Pet screening is a vital check for any landlord who allows animals in their rental units. Like screening tenants, a background check on a tenant’s pet lets you know if the dog, cat, or other four-legged residents will be a good fit. Screening pets is an excellent way to tell if the animal is nonaggressive, house-trained, and properly vaccinated.
Another reason for screening pets is to eliminate the possibility of fraud. Some pet owners try to pass off their pets as support animals. Because of the fear of discrimination accusations, some landlords hesitate to inquire about the prospective tenant’s legitimate need for an assistance animal. Professional screening services for pets can help validate assistance or service animals.
This article examines the growing trend of using digital solutions to screen pets. You will also find out how to screen a pet along with its owner.
What is pet screening?
Pet screening is like a background check on a tenant’s pet dog, cat, or other animals. The screening process should help the landlord get an overall picture of the pet’s behavior, health, and care. Pet screening is necessary for new tenants and existing tenants who submit a pet request.
Many landlords carry out the pet screening process themselves during the interview with the tenant. Typically, the pet should be present so that you can observe the animal’s behavior. The pet screening application should include the following information:
- Pet’s name
- Details about the pet’s breed, size, weight, gender, and age
- Previous addresses where the pet owner has lived
- Medical history, including vaccinations, health issues, and vet contact information
- Behavioral problems such as noise complaints, reported aggression, or biting
It’s vital to remember that the pet screening process should allow you to confirm the facts the owner provides. This means contacting previous residences where the owner and pet have lived. Additionally, you should check the animal’s medical history.
You should make sure your screening process is impartial. This helps avoid issues with owners of certain breeds feeling victimized or discriminated against due to the type of animal they own.
What about screening service animals?
It is against the law to screen a tenant’s service animal or emotional support animal. According to HUD, an assistance animal aids, performs tasks, or provides emotional support to help a person with a disability. Under the law, an assistance animal isn’t classed as a pet; therefore, no pet deposit or fees apply. You also can’t refuse housing to someone with a disability who has a service animal.
In 2020, HUD published guidelines on the rights of someone with a disability to have a service animal. According to the guidelines, housing providers can “request reliable documentation when an individual requesting a reasonable accommodation has a disability and disability-related need for an accommodation that are not obvious or otherwise known.”
Additionally, the type of service animal should be “commonly kept in households.” Therefore, barnyard animals, monkeys, and other non-domesticated animals are typically not considered assistance animals.
There are certain circumstances in which landlords can refuse a service animal. For example, if the animal is illegal in your state, the animal is a threat to other tenants, or the owner doesn’t take responsibility for noise issues or waste.
More about tenants’ pets at BiggerPockets
Why use a professional pet screening service?
It can be challenging for landlords to decide whether to allow animals in rental units. Even if you have a “no pets” policy, you can’t deny housing to someone with a disability and an emotional support animal. Additionally, it can be tough to know a pet’s behavior from one interview with the owner.
Some landlords use online pet screening services when processing rental applications. This is just like running credit checks or background checks on tenants. Usually, the cost of screening a pet is charged to the prospective tenant. This way, the landlord can get accurate information about the breed, behavioral history, and medical details.
What if a tenant or prospective tenant submits a reasonable accommodation request for housing an assistance animal? In that case, there is no charge for any screening process. The pet screening company confirms details about the authenticity of the submitted documents. This way, you as a landlord can reduce your liability when allowing service animals in rented accommodation.
In many cases, a professional pet screening service can help you avoid accepting fraudulent claims. HUD officers warn that it’s easy to obtain licensing documents for assistance animals for a fee. However, only legitimate licensed health care professionals can confirm if a person with a disability needs a service animal.
How to screen pets
If you decide to screen pets along with a prospective tenant, what are some things you should look out for? Here are a couple of tips on recognizing the signs of a good pet.
- Pet’s appearance. Does the pet look healthy and happy? Is there a good rapport with the owner? A well-fed pet that has a strong bond with its pet parent is a good indication that the owner cares well for it.
- Behavior. Ask the owner to give a few commands to the pet. Does the pet respond well? Does it seem that the owner is in control? You could also give a few commands to see how the pet responds. Does a pet dog bark excessively? Does the dog act aggressively if you approach it?
Of course, it may not be reasonable to carry out in-person screening on all pets. But dogs are the most common household pets and are the ones that can cause the most headaches for landlords. Generally, landlords prefer to meet a tenant’s canine friend before approving the rental application.
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Renting to pet owners
If you decide to rent units to tenants with pets, you can decide whether to charge for them. This is reasonable because animals in an apartment can cause extra wear and tear. However, under the Fair Housing Act, you can never charge any fee for a service animal. Also, you should check your local state laws on charging pet fees.
There are three types of fees that you can charge tenants with pets.
- Pet fee. A one-time fee to cover potential extra costs for pets living on the property. This fee is non-refundable, and you can charge for each pet. You can also set different fees for different types of animals, sizes, and breeds.
- Pet rent. As the term indicates, a monthly fee to cover wear and tear with pets on the property. You could have a flat rate or rental rate based on the type of pet and size.
- Pet deposit. Similar to the security deposit. You return the deposit if the tenant leaves the property in an acceptable condition. It’s important to remember that not all states allow pet deposits.
Just as you screen tenants, it’s also a good idea to screen their pets. Using an online pet screening service can help alleviate the issues with allowing pets in your rental property. The service can run background checks on any owner’s pet’s medical and behavioral history. Additionally, a pet screening service can legally confirm if a person requesting an emotional support animal qualifies for one.
Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.