Why Pets Are a “Head-Scratcher” (Hey-Oh!) for Landlords!

by | BiggerPockets.com

Most people can agree that cats and dogs are pretty awesome … most people, that is, other than landlords.

When I began owning rental property, pets morphed from something that I considered adorable to something that I considered a headache. How is it that cute little Fluffy and Fido went from lovable creatures into sources of destruction?

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The Problem with Pets

As most landlords know, dogs and cats can take a toll on your property. From pissing on the carpets to scratching up the door trim, animals have the potential to do vast amounts of damage to your rental unit.

Some of this damage, such as scratching up the door trim, is visible and can be deducted from a tenant’s security deposit. Some of the damage, such as peeing on a carpet, may exceed the security deposit that the tenant has given you. (In fact, if you charge an additional pet deposit, the damage may exceed even that as well).

And some of the damage isn’t quite so dramatic or tangible. It simply comes in the form of increased wear-and-tear and general uncleanliness. Pet dander gets into the vents and into the carpeting, fur collects on the baseboards behind the kitchen cabinets, and the whole apartment or home takes on a distinctive other worldly scent that never seems to dissipate even long after the pet has moved out.

Why “No-Pet” May Be a No-No

The knee-jerk reaction could easily be to institute a no-pet policy. However, in my experience as a landlord, I’ve stumbled upon a few reasons why a no-pet policy may not be effective.

1) Tenants lie.
I’d rather have a tenant be upfront about the fact that they have a pet — and pay me a pet deposit accordingly — than have a tenant lie about whether or not they have a pet. If I catch them lying, I then have to deal with the ramifications, whatever those may be. Even if I have the right to kick a tenant out, this is still a huge headache and hassle, one that I would rather avoid.

2) Scarcity.
Many tenants who own pets (I suppose the term is “companion” rather than “own”) have a hard time finding a place to live, because there are an abundance of landlords in the area who have no-pet policies. As a result, you may have a better chance of finding and keeping a high-quality tenant if you allow yourself to be open to the possibility of allowing dogs or cats on your premises.

3) Potentially higher rent.
Several of my properties are located close to popular public parks, including one property that’s located close to the city’s largest dog park. Needless to say, the type of people who want to live there tend to be dog owners. By increasing competition for my unit (through allowing dogs to live there), I can potentially charge a slightly higher rent than I could if there was less competition for my unit.

For these three reasons, a no-pet policy may not necessarily be the best plan.

Related: Why I Allow Pets in My Rental Properties

Why “No Pet” Might Be The Greatest Idea Since Sliced Bread

However, just for the sake of arguing both sides of the coin, here are all of the benefits of implementing a no-pet policy.

1) Increase profits.
Even if you charge a “pet fee” or a “pet security deposit,” the pet may inflict damage (or excess wear-and-tear) that’s greater than the fee or deposit value. Therefore you may lose money each time you rent to a tenant with a pet. An enforced no-pet policy can arguably lead to lower maintenance costs and increased profits.

2) Avert problems.
What would you do if a pet causes damage that greatly exceeds the value of the security deposit plus the pet deposit? Most landlords would ask their tenant to pay the difference, but good luck ever actually receiving that money … at least, not without a lot of headache and hassle. You can avert this potential problem by not allowing pets in the first place.

Related: BP Podcast 035: Quitting Your Job, Lifestyle Design, and Being a Traveling Landlord with Paula Pant

Pets: A Head-Scratcher

Which is the better course of action, instituting a no-pet policy or allowing pets? I’m still a little undecided on this issue.

In fact, I have tried every iteration. Some of my experiments have included:

  • Allowing cats, but not dogs
  • Allowing dogs under 20 pounds, but not over 20 pounds
  • Allowing one dog, but not multiples
  • Instituting a no pet policy along with a hefty “undisclosed pet penalty” written into the lease
  • Asking for a refundable pet security deposit
  • Asking for a non-refundable pet fee
  • Asking for the tenant to pay an extra $50 per month in rent as additional pet rent

As you can see, I’ve quite literally tried it all, and I can’t say that I have any particular conclusions about one tactic versus the other.

