The Definitive Guide to Renting to Tenants with Pets

Written on October 29, 2013 by , updated on April 20, 2017

My dog, Bear Hall

My dog, Bear Hall

I have a dog, his name is Bear, yes – Bear the Dog.

He is considered our first born, and not a day goes by that I don’t talk to him like he’s a human.  In fact, I believe that any day now, he’s going to start talking back, in full articulate sentences.

I’m not crazy, I just love him. I even bought him a domain name (http://www.bearhall.com).

Okay, maybe that’s a little crazy.

Renters are no different.  If they have a loved pet, they will exclusively rent properties that allow animals.  The pet is understandably part of the family.

Pet Owners are Everywhere

According to the American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey, Americans now own approximately 83.3 million dogs and 95.6 million cats.

That translates into nearly 50 percent of homeowners owning at least one dog and more than 45 percent owning at least one cat.

Businesses are Embracing Pets

Between local “Yappy hours” at bars, luxury hotel pet packages, and the rise of natural dog food stores, American businesses have gone paws-itively pet crazy!

It’s not surprising that businesses are catering to the moms and dads of furry children. Landlords should seriously consider opening their doors to Fido as well.

Today, businesses realize that by discriminating against pet owners, they could be alienating nearly half of their potential customer base, which is an important lesson for you as a property manager.

Follow the Leader

The image of pet-friendly hotels in the past wasn’t always the greatest. They tended to be lower end properties. Nowadays, however, luxury hotels such as the boutique Kimpton brand, not only allows pets, but they welcome them. Their pet policy is simple.

We welcome any pet, regardless of size, weight, or breed for zero fees or deposits at every Kimpton Hotel.

kimptonI have personally stayed at a Kimpton Hotel and Spa, and can vouch for their adoration for man’s best friend.  It really matters, and is a deciding factor when I need a hotel room.

According to Advertising Age, a staggering number of hotels are now becoming pet-friendly in an effort to lure more customers.  The pet industry is booming and has enjoyed an average growth of 5% for the past five years.

Benefits vs. Risks

Typically in real estate, where there is great risk, there is also the opportunity great gain.  Pets and Rentals are no exception.

Benefits

  • Additional income from increased rent or pet fees
  • Larger pool of tenants to choose from
  • Increased tenant enjoyment b/c of Fido
  • Tenants with animals seem to sign longer leases (just my experience)

Risks

  • Potential damage to the property
  • Physical injury to neighbors or yourself
  • Possible noise nuisance
  • Allergens and dander will get in the air ducts and carpet

If you are thinking about making your rental unit pet friendly, it would be wise to follow the lead of the hotel industry and put some restrictions in place that could mitigate potential damage.

dog-suitcase

No need to “sneak” them in

For example, a number of Las Vegas hotels have recently begun offering a PetStay program to guests which reduce one of the barriers of travelling on vacation.

My theory is that Vegas realized visitors will have a better experience, and stay longer at a hotel, when they have a pet with them rather than worrying about Fido at home. It’s simple really, if a hotel will host your pet, then you don’t have to spend money on a dog kennel, and therefore, you have more money to spend in the casino!  Trixie Hobbitses.

None-the-less, their rules limit the number of dogs to two per room and each furry friend can weigh no more than 50 pounds. You may want to consider placing your own restrictions on your rentals, especially if you have concerns that pets could cause damage to your property.

Hi Mr. Landlord,

I’m really excited to move into your property.  I think it will be a great place for my baby Velociraptor to grow up. His name is White Fang, isn’t he cute?

Love, – Your New Tenant

As a landlord and property manager, you should at least consider the idea of being pet-friendly and thereby, it will increase your ability to rent your property.  A tenant will always choose their pet over your amazing apartment.

So stop fighting it, and embrace a open pet policy for your rentals.  The key is mitigating the risk, and making sure you’re covered.

5 Ways to Mitigate Risks

1. Get References and Screen the Tenant

When it comes to allowing pets into your property, it pays to ask for and check on references from potential tenants. I recommend calling all former landlords and geting the “scoop” on your applicant’s (and their pet’s) baaaaaaaad or sheepish behavior :)

Some pet owners may have a well-trained dog, but they, themselves, are horrible housekeepers who never take their dogs out or clean up after their messes.

[REMEMBER] A pet is only as good as it’s owner,. If you would prefer to call the former landlords yourself, make sure you ask “would you rent to them again?

