Americans love their pets. Indeed, according to a report by Spots.com, a full 67% of American households, or some 84.9 million American families, own at least one pet. It almost goes without saying that it would be unwise for landlords to exclude pets entirely.
Being a landlord can be fun—if you do it right
No matter how great you are at finding good rental property deals, you could lose everything if you don’t manage your properties correctly. Being a landlord doesn’t have to mean middle-of-the-night phone calls, costly evictions, or daily frustrations with ungrateful tenants.
When to accept pets or not
There is no hard rule for this, but generally speaking, you should always accept pets in houses. One of the major reasons people choose to rent houses over apartments is because they want to bring Rex and Felix along with them.
Excluding tenants with pets would reduce the number of potential tenants available to rent your property. As basic economics tells us, if demand goes down, the price (i.e. rent) goes down too. (Or even worse, the property just stays vacant.)
With apartments, it’s a bit trickier. One loud dog could turn off fellow tenants or prospective ones, especially if it’s an older apartment with thin walls. You also do not want to have hallways filled with dogs and cats (or iguanas and snakes) meandering about all over the place and leaving behind their calling cards to boot. Use your judgment based on your property and management style.
How many and which types of pets?
Dogs and cats are by far the most common types of pets people have. In the United States alone there are nearly 90 million dogs and 95 million cats.
Generally, I would recommend accepting tenants’ requests for other small animals like fish, gerbils, or hamsters (which they probably won’t even tell you about). I would, however, generally shy away from less common or exotic pets like pigs, rabbits, etc. You can make exceptions if you choose.
There are, of course, some legal points to keep in mind. First and foremost, if someone has a guide dog, seeing eye dog, or service animal, the Fair Housing Act requires that a landlord accept that pet (and not charge a deposit for it). This is true for any person who has “a disability-related need for an assistance animal.”
It’s less clear-cut with “emotional support animals.” According to ADA.gov, “animals that provide comfort just by being with a person” are not considered service animals. Laws vary from state to state about a landlord’s obligation to people with emotional support animals, so it’s important to check with your local laws to make sure you are in compliance.
Your tenant application should have a spot on it about pets so you can make a determination before you get to the table to sign the lease. The lease itself should have a rider (a separate form on its own page) that lists each pet, along with breed and approximate weight, and is signed by all parties. You definitely want everything in writing.
You can consider requiring a “pet reference” from previous landlords or a vet if you want to be a bit more forgiving or get more information about the animals in question.
As for how many pets, there is no perfect answer. But the principle to work with is that pets do damage and can cause issues, so there is such a thing as too many. We accept up to three pets in a house, usually two in a side-by-side duplex, and one cat in apartments.
Pet deposits and pet rent
Pets do damage to properties. Dogs are wonderful but love to chew up blinds for whatever reason. Thus, it’s important to charge a pet deposit and monthly pet rent.
How much to charge
We charge a non-refundable $250 pet deposit and $25/month per pet. This is, of course, just our policy. You may choose different numbers, but the key is to charge both a pet deposit and pet rent. Otherwise, you will simply have extra repairs on your hands.
While there’s no way to accurately account for exactly what damages are done by pets, we believe we basically break even on pet rent/deposits. The big advantage is that by allowing pets, we open up our properties to many more prospective tenants. But we don’t want to gain access to a bigger pool of tenants if it just means we’re going to have extra damages we have to pay for out of pocket.
Sometimes people want to have their dog and cat and not pay their landlord for it.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to have your maintenance technicians make a note of any unauthorized pets when they are doing work orders or routine maintenance inspections. If they do find an unauthorized pet, you should notify the tenant and demand they sign a pet rider, pay the deposit, and start paying pet rent, as well as give them a lease violation and fine if your state laws allow that.
Dealing with pet complaints
Pet complaints from fellow tenants (or neighbors) are tough and one of the reasons we don’t accept dogs in our apartment complexes. Most complaints come in verbally, for which we demand they put the complaint on paper. Most people don’t care enough to actually do that, but if they do submit a written complaint, we bring it up with the resident.
The first time is just a warning. The second is a violation and third, we consider a breach of contract (put this policy in your lease, by the way). Fortunately, it will rarely go that far.
Americans love their pets and therefore, to offer the best possible product, it generally makes sense to accept pets in your rentals. But there’s more to it than that. It’s important to create a pet policy and stick to it. And make sure you’re being compensated with pet rent and a pet deposit for the damages that will assuredly happen.