Deciding on whether to allow pets in your rental properties can be a challenge. There are many factors to consider — even once you’ve chosen, there are always conditions and variables to think through and policies to set. With so many options, you may be asking yourself if you should allow pets in your rental property in the first place.
Renting to pet owners can be very beneficial to your company — as long as you follow all the right screening steps and set up requirements beforehand. This guide will help you through everything you should set up and practice when you’re renting property to tenants with pets.
Benefits of Allowing Pets in Your Rental Property
When you’re deciding whether or not to allow tenants to keep pets in your rental properties, you should recognize the benefits that come with permitting them. Renting property with pets is difficult for tenants, as there are so many restrictions and a narrow pool of choices. By allowing animals in your apartments, you can:
- Increase rent: Allowing pets is an excellent way to make more money. It’s common practice to charge monthly pet rent, as well as initial deposits or non-refundable fees. As long as you’re fair in your pricing, most tenants will be willing to pay the slightly higher rate since finding pet-friendly rentals can be difficult.
- Broaden your applicant pool: When pet owners are looking to rent, they have far fewer options than individuals without animals. By allowing pets, you’re opening up your applicant pool to a large group of people, most of whom already have limited choices. In the U.S. alone, 68% of households have a pet of some variety, with dogs making up the majority. Prohibiting pets would drastically cut down opportunities to take on responsible tenants.
- Prove tenant responsibility: Owning a pet — especially a dog — is a long-term commitment and a substantial responsibility. It requires time, attention, training and routine care. If the pet is healthy, happy and well-trained, it speaks volumes about the owner. You can get a good sense of the tenant’s reliability and if they’re fit for your community through pet screening.
- Motivate lease renewal: Trying to move with a pet can be challenging. For one, there aren’t a lot of available properties that allow animals. Additionally, frequent moving can cause pets stress, as they have to acclimate to new environments and neighbors. Once pet owners find a good location for their needs, they’re likely to stick around longer than other tenants.
If you’re on the fence as to whether or not you should rent to tenants with pets, these benefits may draw you closer to a yes — and for good reason. In addition to the measurable advantages, pet owners are often happier and more social, meaning you’ll even be improving your community of renters.
Risks of Allowing Pets in Your Rental Property
While there are many benefits to being animal-friendly, there are also several risks to consider before offering rentals to tenants with pets. You need to be prepared for and understand the possibility of certain situations that could arise by leasing to pet owners. Some of the issues you may encounter include:
- Potential damages: It’s no secret that pets can make messes and damage anything from wood floors to walls to furniture. Misbehaving or stressed animals can scratch at doors and walls, have accidents, chew up or stain carpets, tear at furniture and cause a multitude of other damages. This certainly isn’t always the case, especially if tenants have their pets well-trained, but it is something to consider.
- Noise levels: Animals make noise, and the larger the pet, the louder the sounds. From dogs running and barking to cats meowing to birds chattering, it’s hard to help pet noises. This may disturb other tenants or surrounding neighbors, especially if pets are carrying on during the evening or early morning.
- Unpleasant smells: Not every tenant is used to certain smells. Dogs may be prone to accidents while inside the units or common areas, and irresponsible owners may leave waste on lawn areas without picking it up. Cats have indoor litterboxes which, if not maintained, can begin to give off a strong odor.
- Triggered allergies: If other tenants are allergic to animals, there’s a chance the neighboring pets could trigger symptoms. Depending on the severity, it could even cause them to look for a new apartment and move out.
- Possible injuries to other tenants: Many animals — mostly dogs — can be prompted to bite. While 81% of dog bites are minor enough that they require no medical treatment and 18.9% only require simple treatments with no need for hospitalization, it’s still a risk. An untrained animal can be a danger to your other tenants, especially any young children.
These hypothetical situations may never occur, but you should be ready to handle them in case any do.
How to Mitigate the Risks
Every landlord or property manager should be concerned about the potential risks of allowing pets. But just because these issues exist does not guarantee they’ll become problems. There are several ways to lessen the possibility of these issues occurring before you even begin to authorize pets. For all current and prospective tenants looking to bring in a pet, you should:
- Require and contact references: It always pays to get a second opinion, especially since you don’t have time to get to know your potential tenants before offering them a lease. The best references you can get in touch with are the applicant’s former landlords. Ask about their habits when it comes to housekeeping and animal training and if that landlord would rent to them again. This will give you a good idea about how the applicant will likely conduct themselves. If you can’t reach a landlord, ask for former roommates or friends that could vouch for them.
- Thoroughly screen tenants: Besides asking for references, you need to screen every pet owner. Before you even consider the animal, you should be sure the potential tenant is a good fit. Check their credit, criminal history and eviction records first, then move on to see if they’re a responsible pet owner. Ask questions about how they treat their pet while also paying attention to behavior, grooming, demeanor and any other sign of owner responsibility.