Related: The Landlord’s Guide to Tenant Screening

2. Charge a Higher Rent

According to MSN Real Estate and Firepaw (.pdf), owners can typically charge 20 to 30 percent more for units that allow pets. In fact, landlords who allowed pets brought in an extra $222 a month on average when compared to those who didn’t allow pets.

Landlords who did not have a weight restriction on large-breed dogs brought in an additional $100 per month on average over those who enforced weight restrictions. Don’t get carried away.  I don’t recommend charging excessive pet fees.

This extra income will be a result of supply and demand, and the fact that you are better than competitive landlords in your area.  By allowing pets, especially large dogs, you can charge a premium in the rent, which most pet-owners will pay.

If you nickel-and-dime your tenants with pet fees, they will simply go somewhere else – even if the rent is more expensive.

Tenants will subconsciously choose to pay a higher rent, rather than pay a “pet fee”.

While you may think that the higher rent might get eaten up by the cost of pet damage repairs, experts argue that a family with one or two rambunctious children is more likely to cause damage to your unit than a single person with a small, well-behaved pet.

I completely agree. Both pets and children will urinate on the floor, but at least a pet won’t write on the walls with a sharpie.

3. Collect a Larger Security Deposit

In addition to charging a higher rent, in most states, you can add an additional “pet deposit”.  Only a few states (such as Arizona, Nevada, West Virginia, Florida, Utah, Wyoming, Georgia, and Washington) allow for non-refundable fees, but regardless, you are allowed to collect a higher deposit (refundable or not) because of the additional risk as long as you stay within your state’s maximum allowable amount.

I also require that all tenants with pets, pay for a professional carpet cleaning and air duct cleaning.  The goal is to remove any pet dander and allergens so that I don’t exclude people with allergies from my pool of future tenants.

4. Evaluate Personality over Breed

According to the CDC, statistically, there are some dog breeds that are involved in human injuries more than others. The CDC released a Special Report that collected the number of fatalities caused by dogs from 1995-1996.

It’s useful data, but it’s not all-encompassing, and it definitely cannot be used to describe every dog within a certain breed. There are several viral blogs on the internet that claim they have the “CDC’s list of Dangerous Breeds”, however these lists hogwash.

Why?, because the data doesn’t account for certain variables. Steve Dale explains why there is no such list.

It's the small dogs you need to watch

It’s the small dogs you need to watch

If you think about it, a small Chiwawa will not be able to put someone the hospital.  However a Great Dane could surely do some damage.

Therefore, the only patients being treated for animal injuries are from animals that have capability to inflict harm.

It’s more Nurture than Nature.

I believe an animal’s vociferousness is caused by mistreatment or lack of sociability.  In my experience, it’s the small dogs that always seem to bark and nip when a stranger walks by.  The larger dogs are confident and calm.  Perhaps it’s a Napoleon complex.

bear-with-ball

The ball has about 3 minutes to live

Giants can be Gentle

A perfect example of a gentle giant is my dog, Bear.  He’s 85 lbs and can destroy a tennis balls in about 3 minutes.  But when he catches squirrels, he actually covers them with his paws, and then chooses to let them go.

5. Require that a Pet be Spayed or Neutered

Animals that have been spayed or neutered, are often more behaved and have a calming personality.  Neutered males do not feel the need to roam around, patrol the neighborhood, engage in fighting, mark their territory (as much), and display inappropriate sexual mounting – like humping your Aunt Bertha’s leg. Spayed females will not go into heat and will not bleed on your carpet.  Females in heat often urinate frequently and yowl to attract males.

Be Specific in the Lease

Ask your tenants to sign a pet agreement that specifies the type of animals you will allow in your rental.

Sample “No Pets” Clause

I use a specific lease clause prohibit pets at some of my properties:

Use a “Pet Addendum” when allowing Pet

When allowing pets, attach a separate document to the end of your lease. Have the tenant fill it out completely before moving in. Shown below is a sample Pet Addendum Template that you can use to accommodate tenants with pets:

photo credit: seriykotik1970, Ceasars Palace via cc
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12 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Ms. Shawn Roman

    Bear is soooo cute! Love the pics and videos from when he was still a puppy and playing in the snow! Thanks for all this invaluable info for renting to dog owners. So much appreciated!

  • Mona Griffin

    Please comment on whether landlords can restrict the number of “companion animals” as defined under ADA and FHA and verified by the resident’s physician letter.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Mona,
      That’s a really great question. Here is an official letter relating to service and companion animals: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=servanimals_ntcfheo2013-01.pdf. Perhaps you can find some ammunition there.