As a general matter, I tend to favor asking for “additional pet rent paid monthly.” Why? The tenant experiences less sticker shock when the pet fee is phrased in that way. If I were to ask for a $600 pet fee, the tenant may balk, but if I were to ask for an extra $50 per month over the span of 12 months, most tenants happily agree.

As a secondary general principle, I’ve also come to favor the “only one dog under 20 pounds” rule. I’ve tried this for a while and it’s worked fairly well. In my experience, the tenants who have had dogs has generally been responsible people; after all, caring for a dog is a big responsibility. By allowing the dogs under a certain size, I can capture a demographic of (hopefully!) responsible pet owners while simultaneously excluding the dogs that are large enough to cause the most serious level of damage.

(Interestingly, the worst damage I’ve experienced has come from cats. The stench of cat urine just never leaves the carpets.)

Related: Why I Allow Pets in My Rental Properties

I’ve also found out great success in writing into the lease that any tenant with a pet must pay to have all of the vents professionally cleaned prior to move-out, and that they must furnish a receipt showing that this work has been done. I also demand that they have the carpet professionally steam-cleaned, as well. I explain to the tenant that this requirement is for the sake of any future tenant who may be allergic to pet dander.

So … those are my tips for dealing with pets. They are not at all a stone-carved set of guidelines. I feel like my experiment with how to deal with pets, as a landlord, is still very much in its trial-and-error stage. I’m curious to see how other landlords out there deal with the issue of pets in their units.

Photo: WilliamMarlow

About Author

Paula Pant

Paula Pant quit her 9-to-5 job, invested in 7 rental units, and traveled to 32 countries. Her blog, Afford Anything, shares how to shatter limits, build wealth and maximize life. (At AffordAnything.com, she shares EXACT numbers from all her rental investments -- costs, cash flow, cap rate; it's all published for the world to read.) Afford Anything is a gathering spot for a tribe dedicated to ditching the cubicle. Read her blog, and join the revolution.


  1. I’m working on this issue right now. I purchased a half-rented duplex. The last family to live there had an older dog that was unable to walk downstairs to go to the bathroom outside. In addition, they had a daughter who also had problems making it to the bathroom. The family moved out approximately one year before I purchased the property.

    All the carpeting had been removed before I took ownership. I washed and sanded the subfloors. Unfortunately, the urine had so thoroughly soaked the subfloor, that when saw dust or drywall dust settled on the floor, the urine would soak through. The odor was horrific.

    I spent two weekends cutting and replacing subfloor to remove the odor.

    That being said, I do charge an extra rental fee for my tenants to have pets. So far, no one has complained or refused to pay the extra fee. My mentor tours his properties three times per year to ensure the tenants are not being too destructive, and if they are, to get the problems corrected and charged before they become too monumental to correct. I plan to do the same.

    • I have had good luck painting the subfloor with oil based Kilz when dealing with soaked-in urine. As long as you seal the cracks between the boards really well, this seems to take care of the odor, is much easier than replacing the floor, and can even be used on a concrete subfloor. Thank god my carpet guy doesn’t mind tearing this nastiness out for me! He’ll do the tear-out, come back a few days later after I’ve painted the floor and lay the new carpet.

  2. We charge a non refundable pet fee that can be done over several months, plus we have a monthly pet fee per dog. No cats allowed. Generally no dogs over 50lbs. For instance my 4/2 in a rougher area rents for $1400/mo plus gets a $25 monthly pet fee per pet and a $300 “upfront” pet fee. I am also switching away from carpet to allure in many units. For whatever reason, in my experience, dogs prefer carpet to pee and poop on.

  3. Out of 4 vacancies, two had cats, cats are the number one reason for having fleas in the home. For the last 3 weeks have bomb them without success, still trying. Man I hate in house cats, might have to hire a pro to get rid of the fleas (over $200). In 6 weeks, one female adult can have 1 million offspring- 50 eggs a day, mature in 3 weeks and live for up to two months without food. On smells, spraying vinegar will get rid of most smells, insects (spiders) and mold. The bigger the deposit, the more there are fleas, a one act circus that keeps on giving.