- Increase the rent amount: If you’re going to allow pets in your properties, you have the right to raise the rent. Offering animal-friendly apartments — especially without any weight restriction — makes your listings more desirable and profitable. Potential tenants are likely to respond better to a higher rent cost than having a lower rent with multiple high-priced fees tacked on. And your extra profits won’t get eaten up on damage costs, either. Many responsible pet owners won’t leave damages, and if they do, you can pull the necessary compensation from their security deposit.
- Charge a security deposit: Because of the additional damage risk that pets bring into play, you can charge a higher security deposit — as long as you stay within your state’s maximum. You can also require your tenants to schedule and pay for certain types of maintenance to handle concerns. For instance, you may include in their lease that they need to have professional carpet and air duct cleaners come in every so often to reduce allergens.
- Judge pets by personality: If you want to get the best impression of how an applicant’s pet will act, you’ll have to meet the animal. Many landlords put restrictions on certain breeds of dog. While there are stereotypes about which dogs are the most dangerous or high-strung, there is no proof that breed makes a difference. If anything, smaller dogs are more likely to bark and nip at strangers. Bans on breeds may even drive away other dog owners, as some people will be wary of such a blanket approach. Treat each animal on a case-by-case basis.
- Put policies in place: The best way you can ensure a pet is well cared for is by requiring regular veterinarian checkups, vaccinations and — if it applies — that the animal is spayed or neutered. These prerequisite agreements mean lower chances of aggression, territorial behavior and illness. Detail your requirements precisely in the lease so there is no confusion later.
By following these tips, you can reduce the amount of risk involved in allowing pets in your rental properties. Even though the chances of coming across an irresponsible owner aren’t particularly high, your diligence will pay off if you do.
Pet Rent vs. Pet Deposit vs. Pet Fees
When a tenant wants to move in with a pet, it’s common policy to require them to pay extra. Whether it’s a boost in the regular rent or an additional fee, there are several ways to ensure you get the proper payment without overcharging your tenants. The three most common additional costs for animal owners are pet rent, pet deposits and pet fees.
Each of these three expenses is different from the others, but they share a similar purpose — covering damages and extra wear from pets. Some landlords or property managers require a pet rent paired with either a deposit or fee, but some don’t require any of the three.
It comes down to your decision and what your state laws dictate as appropriate. It is legal to charge pet rent and pet deposit in some states but not in others. Be sure to check your state laws before enforcing anything.
Here’s a more detailed look at each type of added pet charge:
1. What Is Pet Rent?
Pet rent is a recurring payment added on to the tenant’s monthly bill, as defined in the lease. The added charge covers any wear and tear caused by the animal or any general small damages that wouldn’t normally occur from a human occupant. It also applies to any surrounding areas on the property, including additional lawn maintenance and common areas.
While the rent may be different for every tenant depending on the type and size of their pet and how many they have, pet rent typically ranges from $10 to $100 per month. The best way to set a price is to make it comparable to the overall cost of a yearly fee or deposit but broken down into monthly payments rather than requiring it all upfront.
Including monthly pet rent in the lease is an excellent way to ensure you can cover any wear while also increasing revenue. Some property managers and landlords only include the monthly bill, while others pair it with a one-time pet deposit or fee. Check with your state laws to ensure you can charge monthly or pair the payments with a secondary type of fee.
2. What Is a Pet Deposit?
One of the most commonly applied forms of compensation is the pet deposit — a one-time fee paid by the tenant at the time of move-in. The purpose of the payment is similar to a security deposit — it ensures that any potential damages caused by the pet are covered. If there aren’t any damages to the property by the end of the lease, the tenant gets their deposit back.
Depending on state laws, there are different policies you should know before implementing this type of fee. You may be required to hold the deposit in a separate account from other payments. The state may dictate the amount you can charge a tenant, or you may not be legally allowed to include a deposit in your lease at all. Be sure to check your state regulations before deciding on anything.
If you can implement the fee and set a value, consider several factors to ensure your pricing is fair for you and the tenant. Evaluate the type of pet, its size and the property costs. You may want to set different prices depending on the animal itself, as a housecat is less likely to do damage as compared to a large dog. Repairs will also have different costs depending on the value of the rental property, so you can charge a higher deposit for pricier units.
When it comes to refunding the deposit, you won’t always give back the full amount, if any. To justify any use of the deposit money on repairs, you should first inspect the apartment thoroughly. Then, document every issue with detailed descriptions and pictures and keep a list of repairs, including the cost for each item. Once you’ve tallied up the costs, subtract the total from the deposit payment. If there is money left over, it goes back to the tenant.
3. What Are Pet Fees?
Pet fees operate similarly to deposits, in that they are a one-time payment at the time of move-in and are meant to compensate for any damages. However, the main difference between pet fees and pet deposits are that the fees are non-refundable, whether or not you have to make any repairs to the unit. Pets generally increase the tenant’s overall wear and tear on the apartment, so the fee helps mitigate it.
There are also restrictions depending on state laws. Pet fees aren’t considered legal in all states, as some will only allow you to charge a generalized security deposit. If you can charge a fee, you’ll have to be careful when determining a cost. Remember, you’re pricing for general wear and tear, and there’s no documented damage for justification.
