-Friendly Floors 

Any landlord that has experience with pets knows how important pet-friendly floors are. Flooring that can withstand scratching, urine, and other damage can make all the difference.  

Many flooring options work better for pets, like hardwood floors, porcelain tile, and specific kinds of carpet. The main thing is picking flooring that is easy to clean and maintain. If they have pets, your renters should already understand the need for consistent cleaning. 

The best pet-resistant flooring will be entirely moisture and stain resistant and resist damage from claws and toenails. Better still is flooring that is anti-slip to prevent injury to pets.  

But even the most resilient flooring can be damaged if it isn’t cleaned regularly. Tenant screening can play a key role in determining if a prospective tenant cleans up after their pets. 

  

Pet Policy for Lease Agreements 

Adding a pet policy to your lease agreement is an absolute must. You need to have rules and expectations set beforehand.  

Typically, the property owner is the only one capable of deciding if the tenant can keep their pet or service animal inside the rental unit; in this sense, the landlord has the final say. A signed pet addendum ensures your tenants are ultimately responsible for their pets and any possible damages they incur on your property. It sets clear boundaries ahead of time to protect everyone (particularly regarding legal matters) in the future. 

 A pet is not the same as a service animal. In many states, the latter is not seen as a pet (per local laws). If this applies to your state, you need to provide the tenant with a special clause in the lease agreement to keep service animals at the property. 

Pet Rent, Deposits, and Fees 

In most states, it’s standard practice to collect additional monthly fees from pet owners. On top of that, you should consider a pet security deposit and whether that deposit is refundable or non-refundable. These fees help act as a safety net in the event of extensive pet damage. 

Pet rent, fees, and deposits are the main three ways you can collect additional money for allowing pets on your property. What are the key distinctions? 

Pet Deposit: Given there is no pet-related destruction to the property, a pet deposit is usually completely refundable. The deposit amount usually ranges from $200 to $500 per pet. 

You would collect the deposit with a regular deposit before a tenant moves in. While some landlords separate out the security deposit and pet deposit, it’s more efficient to combine them. It’s important to mention that, in some states, if the pet-related damage exceeds the pet deposit, the landlord cannot take money from the security deposit to pay for the extra damage.  

Adhering to a single deposit prevents this unfortunate situation from happening because you can use the combined deposit for any damage (pet-caused or otherwise). And if you plan to take money from the deposit, then you need to send the tenant an itemized list of deductions, just like you would with a regular security deposit. 

Pet Fee: This is an initial charge for the tenant to bring their pet onto the rental property. Pet fees are non-refundable. They typically range from $100 to $350 per pet and are kept whether or not any pet-related damage occurs. 

This being said, fees are not legal in every state. For example, California does not allow non-refundable fees unless they are late fees or application fees. 

Pet Rent: Pet rent is a recurring monthly amount that landlords charge irrespective of damage. Typically, it ranges from $20-$75 a month per pet and is non-refundable. Pet rent is built into the rent cost. The recurring nature of pet rent means it is not seen as a non-refundable fee and is even legal in states like California. 

To determine which fee structure to implement, research rental properties in your area and see what other landlords are doing. For example, some rental properties charge a very affordable pet deposit, while others may require a larger deposit, in addition to pet rent. It depends on factors like the area, renter demand, and the supply of pet-friendly housing. 

If there aren’t many pet-friendly rentals in your area, renters with pets will have fewer options. Therefore, they may be willing to pay more to accommodate their pets, which means you could charge a higher deposit, pet fee, or pet rent. 

If, however, your area has a large number of pet-friendly rentals in addition to high vacancy rates, you may want to consider a lower fee or deposit. Since renters will have more options, charging less up front gives them more incentive to choose your property.  

No matter what you decide, it’s imperative that you follow your state’s laws regarding what you can charge for pet and security deposits. For instance, California has a two-month maximum limit for security deposits if the unit is unfurnished. This limit includes pet deposits.  

Because every state doesn’t necessarily have the same laws, it’s imperative to keep in mind that certain states have different rules and regulations when it comes to pet fees. So, make sure you’re aware of local laws. If you’re unsure, ask a lawyer for advice on setting up your pet policy.  

Tenant and Pet Screening 

Tenant screening is always crucial, and it’s possibly even more important when someone has a pet. Here is the general process to adhere to: 

  • Start by checking with your insurance company on your coverage regarding pets and if it extends to pet-owning tenants, especially related to liability protection. 
  • Next, meet the pet in person if you can. Ask the owner as many questions as you can with the pet present. Observe the pet’s behavior and don’t overlook anything that concerns you. And, if the tenant intends to get a pet in the future, determine a weight limit and require notice of the selection beforehand. 
  • Third, conduct an in-depth background check of the tenant. Interview former landlords and possibly neighbors. What kind of pet owner was the potential tenant? Did they clean up after the pet? Did the pet get exercise, or was it caged for extended periods? Was there loud barking or aggression? Be sure to ask specific questions that give you an idea of whether you want to allow the pet on your property or not. 
  • Fourth, ensure the pet clause in your lease agreement is ironclad. Include penalties for pet waste that isn’t cleaned up. Consider requiring pets to be spayed or neutered. Set a weight limit and think about species restrictions. And always take into account fair housing laws concerning service animals. 
  • Finally, an animal’s presence typically means an accident on the carpet here and there, chew marks, scratched flooring, or holes in the lawn. Because of these things, it’s normal and fair to increase the base rent or make a greater portion of the deposit non-refundable. 

Following these steps will ensure a thorough tenant screening process. You always want the best tenants you can find, and that goes for pets as well. 

Cleaning Up 

Pet-proofing your rental is key to a successful business. Of course, you could decide to disallow pets from your property. But you’re leaving money on the table if you do that.  

Instead, by following the guidelines we’ve detailed in this article, you can put yourself in a great position to boost your income. Pet-friendly floors, clear clauses in lease agreements, reasonable pet fees, and a thorough screening process will help you allow pets without risking damage to your property.  

Ultimately, it’s a win-win for everybody. Your tenants get to live with their pets, and you make more money. 

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