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Sit. Stay. Renting to Pet Owners – What You Should Know

April 11, 2017

It’s official –Americans have gone paw-sitively pet crazy!

From luxury hotel packages for pets to pet social cafes and bottled water for dogs –there are all sorts of creative ways that you can spoil your furry friends. And for most people, their beloved animals truly are a part of the family.

Given our devotion to pets, it’s understandable that the majority of renters who have animals are unwilling to part with them due to non-pet-friendly accommodation. Pet owners will usually opt to pay more in rent, or even stay in a rental that may not have been their first choice –to avoid the prospect of giving up their pet.

According to a survey by the American Pet Products Association, Americans now own approximately 83.3 million dogs and 95.6 million cats. This translates into nearly 50 percent of homeowners owning at least one dog, and more than 45 percent owning at least one cat. That’s a huge segment of the tenant pool that non-pet-friendly landlords are missing out on!

But what about the drawbacks that are involved with making a property pet-friendly? We’ve all heard horror stories about property damage that animals can cause, and for many landlords, the prospect is enough to put them off of the idea altogether.  

Still, there are plenty of landlords who rent their units as pet-friendly –and with remarkable success. Should you allow animals in your rentals too? If you’re on the fence and wondering whether to make your units animal-friendly, here’s a look at some of the benefits and risks that arise when you open to door to pets.

Benefits of Allowing Pets

Renting to pet owners offers a number of advantages and potential benefits for landlords.

  • The Potential for Higher Rental Income

Since pet-friendly accommodation can be difficult to find, most pet owners are willing to pay more for it. According to a FIREPAW survey, landlords can typically charge 20 to 30 percent more for units that allow pets. In fact, landlords who allowed pets brought in an extra $222 per month on average when compared to those who didn’t allow animals.

  • Longer Tenancies

Landlords who allow pets often enjoy longer tenancies from their renters. According to the FIREPAW survey, tenants with animals were found to stay significantly longer than their non-pet owning counterparts –by an average of 23 months compared to just 15.

A Lower Vacancy Rate

Landlords who allow pets may also find that their properties rent faster as well. In fact, FIREPAW found that pet-friendly residences were leased out in an average of 19 days instead of the 29 days it regularly took to lease a non-pet-friendly residence.

  • A Larger Tenant Pool to Draw From

Only a small percentage of rentals have no pet restrictions at all –less than 10 percent according to FIREPAW, putting landlords who allow pets at a distinct advantage. The study also found that landlords with pet-friendly accommodation received twice as many applications for a vacant unit, giving them a wider tenant pool to choose from.

  • Pets Can Indicate Responsibility

In some cases, pet ownership can also indicate responsibility. “Responsible pet owners make responsible tenants,” writes Erin Eberlin in The Balance. “If someone is mature enough to take good care of an animal, there is a good chance they will treat your property with the same respect.”

Risks of Renting to Tenants With Pets

Of course, renting to pet owners isn’t without its risks. Here’s a look at a few potential issues that can arise for landlords who allow pets into their rentals.                                                                                                                            

  • Potential Property Damage

Dogs and cats can cause damage –scratching the doors, chewing the floors, and having accidents on the carpet are just a few of the exploits that unattended, and improperly trained pets can have.

  • Increased Liability

Increased liability is another concern that many landlords have. Although it’s worth noting that most states have strict liability statutes which hold dog owners, not landlords, responsible for the behavior of their dogs. Liability insurance can also help to offset the added risk.

  • Increased Insurance Costs

Pet-friendly landlords can face higher costs. For example, the FIREPAW survey found that pet-friendly landlords reported an average annual insurance premium of $150 more. Consider checking with your insurance provider to see if becoming pet-friendly will affect your rates, but keep in mind that these expenses can easily be recovered in rent premiums.

  • Risk of Physical Injury

With dogs, especially large breeds, there’s always an increased risk of physical injury –to other residents, visitors, and even the landlord. This is one reason that some landlords impose size restrictions on animals. Smaller breeds can, and do bite, but the risk of serious injury is much lower when the dog is small.  

  • Potential Complaints From Neighbors

Complaints about barking dogs is another concern that landlords have. Although noise complaints aren’t as common as some people might think. According to FIREPAW, only about one-third of landlords have ever had noise problems.

  • Allergies

Future tenants can be allergic to animals, and a rental that’s had pets may require significant cleaning or even renovations to make it suitable for tenants who have allergies.

Compliance With Fair Housing Laws

While the decision to allow pets is at the discretion of the property owner, there’s one situation where landlords cannot refuse to rent to someone with an animal. That is, when this rule would put them in violation of Fair Housing Laws. This includes situations where an applicant has a disability and requires a service animal or a companion animal.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals including guide and signal animals are not considered “pets.” So landlords who have a ‘no pets’ policy cannot refuse to allow a disabled person to have a service dog. Similarly, a landlord should also allow companion pets –animals that provide emotional support to people with disabilities including those with depression, anxiety, or PTSD.

Making Your Rentals Pet-Friendly

If you’re thinking of allowing pets in your rental, there are a few things that you’ll want to do up front to mitigate the risks, and to ensure that your rentals are pet-friendly and ready for business.  

First, you’ll want to make sure the security deposit that you’re charging is high enough to cover any potential damages. You may also want to consider charging a monthly pet fee. A pet fee, unlike a security deposit, is non-refundable –which means you won’t have to return it when the tenant leaves. Better yet, consider raising your rent. In most cases, tenants would rather pay a higher rent, rather than a pet fee. Just remember to check your state’s legislation first, to make sure you’re within your rights to implement pet-related fees. There may be limits on how much you can charge for a security deposit.

If you allow pets, you may also want to consider doing so, but with limitations and stipulations. This means outlining the maximum number of pets that are allowed in your rental –as well as putting size restrictions on the pets, as well only allowing animals that are spayed or neutered.

If you own a multi-unit complex, consider taking extra precautions and requiring that all pets be up-to-date on vaccinations. You may also want to require a health certificate and obedience-training certificate. These measures can drastically reduce your chances of ending up with a dangerous or untrained dog.

Finally, it’s also a good idea to have tenants with pets pay for a professional carpet cleaning and air duct cleaning –to be done after they move out. This should remove pet dander and allergens so that people with allergies will be able to rent the property in the future.

When it comes down to it, just as there are risks involved with opening up your rental to pets, there are also a number of potential benefits to be had as well. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, “Pets or no pets?” Instead, it’s largely a matter of personal preference –and doing your research to determine which option’s best for you.

It’s worth bearing in mind though, that while a “no pets” clause in the rental agreement may seem like a simple solution, there’s really no such thing as a risk-free tenant. While pets can inflict a tremendous amount of damage to a property –tenants can easily cause just as much damage, or more, on their own.

Whether you choose to allow pets –or not, your best option is to make sure you have a thorough tenant screening process in place to vet applicants, and to protect yourself with an airtight tenant lease, or hiring a reputable property management company to handle this for you. Careful assessment is the key to reducing the chance of damage from both humans –and their four-legged friends!

Which side of the fence are you on? Pets or no pets? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!