      My first inclination is to think that you have to reasonably accommodate these animals (because they are service animals, not pets), however, I don’t imagine your tenant could have more animals than the housing, health, or animal laws allow for your county/district. For example, many counties only allow up to 5 cats per property to prevent the spread of disease. Check with your local county’s animal control department – they should know the limit. Further, you could questions how many animals are actually needed to offset the disability. For example, does a blind man need 3 walking dogs, or just 1?

      Just my opinions and thoughts here. Let me know if you find a definite answer for your county, because it’s a really good question.

  • Tim

    What it my tenant has a pet that was not specified in the lease? She’s moving out in 3 weeks and currently has a cat even though only dogs were specified in the lease — can I keep part of her pet security deposit?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Tim,
      If your lease specifies a penalty for not obeying the pet rules, you can definitely hold that fee amount from her deposit. However, if you don’t say what the consequence is of breaking the rules, then you can’t just make up some fine now.

      If I were you, I would hire professionals to clean the entire house, including the HVAC system and vents, and all the carpets. You may need to hire three different companies – maids, HVAC cleaners, and carpet cleaners.

      There are a lot of renters that are allergic to cats, but not dogs. Because she broke your rules, your house is not infested with cat dander, and you will not be able to rent to a large group of potential tenants. Or worst, you rent to them, and 2 weeks later, they are wanting to break the lease because of cat allergies.

      If there wasn’t any cat dander in the house when she moved in, the tenant is responsible for ensuring all the cat dander is removed when she moves out. The only way to do this is to do a heavy cleaning, everywhere.

      To make sure it is done properly, I would hire the companies myself, and then just deduct the money from her deposit.

  • Bob @ effinglandlord.com

    I once rented to a nice young couple with a pet boa constrictor. For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine that a boa constrictor, even a 6 footer, would cause me any grief. And it didn’t either, aside from a touch of uneasiness when I found out they occasionally let it out of its tank to free-range around the house for a day or two. It wasn’t until they were ready to move out, and we were doing a final walk through, that I discovered the aftermath of a rat’s nest in a deep back corner of a laundry room cabinet. “What’s this?” I asked. “Sorry,” the tenant replied, “one of the rats got loose and it took us a few days to catch it.” I asked her, “What rats? You never said anything about keeping pet rats.” And she answered, “Not pets. We feed the snake live rats.”

  • Megan

    Hello, I own a home as a rental and agreed to allow my tenants to have two dogs. I took an additional deposit of $300 for a $2600 rental to account for damages. My lease document does not directly state any obligations on their part for removing their dander from the home (floors, air ducts, etc) but does ask that the property be left in the condition it was handed over in which included steam cleaned carpets. What is legal for me to deduct for cleaning/sanitization fees of the carpets, tile and ducts?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Megan,

      I can’t comment on the legality of the situation, since I’m not a lawyer. But I will tell you that I have the same clause in my leases: “the property must be left in similar condition as during move-in, except for normal wear and tear”.

      If I were in this situation, I would use that clause to force the tenants to clean and sanitize the house from all dog hair and dander. This would include professionally cleaning the carpets and air ducts. I probably would worry about the tile, apart from giving it a good scrub. Dander usually collects in the fabrics and ducts. There wasn’t any dander in the house when they moved in, so there shouldn’t be any dander when they move out. In my opinion, dog dander is never considered normal wear and tear.

      If they refused, I would have no problem with using as much of their deposit as necessary to get the job done. But that’s just my opinion. You have to be comfortable with your choices and be able to back them up in court if need be.

  • Jackie

    I am trying to get a companion dog, for reason I don’t feel need to be expressed here. My place allows pets with a deposit and a higher rent “monthly pet fee”. Now looking over the information out there, most information is for places that don’t allow pets, but not to much information on places that allow them. But I know a companion dog isn’t listed as a “pet”, would I have to pay the deposit and the monthly fee with all my documentation, prescriptions, dr notes, etc?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Jackie,

      Service animals and companion animals are two very different things. The difference is that a service animal is needed for the person to function normally – usually to offset some sort of disability. Companion animals are usually to offset some emotional concern.

      According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a companion animal does not qualify as a service animal and therefore they are not generally allowed in public places, like restaurants, as service animals are. The Fair Housing Act allows for companion animals in rental units but not necessarily in common areas like a pool area or courtyard.

      Generally speaking, landlords cannot charge pet deposits or pet fees because the law doesn’t consider companion animals as pets.

      Here’s a decent article to help: http://www.rentprep.com/blog/landlord-guide-assistance-animals/