If you ask most people with a pet how they feel about them, they’ll quickly answer that it’s part of the family. People LOVE their critters, which can be a sticky point for landlords. As someone looking to engage in a business relationship with tenants, you have many questions to ask yourself about pets. Should you allow pets on the property? If so, should you charge a pet fee or pet rent? What else can you do to minimize potential long-term damage?
This article provides a deeper insight into the advantages and disadvantages of allowing tenants to keep pets in a home they’re renting. You can click on any of the topics below to go to a particular section of this extensive guide.
- Pets: Yay or Nay?
- Pet Fees vs. Higher Rent
- Raising the Security Deposit
- Large Breed vs. Small Breed
- No-Pet Clause
- Therapy Pets
- Abandoned Pets
Let’s start by discussing the most crucial issue—whether or not you should even consider allowing pets in your rental property.
Pets: Yay or Nay?
In 2014, Apartments.com conducted a survey showing that 72 percent of renters have pets! That’s nothing to scoff at because when you’re looking for someone to rent your property, having a no-pets policy means you’re effectively only opening your door to 28 percent of the market. That alone should be enough reason for you to figure out how to make a pet-friendly policy work.
Something else to consider is higher income. For instance, this white paper has some good information on the subject and indicates that the average landlord renting to tenants with pets receives $222 more per month for each unit. So even if that pet causes an extra $2,000 in yearly damages, those landlords are still coming out ahead.
The same paper references that tenants with pets tend to stay longer than those without pets. That reduces your property’s vacant time, which is critical for regular cash flow. It makes sense, as people with a family (including pets) tend to be more “settled down” than those without one.
So why wouldn’t you rent out to tenants with pets?
- Pet fees are illegal in some states.
- Pets can cause significant property damage.
- There’s the risk of the pets bothering the neighbors (barking, claws on hardwood/tiles, etc.)
- Pet dander will get into the carpet and air ducts.
- There will be added maintenance costs, such as having to pay personnel to pick up droppings on the property (since many owners won’t clean up after their pets)
All of these are crucial, but there are things you can do to mitigate these issues. Here are a few of the best.
Pet Fees vs. Higher Rent
As mentioned earlier, landlords renting out to tenants with pets can usually charge more. That is good news because charging a higher rent is usually the best option in this situation.
The problem with pet fees or pet rent is the tenant’s perspective. They see this as an extra expense, thinking you’re just trying to nickel and dime them for every penny they’ve got. They believe that since they’re already renting the space, they won’t need to pay extra for their pet to occupy some of that space.
But the fee is essentially included if you come to them with a higher rent. So they won’t see it as an extra surcharge, and they’re more likely to be okay with it. That also works great for states where pet fees aren’t legal.
NOTE: If you still decide to charge an additional pet fee, you have two main options: a pet deposit or pet rent. A deposit is one they pay upfront, while the rent is paid each month on top of the regular rent. You can choose to do one option or a combination of both. Most apartments will charge a few hundred dollars for a deposit, whereas pet rent can be anywhere from $10 – $100 monthly.
Raising the Security Deposit
While it’s true that requiring a larger security deposit may cause some reluctance from potential tenants, there are several advantages for both parties.
For the landlord, a larger deposit means the tenant has more “skin in the game.” Knowing they can get most of that back if they (or their pets) don’t cause significant damage will give them more incentive to take care of the place. Everyone hates losing money, and every time Fido causes damage to the property, they’ll know they just lost money.
You also benefit because “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” In other words, it’s much easier to get the money upfront to pay for damages than request it later. But, unfortunately, many tenants will drag their feet on reimbursing you for damages they caused.
The tenant also benefits from this arrangement because as long as they take care of the place, they’ll get a windfall of cash when they move out. They also don’t have to pay those dreaded pet fees or pet rent with negative connotations.
On a side note, you can require the tenant to have the carpet and air ducts cleaned when they move out. Again, they can pay for this out of pocket or from their security deposit.
Large Breed vs. Small Breed
Many apartment complexes and property management companies don’t consider pets over a specific weight (such as 25 lbs.) or certain breeds. The idea is that larger animals tend to cause more damage than smaller ones (which is generally true) and that aggressive dog breeds add more liability than is necessary (which isn’t 100% accurate.)
But don’t judge a book by its cover. While having a weight limit policy is good, you should re-think a strict approach to specific breeds of dogs. “Aggressive” breeds usually have a bad reputation because of the people that own them, not because of the dog’s nature.
You can have a perfectly-manned, well-behaved pit bull that loves every person he meets. Likewise, you can have a golden retriever that bites anyone who gets too close to its owner. Even though there is a list of “the most dangerous breeds” based on statistics, this article by Steve Dale explains why these lists don’t really make sense.
