How many pets are too many?

Written on January 23, 2018 by , updated on July 19, 2018

communicationSome landlords believe that even one pet is one pet too many in their rental property. If that’s your policy, then that’s that. But if you allow pets, you should have a plan on how many to allow.

Related: The definitive guide to renting to tenants with pets

It would be easy to tell you that two dogs and three cats, for example, are too many. But, unfortunately, there isn’t one answer for all situations. You ultimately have to decide how many pets you will allow. But you’re in luck—here are six guidelines to help you determine how many pets to allow.

1. Follow the law in your area

If your rental property is in a rural area, there probably aren’t any laws on the number of animals people can keep. But urban and suburban living is another matter. Many cities limit the number of animals per residence. If yours does, you could make that your limit, too. Your pet policy could also be more restrictive than your town’s—you just can’t allow more animals than the law allows.

2. Abide by your HOA policy

If a homeowner’s association governs your rental property, check to see whether there are any restrictions on keeping pets.

3. Consider the size of your property

The smaller the living space the fewer animals you should allow. Too many dogs or cats in a small space can be trouble. Think of the noise, not to mention the smell. The risk of damage to your property is also greater the more animals you allow.

Try using pet ownership statistics as a guide. The American Veterinary Medical Association ran some stats in in 2012. (This is latest published.) The average number of dogs owned by households was 1.6, and the average number of cats was 2.1.

4. Choose the types of pet

The type of pet you allow can also factor into the number you’ll let your renters keep. Some landlords, for example, allow dogs and not cats, and some allow cats but not dogs.

5. Pick the pet’s size

Of the landlords who allow dogs, many place size restrictions. These landlords, for example, allow dogs but only dogs under 60 or 40 pounds, for example. Some might allow only small lap dogs, 20 pounds or less.

If you don’t limit the size, you might be comfortable allowing only one big dog but two smaller dogs. Whatever you decide, make it your policy to approve any pet, discuss your policy with your renters, and include your policy in your lease.

Here’s a sample of what I have in my lease:

6. Think about prohibiting certain breeds

Another restriction you might consider is not allowing breeds that people can train to be attack dogs, such as a pit bull, German shepherd, or Rottweiler. Of course, these dogs are not inherently bad dogs, and we are not saying they are. But those breeds (as opposed to a poodle or retriever, for example), if not properly trained by their owner, can be dangerous, and that is a liability not all landlords want to take.

Note that any untrained dog can pose a danger. Use your best judgment when deciding what type of pet to allow in your property.

Related: Landlord liability when a tenant’s dog bites someone

Reasons to allow pets

There are some definite pros to consider when renting to tenants with pets.

  • You will open your rental properties to a bigger market.
  • Tenants with pets tend to stay longer since it’s more difficult to find rentals that allow pets.
  • You can charge extra for the privilege of keeping a pet in your property. After all, pets do tend to cause more wear and tear. Plus, by charging pet rent, you are leveling the playing field between tenants with and without pets, helping ensure pet-less renters don’t always win over renters with pets.
  • You are helping prevent pets from being abandoned or sent to shelters.

Related: Pet deposits, pet fees, and pet rent—what’s the difference

A note about service animals

Many landlords must abide by the Fair Housing Act. The FHAct, regarding animals, says that landlords must allow service animals, which are defined as dogs that are “trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” Think a guide dog for a blind person.

There is a gray area regarding assistant or emotional support animals, which can be dogs, cats, or other types of companion animals. Generally, if a potential renter gives you a signed letter from their doctor stating that they have a disability and that their pet helps them, the FHAct says that you need to make a “reasonable accommodation” for that animal. Think a seizure-detecting cat or a dog that relieves a person’s anxiety.

FHA guidelines generally don’t apply to buildings with fewer than five units with one occupied by the landlord or single-family homes that you rent without using a broker.

The bottom line

There isn’t such a thing as an exact number of pets landlords should allow. But it’s a good idea for you to have some sort of pet policy in place that you go over with your tenants before they move in and that you include in your lease.

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7 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Melissa Downing

    I want to move to an apartment that wants 250.00 dollars for my cat which I have a Dr note for my cat as a compaion animal can that be waived

  • Laura Hamel

    Thank you for your article. Your casual use of the term “attack dogs” doesn’t belong here. There isn’t such a category that’s tied to breed—you list rotties, GSD, and pits as though that’s their official category. Some better research would lead you to properly categorize rotties as a working breed and GSD as herding. And there’s a lot of controversy over pitbulls, which some assert aren’t technically a breed but rather a collection of breeds. Your use of the word “attack” is inflammatory and only serves to whip up more emotion around this already difficult issue. So-called “bully breeds” and the “bad-dog list” already exist–homeowners have to go to great lengths to get insurance, etc. Let’s not add to the fray with more undefined terms.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Laura,
      I agree with you on this, and I have changed the language. Thank you for pointing this out! Not all pit bulls, Rottweilers, and German shepherds are attack dogs. You are correct there is no such category. But if someone wants to train a dog to be an attack dog, those breeds are often picked. I was just making the point that many landlords might want to consider not letting renters bring those dogs to the property since the landlord doesn’t know whether any dog is well-trained or not, and the risk is greater with some dogs.

      • Laura Hamel

        Hi Laura,

        Thank you! People who improperly train their dogs have caused a lot of problems for those who do. Reporting on the issues should be accurate—I appreciate the edit. Rather than wading into the breed debates, a better approach might be to let your readers know that their insurance policies could exclude certain breeds, require proof of training, or require the purchase of additional liability coverage—landlords are best served by checking with their agents for all the options before finalizing decisions on pet acceptance.

        Laura (landlord and dog-lover, especially GSD :-)

  • Kimberley

    Almost 3 years ago we rented out our mobile to a tenant from hell. In the tenancy agreement she was not allowed any pets at all on the property.

    Anytime we have gone to the property more animals we there. She came with a dying dog that we agreed to verbally. Other that than no pets. Now she has brought a horse a bull two dogssix kittens two cats and now a pot belly pig. Our property inside and out has been destroyed. She was served an eviction notice recently for unpaid rent in an excessive amount. She signed the eviction notice and is now taking us to arbitration. What do we do…she claims she is not leaving our property…

  • Maria Jimenez

    Do you charge a pet fee for a hamster?

  • Beth

    I work in dog rescue and really struggle with the Pit Bull issue. The term “pit bull” refers to a number of breeds with larger boxy heads. Statistically, bully breeds are no more likely to bite than any other breed. A small chihuahua is much more likely to attack.

    It is concerning to see a recommendation to prohibit any dog based on breed. It seems much more reasonable to ask for an evaluation of any dog that there may be questions about, and of course require adequate rental insurance for families.

    I encourage you all to open your minds to the fact that dog behavior is determined by training in the majority of cases. Please walk the aisles of shelters – observe the number of sweet dogs that will be euthanized because of unfounded bias.

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