  4. The big picture is a pet no matter what type, is going to deteriorate your property as will children.
    What I do is cater to all folks, I have units where absolutely not pets are allowed, and you will be evicted for anything other then a gold fish. I have units where only a cat is allowed, and units where a tenant can have a dog if they like (these units have a common yard).

    Cleaning carpets between tenants with pets for tenants who do not, is a waste of time, like a non smoker moving into a former smokers unit. The carpets have to go in the dumpster, so if a tenant wants a cat they pay upfront for new carpet (a non refundable pet fee). Before the padding goes down a 4 mil plastic sheeting is taped to the subfloor. A separate pet security deposit is charged which if no other damage like scratching or spraying of urine on the walls is found is refunded. You will need a black light to detect the urine spray.

    A few years back I bought a cat urine soaked house for a flip. 58 cats living and dying in an 853 square foot house. This was a short sale (not short enough) after $10k just to clean the place to knock down the overwhelming stench of cats I sold the place to an investor. We tried everything to remove the smell after the professional cleaners did their best. Ripping up the worst subfloors, and coating every square inch with shellac based primer, in the end the place was pretty good except on damp days.

    Later I noticed in the public record the house was flipped a year later for $25k more.
    I called the buyer asking how he did it, “Simple lease to own, to a nice young lady with 3 cats”. He told me she was thrilled with the renovation even on the rainy day when she went through the property, and although he was sneezing with his cat allergies she noticed nothing.

  5. I had a bad experience with a tenant several years ago. I had a no pet policy, because of all of the items you mentioned! The lady that wanted to rent my place begged and pleaded with me to allow her to rent with her small dog, telling me he wouldn’t cause any damage. I fell for it as she was a very sweet and personable woman, but later, not so much – she turned out to be a very conniving person. I allowed her to have the dog, but only after paying a non-refundable pet fee. After her living there for 5 years and then moving, when I went into her bedroom, there was an unmistakable stench of pet urine and a slight odor throughout the rest of the house. Apparently, when the dog wasn’t brought outside, she was not using “pee pads” but only newspapers! My son had told me about seeing the newspapers after she moved out, as he had helped her do something in that room several months prior. I WISH he had told me, but he was a young teen at the time and probably didn’t give it much thought.
    I wound up in court over it and should have won, however, this woman worked for the court system years ago and knew just about everyone there. I lost the case in small claims court even with bringing witnesses who smelled the odor and a piece of the old carpet that still had the stench 6 months later. ! I don’t know how I could have lost, other than her pulling strings with her contacts and the judge being an absolute jerk. I think he was trying to get his own TV show with his animated style similar to Judge Judy, but I’m really just being facetious. I later found out that he was disbarred for his handling of cases, so that proved to me that he was shady. That didn’t help me after the fact in recovering the money I lost replacing the carpet and having to give the entire security deposit back.
    I went back to a no pet policy, but just rented to a couple that has a python and a bunny, again collecting a pet fee. This is only a duplex and I live on the other side. If it was a multi-unit property, I probably wouldn’t have rented to them for obvious reasons, namely, having a python. The reason I rented to them is because he is the brother of the tenant that moved out, was a great tenant and always paid on time and I had met them a few times when they came to visit his brother. Yes, I still did a credit and background check regardless. I will always remain firm on my no cat or dog policy, for the obvious reasons. Any thoughts on whether you think it was a mistake to rent to people with unusual pets such as having a python and a bunny?

  6. “1) Tenants lie.
    I’d rather have a tenant be upfront about the fact that they have a pet — and pay me a pet deposit accordingly — than have a tenant lie about whether or not they have a pet. If I catch them lying, I then have to deal with the ramifications, whatever those may be. Even if I have the right to kick a tenant out, this is still a huge headache and hassle, one that I would rather avoid.” That, right there, is the most truthful thing Ive read in a long time. Couldn’t agree more. I generally charge a $500 pet deposit, although I may employ the added rent strategy on the next one.

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