And don’t forget that the dogs that usually annoy neighbors aren’t the big, confident ones. Instead, it’s the tiny, yippy dogs that bark anytime they hear something.
So how do you decide whether or not to allow a specific pet? The best way is to meet with the owner and their pet to get a feel of its personality.
Many leases will specify stipulations as to whether or not a tenant can have pets. Although often, having a no-pets clause and enforcing it can be pretty straightforward, there are some circumstances in which it can become a more significant issue.
Each situation varies, but generally, if the lease is straightforward, you can enforce the no-pet clause at any time. Keep in mind that many states have different laws enforcing the no-pet rules, and you should consider your state’s regulations. However, some situations may not allow you to do so, such as:
- The no pet clause was verbal and not written in the lease.
- As with any stipulation, you will need to have it in writing. If not, the game becomes “he said, she said.” If you do not want pets on the property, you will need to specify this in the lease. That’s your assurance that you can request pet removal if the tenant fails to follow the clause.
- Your tenant needs the animal for health reasons.
- It is debatable whether or not you can enforce the no-pet clause in special needs cases. Obviously, a seeing-eye dog is vital to a person’s lifestyle, and a landlord would have difficulty enforcing the clause. Situations wherein a pet is necessary can override the no-pet clause. Besides assisting a tenant with daily living functions, there are also cases where the courts have considered emotional attachment or protection in favor of the tenant.
- You acknowledge a pet on the property and ignore it at the time.
- A landlord who fails to act upon the no-pet clause in a relatively short time frame waives the right to enforce it later. So, if you plan on implementing the no-pet clause, you will have to act in a timely manner. While a few days after the fact is not a big deal, months or years will almost always end in the tenant’s favor.
The Case of Therapy Pets
Though nothing is saying you have to allow just anyone to have pets, laws protect the disabled and, often, the elderly concerning their pets.
There are a few things that are common sense. Tenants who reside in federally-assisted housing for both the disabled and the elderly are allowed by law to keep pets. Even if the government doesn’t own the property, those groups have a protected right to keep their pets under the Housing and Urban-Rural Recovery Act of 1983, 12 U.S.C. section 1701r-1, if it’s being subsidized.
Management and property owners are allowed to have reasonable regulations in place, but if your property is a H.U.D. property, there’s a good chance it’s covered. You may want to check with the local H.U.D. department or your local Housing Authority, but this holds true in many cases.
In California, for instance, apartment dwellers over 60 or disabled can legally have two small pets if the property is owned and operated by local state, county, city, or even district agencies. Several other states have similar rules, including the District of Columbia, Arizona, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire. For example, in Massachusetts, one dog under 40 pounds is allowed, provided it has been spayed or neutered.
Whether or not state law covers it, you must make reasonable accommodations for your disabled tenants if you receive federal money. That means that if someone has a therapy pet and it would cause no hardship for your property, this is a reasonable accommodation you have to concede. However, that does not mean you are without recourse should the animal cause a problem. For example, an eviction may be upheld if the animal is not adequately cared for or causes property damage.
What if tenants abandon their pets?
Pet abandonment is a steadily rising problem across the U.S. Though most pet owners have been proven to be responsible, there are the bad apples that spoil the whole bunch now and then. Unfortunately, a tenant who will abandon a property will often leave the pet with it. Though most states have laws that require you to hold on to a tenant’s possessions even if they’ve abandoned the unit, the regulations regarding pet abandonment are entirely different.
Abandoned pet laws are different from state to state, as are animal neglect laws. However, you can’t just put an abandoned cat or dog out on the curb like you would a television (if you can even do that in your state).
The first thing to bear in mind is you may not know how long that pet has been there. Instinctively, you might want to care for it immediately, but a stressed, sick or starving animal may not react very well to that. If you cannot get the tenant to claim the pet (or if they’ve surrendered it), the best approach is to contact your local animal control to take care of the situation. You’re going to need to contact them to file a report anyway.
If it goes with animal control, there’s a good chance that the pet will go to the city pound and possibly be euthanized. You can also contact local rescues and other shelters if you’d like to help. It’s vital to be sure that you are following your state’s laws concerning holding the pet and getting in touch with the owner or any shelter or rescue organization.
Wrapping it up
If you choose to deny tenants the ability to have a pet, you’re closing yourself off to a vast market. Not to mention that you can actually make more money from tenants with furry friends!
The question to ask yourself is if you’re willing to handle the additional risks this arrangement brings. Whichever route you choose, make sure the terms and conditions regarding pets are clear and fair to both parties.