Pet fees typically range between $100 and $300, similar to the costs of a pet deposit. Again, you should consider pet type and size and the price of the apartment when setting numbers. You can have individual fee amounts for different circumstances, such as charging less for a cat than a large dog. If you set your fee too high, the tenant has a chance to challenge it in front of a judge, who will then decide if the fee should be enforced.
These three costs do not apply to owners of service animals, as charging the tenant extra would be a Federal Fair Housing Act violation. You may ask for money to cover damages after the lease has ended, but not before.
How to Screen Tenants With Pets
Before you have your tenants sign lease agreements or allow their pet to live with them in the rental unit, it’s essential to conduct thorough screening. Checking the applicant’s credit, criminal and eviction histories is a first step all landlords should take when checking for eligibility regardless of if they accept pets. However, if you do want to welcome in animals, your screening needs some additional steps.
Have the applicant provide a few references for you to check. Ask for prior landlords or roommates, as they may be your best bet at getting an idea of how the individual looks after their pet. Once you’ve contacted references, you’ll need to meet with the pet and potential tenant in person.
Here are a few questions you may want to ask:
- How many pets do you own?
- What is each pet’s breed and size by weight?
- How old is your pet, and how long have you had them?
- Are you solely responsible for the animal? If so, do you have a reliable sitter?
- Is your pet trained — in the house, on a leash — and obedient?
- How often does your pet exercise?
- Do they have updated vaccinations?
- Are they spayed or neutered?
- How does your pet behave socially around other people, children and animals?
A few key details will tell you right off if an owner is responsible — at least at the base level. It’s easiest to know by meeting the tenant and pet in person.
You should observe whether the animal is well trained. If the owner has a dog, have them deliver a few commands, and see how quickly the pet responds. Quick reaction time and a calm demeanor mean the two have an established relationship, and the owner is in control. Puppies will react excitedly, but don’t take that as a red flag — they just need consistent training. If the owner is diligent, it shouldn’t be an issue.
Another tell is if the pet seems happy and healthy. If the animal looks malnourished or behaves sheepishly, that may be a bad sign. Under-socialized pets are more likely to react poorly to other people or animals. A pet that is social and appears well-fed or in good health indicates that the owner cares for them. The owner should also have all the proper equipment for their pets including a collar, harness, leash, toys, treats, cleaning supplies and any other needs.
Talk to the owner and check if they have rules for their pet that they consistently enforce. Anything from leash training while walking to setting boundaries in the house means they are attentive to their pet and understand the importance of encouraging proper behavior.
Pet Policy Tips
Once you decide to start permitting pets, you need to set rental property pet policies for landlords or your own expectations. These will keep your tenants more vigilant about their pet’s and their own behavior as well as provide you with grounds for eviction should they prove to be irresponsible.
Some of the most common landlord pet policies to include in the lease are:
- Proper records: Requiring the proper identification, licenses and updated vaccination records for pets before allowing the owner to move in isn’t out of the ordinary. It’s a smart move and confirms that the applicant has the right certification for the animal and cares for its health.
- Restrictions: You may want to set certain limits regarding pets, such as for weight, number of animals, what types are allowed or any other details that might be pertinent. These are essential to set beforehand so you don’t end up with any apartments that have ten dogs or obscure reptiles.
- Owner responsibilities: Outlining required owner responsibilities will ensure your tenants keep up with proper conduct. Include details about waste removal, supervision, controlling sound and housecleaning.
- Renter’s liability insurance: Having your pet-owning tenants purchase liability insurance will be helpful in the instance that the animal injures anyone or damages property. Just be sure they get a policy that doesn’t have a bite exclusion or similar limitations.
It’s best to include a full pet agreement in the lease to make sure you cover all the bases. If the tenants violate the agreement, it can be grounds for a warning or, in more serious cases, an eviction. It depends on what you include as the penalty in the lease.
You should also leave yourself room to change policies if it suits your properties better. Include a statement in your pet rules that gives you the right to amend and give tenants a notice ahead of time. If you want to grandfather in current tenants and exempt them from changes, you should add a clause for that as well.
Partner With American Heritage Property Management
Managing pet-friendly properties can be challenging, but the benefits it has for you and the community make it worthwhile. If you want to start renting to pet owners but need outside help, you can turn to American Heritage Property Management.
Since 1981, American Heritage has been providing clients with full-service property management. We offer tenant screening and selection, including checking background qualifications, prepare thorough lease agreements, field tenant calls, ensure rent is paid on time, oversee daily operations and provide 24/7 repairs with our licensed maintenance division.
With over 3,000 units under our care and continual growth, American Heritage is the largest scattered site property management company in Central Pennsylvania. We provide an in-house network of real estate agents, insurance producers, mortgage representatives and settlement officers. Combine that with over 35 years of experience, and it’s easy to see that we know management.
Simplify your rental management with American Heritage’s services — contact us for more information.