Whether you allow pets or not, some tenants will move their pets in regardless. That’s a simple, baseline reason to allow pets – and to charge for them.
Before getting into how to charge for pets, and how to protect your property, there are a handful of other reasons to advertise that your vacant rental property is pet-friendly.
First, 65% of Americans have pets, according to the American Pet Products Association. If you don’t allow them, you’re shooting yourself in the wallet by disqualifying two-thirds of prospects before they even look at your vacant unit.
Second, it’s a differentiator for your rental unit, when so many other properties are not pet-friendly. Not only does it attract all those 65% of people with pets initially, it also serves as a motivation for your tenants to stay put. “But honey, it will be so hard to find another place that will allow Fluffy!” I’m not sure if that counts as tenant loyalty or not, but it’s the same effect: longer tenancies, rarer vacancies (read: higher ROI).
And speaking of ROI, did we mention that you can charge more?
Markups for Pets
“Pet rent” is all the rage right now among landlords, and for good reason. It’s extra rent that you can justify! Don’t overdo it, or else the tenants will just smuggle Fluffy in all secret-like and try to (pardon) fleece you. But an extra $20-45/month per pet is found money.
Alternatively, or maybe additionally, you can charge a non-refundable pet fee at move-in. Call it a “pet cleaning fee” or get more creative if you want. It should at least cover the cost of steam-cleaning the carpets.
Yes, pets can cause extra damage, especially to flooring. But that gives you the perfect excuse to collect a higher security deposit. You can call it a “pet deposit” if you think that will help applicants swallow the idea, but legally it’s just a higher security deposit. That means it’s subject to the legal restrictions on security deposits in your state: if your state limits security deposits to two months’ rent, you can’t charge two months’ rent for the security deposit plus another half a month’s rent for the pet deposit.
But higher security deposits mean higher peace of mind and, well, security for you. Maybe the tenant causes $1,500 in damage doing something hopelessly incompetent, that has nothing to do with the pet – you’re still in good shape, because you were able to collect a higher security deposit.
Pet Clauses in Your Lease Agreement
What your lease contract has to say about pets matters – a lot. Your lease agreement should include clauses not only covering existing pets, but any new pets who move in during the tenancy are also subject to the fees, deposit, pet rent, etc. It should also explicitly list a (large) fine for tenants caught with an undisclosed pet.
If you limit the number, size, breed, type, eye color or any other qualifications for pets in your rental property, be sure your lease agreement says so. Some landlords allow cats but not dogs, or small dogs up to 20 pounds, or some other arbitrary distinction.
Be sure to be very explicit in your lease about what kinds of pets are allowed, or you might end up with alligators, tigers, lemurs or who knows what else. (Fun fact: that alligator rides a motorcycle in the baby seat of that motorcycle.)
Your lease’s pet policy should also make it vividly clear that the tenant assumes all responsibility and liability for their pet’s actions. It’s not ironclad, but it’s better than no protection if your tenant’s pet attacks and injures someone.
Some states try to pin responsibility for pet attacks on landlords. In Maryland there are absurd breed-specific laws, that pass the liability for renters’ pit bull attacks on to landlords. Ultimately, the legislature knew they couldn’t just outlaw pit bulls, so they got clever and used landlords to do their dirty work – by making landlords liable, informed landlords then banned pit bulls from their rental units.
Be sure you understand your state and local laws surrounding pets and landlord liability, and be sure your rental agreement includes any restrictions you feel will protect you.
Distinctions, Caveats & Exceptions
Like everything in life, there are caveats. Maybe you have gleaming hardwood floors in your rental unit, and you’re worried the pet will scratch them up? Refinishing hardwood floors is not a trivial cost – make sure your security deposit, and any additional pet fees or pet rent is enough to cover those costs, or don’t allow pets in that particular rental unit.
Similarly, landlords need to beware of the “normal wear and tear” distinction. By law, landlords cannot deduct money from the security deposit to repair damage caused by normal wear and tear. For example, if a tenant lives in your unit for five years, and when they move out the carpets need replacing, they may well have a case that you can’t deduct the cost of replacing those carpets because the damage falls under normal wear and tear.
Disabled tenants also have a legal right to service animals. It is a violation of Fair Housing laws to prohibit disabled renters from having a service animal, and is grounds for a lawsuit. Unfortunately, increasing numbers of pet owners are abusing the spirit of this law and getting physicians’ notes saying that they need their pet for their “emotional wellbeing” rather than for a physical handicap. (The woman with the pet alligator tried that trick, incidentally.) Be careful about contesting the therapeutic pet argument though; the legal ice gets thin fast.
Most people love animals (myself included), but you will have some tenants who don’t. If you manage an apartment building or community, some of your residents might object to neighbors with “loud” or “smelly” pets who leave landmines all over the common areas. If possible, consider separate buildings or wings for pet owners and non-pet-owners.
Still, landlords and managers can usually fill their vacant units faster if they allow pets, and the higher volume of applicants means a better chance of high-quality, long-term tenants. Just be sure to protect yourself with pet rent, a non-refundable pet fee, and/or a higher security deposit.♦
Do you allow pets? What have your experiences with tenant pets been? Ever found anything outrageous?