“Do you accept pets?” is one of the most common questions a landlord will face. These four little words can instill fear in the hearts and minds of most landlords. Pets can cause damage to your rental property that most tenants would never be able to do on their own. We’re not talking about a fish. We’re talking about cats and dogs and in some cases…well, let’s just say some would argue that a pig can be a family pet.
When it comes to pets, landlords and tenants rarely see eye to eye. Tenants view pets as a beloved member of the family. Landlords see fur, claws, teeth, cleaning fees (“my carpets!”) and potentially costly repairs.
The Pros and Cons of Allowing Pets
There are several things to consider when deciding whether to allow pets in your rental. First let’s look at the pros:
- More Prospective Tenants: According to a 2020 survey by the American Pets Products Association, 67% of households in the United States own at least one pet. That’s a lot of people! Allowing pets can greatly increase your potential tenant pool.
- Responsible Owners, Responsible Tenants: While it is not always the case, many times if someone is mature enough to responsibly own a pet, they are very likely mature enough to take care of your property.
- Charge Higher Rent: Many tenants are willing to accept higher rents or fees if a property is pet friendly. If many rentals in your area are not pet-friendly, there will be a lot of renters out there willing to pay more to get one that is.
- Avoid the Sneak: By allowing pets, tenants won’t feel the need to sneak in a beloved family pet without approval or rules that would otherwise be in place.
- Longer-Term Renters: Since pet-friendly properties are hard to come by, once a tenant finds one, they are more likely to stay long-term rather than risk having trouble finding another property that will accept Scout.
Now let’s look at the cons of allowing pets:
- Damage: This is probably the most obvious con to allowing pets. Animals are animals and scratched floors, damaged carpets, and accidents (can we say hard to remove odor?) are not uncommon and are often at the fault of no one.
- Liability: By allowing pets, as the landlord you take on some of the responsibility if said pet harms someone. If you do decide to allow pets, it’s essential to include limitations in your pet-policy when it comes to certain types and breeds of animals.
- Losing Tenants: Particularly if you own a multi-family property, there is a chance you’ll lose other renters if you allow pets. Some have allergies to cats and dogs or find their presence disruptive.
- Disturbing the Neighbors: Dogs that run around, birds that tweet or cats that claw constantly can disturb others in nearby units or outside neighbors, resulting in complaints and conflict.
So, as a landlord, you have the right to “just say no,” to pets, right? It’s a black and white decision…”yes” or “no” – case closed, correct? Like everything in the world of rentals, it’s never that simple.
Requests to have assistance animals are on the rise as more studies show the benefits of service animals to those with mental and physical disabilities and it’s important that you, the landlord, understand the local, state, and federal laws pertaining to assistance animals, many of which depend on what type of assistance animal a prospective tenant owns.
In general, there are three types of assistance animals – service, therapy, and emotional support.
Service Animal – an animal with special training to perform work or certain tasks for a single disabled person. You’ve probably seen many service animals assisting the blind.
Therapy Animal - an animal specially trained to provide comfort and affection to multiple people who have experienced some sort of trauma, stressful situation or who have learning disabilities. You’ll often see these types of animals in hospitals, helping to brighten the lives of those dealing with illness.
Emotional Support Animal – an animal that provides companionship and emotional support to its owner without needing specialized training.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service and emotional support animals are not considered pets and therefore are not subject to a pet policy. Think of it this way – service and emotional support animals are more of a medical device than an animal. Federal law requires landlords to allow reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities. Therefore, landlords may not prohibit a service or emotional support animal from living with its owner. Furthermore, a landlord cannot charge the tenant an extra pet fee or security deposit. Additionally, landlords cannot apply other pet policy rules, such as restrictions on breed and size.
Since some states have additional laws in place, it’s important that you know what those laws are. Enter the professionals. A property manager or qualified attorney knows the ins and outs of “animal law” and can help ensure you avoid unintended consequences and penalties as a result.
Regardless of the reason, if you allow pets, it is important to include a detailed pet addendum in your lease. The addendum should clearly state the rules, conditions, and regulations when it comes to pets and your property. It is also important to apply the rules uniformly to avoid accusations of discrimination or favoritism.