dog | pet policy for rentals

Pet Policy For Rentals: Minimizing Risks For Property Managers

Let’s face it — pets pose risks. They can cause damage to furniture and landscaping as well as present a threat to neighbors if aggressive. Constructing a pet policy for rentals is a good way to protect your property and other tenants in the area.


Creating an Effective Pet Policy for Rentals

In 2014, a survey found that over 70 percent of renters owned pets. It is hard to imagine that percentage going down as statistics indicate that pet ownership has been trending up since 1988. With a large chunk of the renter population owning pets, landlords and property managers are looking at a missed opportunity by adopting a no-pets policy.

But, it is not like you can allow tenants to live with pets, no holds barred. Pets can be aggressive and destructive. They can cause thousands of dollars in damages and even open you up to liability. If your tenant’s neighbor is attacked by the pet, the neighbor can claim negligence on your part and file a lawsuit against you. Yet, banning pets outright can negatively affect your occupancy rate.

The trick is to find the right balance. You can allow pets on your rental property, but, as with all things, there must be limitations. Consider applying the following pet policies for rental properties:


1. Incorporate a Pet Lease Agreement

First of all, you must make sure to include a pet agreement into your lease. You can verbally orient your tenant on your rental property’s pet policy, but you must also put it in writing. This way, there is written proof that, upon signing, your tenant agreed to follow the various pet rules (listed below) you set forth in your rental agreement. Include all restrictions, fees, and violation penalties, as well.

Even if your tenant does not have a pet, it is important to still include this pet agreement in your lease. Just because your tenant does not own a pet now does not mean they will never choose to adopt or buy one. Having them sign the agreement now will help you avoid liability in the future.


2. Apply Pet Restrictions

Fair Housing laws prevent you from discriminating against tenants, but they don’t apply to pets. When creating your pet policy for rentals, consider imposing restrictions on what animals are allowed.

Many property managers and landlords only allow the usual domesticated pets, such as dogs, cats, fish, birds, hamsters, and the like. Remember to check your state laws, too. Some states, like California, prohibit citizens from owning certain animals, like ferrets and hedgehogs.

You can also impose restrictions related to the breed and weight of pets. For instance, some dog breeds are known to be more dangerous than others, such as Rottweilers, wolf hybrids, and Pitbulls. You may want to only allow pets weighing 20 pounds and below. You can also limit the number of pets your tenant can keep.


3. Impose Pet Requirements

requirements | pet feesIt is equally important to establish pet requirements. All dogs and cats must wear collars with identification tags. They must stay up-to-date on all vaccinations and licenses.

These vary from location to location, so make sure to check your state and local laws for guidance. To ensure your tenant follows these requirements, ask them to submit proof, such as current vaccination records and a copy of the municipal license receipt.


4. Ask to Meet Pets Beforehand

Before you both sign the lease, make it a part of your pet policy for rentals to meet your tenant’s pet/s first. There is a huge difference between reviewing the pet’s papers and actually meeting it yourself. From this meeting, you can somewhat gauge whether the pet is hostile or friendly.

Don’t forget to ask your prospective tenant these important questions as well:

  • Where did you get your pet?
  • Has your pet previously damaged property or caused harm to other persons or animals?
  • How long have you owned your pet?
  • Who will take care of your pet when you are not home?


5. Charge a Pet Deposit, Pet Fees, or Pet Rent

Some landlords or property managers are reluctant to charge pet deposits or fees, but it is a good way to protect your property from damages. Consider imposing a refundable pet deposit, which can be separate from your regular security deposit if your state laws allow it.

Tailor the amount of your pet deposit according to the pet type, breed, and size. For instance, a large dog is capable of more damage than a small cat. Harmless pets, like goldfish, may not even need a deposit.

When your tenant’s pet causes any damage, you can keep all or a portion of the deposit to cover for it. Make sure to follow the proper steps, though, when assessing damages. Take pictures for comparison during your rental inspection and provide a detailed list of the cost of repairs.

Sometimes, instead of or in addition to a pet deposit, some property managers or landlords charge a pet fee meant to make up for extra wear and tear on the unit itself as well as the surrounding areas. Pet fees are not legal in all states, though, so make sure to check your laws first.

Instead of charging a one-time payment, other property managers or landlords charge pet rent. This is a fee your tenant has to pay every month for the same purpose as a pet fee.


6. Define Tenant Responsibilities

It is imperative to include in your pet agreement the different responsibilities your tenant must fulfill or uphold. Your tenant should be responsible for cleaning up after their pet.

They must always have them under control and never leave them alone without supervision. They must make sure their pets can’t escape their unit. For instance, if they have a pet hamster or lizard, they should keep them in cages. Depending on state laws, you can also require your tenant to have renters’ liability insurance that covers pet-related accidents, damages, and other liability.


What About Service Animals?

dog | pet rentAlthough your rental dog policy can help protect you from liability, it is essential to know where to draw the line.

If your tenant has a service animal, some of your restrictions may not apply to them. Still, you can ask your tenant for proof or supporting documentation. Some states even have registries for service animals.

Remember to tread this path carefully, though. Refrain from asking intrusive or personal questions, such as why your tenant needs their service animal. You also can’t ask for your tenant’s medical records or any related documents.

However, having a service animal does not exempt your tenant from their responsibilities. They must still make sure their service animal does not pose a threat to others, though a vast majority of service animals are well-trained. In addition, they should still clean up after their service animal and cover the cost of any damages.


Enforcing Your Pet Policy for Rentals

It is one thing to have pet rules and restrictions for your rental property, but they are of no use if you don’t implement them properly. When enforcing your pet policy for rentals, make sure to do so in a uniform manner. Refrain from giving your tenant a pass “just this one time” as that type of action might encourage recurring bad behavior. Instead, administer your policies strictly and consistently.

Having trouble imposing a pet policy for rentals? Find a property management company, HOA management company, real estate agent near you using Florida Property Management’s online directory.