The answers property owners need to know about animals in their rentals
Should a landlord accept pets? And if so, which ones? Should there be any restrictions? Should landlords charge pet rent or a pet deposit? And if so, how much?
Question 1: Should I Accept Pets?
The answer to this question is Yes… most of the time.
There are some 90 million pet dogs and 95 million pet cats in the United States. In other words, Americans love their pets. And if a landlord decides not to accept pets in their rental, that means there are a lot of potential tenants that the landlord has just declined without even knowing it.
Pets do, however, damage rental units, especially dogs. But this can be mitigated by (spoilers to Question 2) charging pet rent and a pet deposit. Indeed, we have found that the pet rent and pet deposit we charge are about equal to the damages done by pets. However, by accepting pets, we open our properties up to many more potential residents than we would otherwise, which makes it easier to lease those units and lease them at a higher rental rate.
Therefore, for houses, it is almost always a good idea to accept pets. For side-by-side duplexes, it is as well. With apartments, though, that is a bit of a tougher question.
Our policy is to allow one cat, but no dogs in apartments without common areas (i.e., where the door to the unit is from the outside and not an interior hallway). In apartments with entrances from a common area, we do not accept pets. The reason is that pets can cause all sorts of problems. Loud dogs could cause complaints or turn off potential tenants and hallways filled with pets (and their fecal matter) can get grimy.
There is no hard and fast rule here though. I know landlords who do accept dogs in their apartments and that is fine. For many apartment owners, it is worth the cost. For others, it is not.
Finally, do not forget that a landlord must accept “seeing eye” dogs for blind people and do so without a pet deposit or pet rent. On the other hand, the laws surrounding “emotional support animals” are much looser and vary state to state. But be sure to check with an attorney before turning someone down who has a letter from a doctor for an emotional support animal.
Question 2: Should I Charge Pet Rent and/or a Pet Deposit?
The answer to both of these questions is an unequivocal YES!
Pets do damage. Cats like to scratch everything and some like to urinate on just about everything. And dogs seem to have a real problem with window blinds. Pets do damage to rental units and landlords should be compensated for these damages.
Question 3: How Much Should I Charge?
Again, there’s no perfect rule here. We charge a non-refundable $250 pet deposit and $25 per month per pet. But in more expensive markets like Manhattan or Washington D.C., I would definitely consider charging more.
Question 4: Which Pets and How Many Should I Allow?
As a landlord, you don’t want your house to be featured on the nightly news because your tenant was raising 50 Pit Bulls there. There should be a limit. For us, it’s three pets in houses, two in duplexes and one cat in apartments with an exterior entrance. Again, there are no hard and fast rules, but it would be wise to stay close to those numbers.
Dangerous dog breeds are also something you should probably decline. There are some super sweet and kind Pit Bulls, but it’s just too risky to accept them when you cannot personally vet every dog that a tenant might want to have. Landlords have been held liable in the past for dog bites. Dangerous breeds include (but are not limited to) Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Dobermans.
Some landlords also put a weight limit on dogs (usually around 50 pounds) although the breed is a more important consideration.
Exotic pets are another tough question. Some people have ferrets, rabbits, parrots, snakes, etc. Generally, it’s probably wise to simply turn these down or at least demand they fill out a special request form. Successful real estate investors standardize as much as possible (paint colors, carpet types, leases, policies, etc.). And there’s not much “standard” about exotic animals. (Although, admittedly, there isn’t much exotic about a rabbit.)
Question 5: How Should I Evaluate Prospective Tenants and Their Pets?
There are really two questions here:
1) How should a landlord vet pets before a tenant moves in and
2) How should a landlord check for those deviously hidden pets.
Regarding the first question, just make sure a part of your application requires the prospective tenant to mention each type of pet they have so you can evaluate them. Then add a pet rider to their lease that lists each pet. Make sure the lease also states that no unauthorized pets are allowed.
Most people will abide by these rules, but occasionally someone will try to cheat and sneak in a pet without paying the pet rent or pet deposit. This is why we ask our maintenance technicians to keep an eye out for unauthorized pets whenever they are doing maintenance work orders at a property. Sure, we ask the same with leasing agents and check for them ourselves when we’re there. But maintenance technicians go to leased properties the most and can thereby make for good pet spies.
If they find an unauthorized pet, make sure to inform the tenant they will need to fill out a pet rider, pay the pet deposit, pet fees, and a fine to boot (check your state laws on what is acceptable regarding lease violation fines). Tenants should not be able to get away with violating the lease.
Because Americans both love pets and need a place to sleep at night, it is usually a good idea to allow pets in your rental units. But that doesn’t mean you should allow all pets or allow them to stay for free. Pets can cause problems and almost always will cause damages. A wise landlord will demand to be compensated.
Andrew Syrios has been investing in real estate for over a decade and is a partner with Stewardship Investments, LLC along with his brother Phillip and father Bill. Stewardship Investments focuses on buy and hold and particularly the BRRRR strategy—buying, rehabbing, and renting out houses and apartments throughout the Kansas City area. Today, Stewardship Investments has over 300 properties and 500 units. He writes for Think Realty, BiggerPockets and The Data Driven Investor.