Know Your Tenants Pet Screening Guide for Landlords

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golden retriever going through a pet screening

Best practices to screen your tenants and their furry friends!

Pet screening is vital for any landlord who allows animals in their rental units. Like tenant screening, a background check on a tenant’s pet lets you know if the dog, cat, or another four-legged resident will fit your property well. 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 and some pet screening best practices.

What Is Pet Screening?

Pet screening is like a background check on a tenant’s dog, cat, or other animals. The screening process should help the landlord understand the pet’s behavior, health, and care. Pet screening is necessary for new and existing tenants who submit a pet request, as it helps the landlord get a feel of the pet and sets down some pet expectations for the tenant.

Many landlords carry out the pet screening process during the tenant’s interview. 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 of the pet, including vaccinations, health issues, and vet contact information.
  • Behavioral problems such as noise complaints reported aggression or biting.
  • House training.

Remember that the pet screening process should allow you to confirm the facts the pet owner provides. This means contacting previous residences where the owner and pet have lived. Additionally, you should check the animal’s medical history.

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. Blacklisting certain breeds can be challenging, but if you have a policy against them, bring it up during the pet screening.

Why Is It Important To Screen Pets?

You or your property manager want to screen the pets of your prospective tenants for several reasons. First, you want to ensure the pet isn’t a pest to the other people living in or near your rental unit. If the animal is excessively loud or has bad habits, it could cause issues with neighbors, which is always best to avoid. Second, you can protect your property. An animal that might be destructive or messy is more likely to damage things in the unit. 

Lastly, you can get a sense of the pet’s overall health. If an animal is sick or has health issues, it may indicate that the pet owner is irresponsible. Additionally, a pet that has health problems or isn’t adequately vaccinated could get sick inside the unit or cause health problems for nearby pets. 

Related: Data (Finally) Answers: Does Allowing Pets in Rentals Pay Off?

What About Screening Service Animals?

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 may be charged. You also can’t refuse housing to someone with a disability who has a service animal. However, you can ask for proof that the service animal has been “prescribed” by a medical professional. You may not ask about the medical condition or any specific details, as that is private medical information.

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 is not obvious or otherwise known.”

Additionally, the type of service animal should be “commonly kept in households.” Therefore, barnyard animals, monkeys, and other nondomesticated animals are typically not considered assistance animals.

There are certain circumstances in which landlords can refuse a service animal, including:

  • The animal is illegal in your state. 
  • The animal is a threat to other tenants. 
  • The owner doesn’t take responsibility for noise issues or waste.

How Does Pet Screening Work?

When a tenant fills out an application to rent your property, it’s a good idea also to provide them with a pet questionnaire if they have one that will live with them. You can use the questionnaire as your initial pet screening. The questions you ask should help you understand what type of pet the renter has and some of its key traits. Consider asking:

  • How long have you had your pet?
  • What is the age of your pet?
  • Do you have medical records for your pet to prove vaccinations are current?
  • Are you aware of the extra pet security fee and additional monthly charge?
  • Does your pet have any quirks I should know about?
  • Will your pet be left alone in the rental unit frequently?

Once you know whether allowing the pet in your rental unit makes sense, you can conduct a pet interview. This is the stage where you ask to meet the pet in person. You’ll want to see how the pet and its owner interact, which will give you a notion of how well taken care of the pet is and whether it has behavioral issues. If you decide to screen pets along with a prospective tenant, here are a couple of tips to help you recognize 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 with a strong bond with its parent indicates that the owner cares for it well.
  • Behavior: Ask the owner to give a few commands to the pet. Does the pet respond well? Is the owner in control? You could also provide a few commands to see how the pet responds. Does a dog tend toward excessive barking? Does the dog act aggressively if you approach it?

Of course, in-person screening on all pets may not be reasonable. 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.

Should I Use A Professional Pet Screening Service?

It can be challenging for landlords to decide whether to allow animals in rental units. Even with 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. As a landlord, you can reduce liability when allowing service animals in rented accommodation.

In many cases, a professional pet screening service can help you avoid accepting fraudulent claims or animals that raise red flags. HUD officers warn that obtaining licensing documents for assistance animals is easy for a fee. However, only legitimate licensed healthcare professionals can confirm if a person with a disability needs a service animal.

Renting To Pet Owners

There are a lot of pros and cons to renting to pet owners. If you want 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 and setting pet policies.

There are three types of fees that you can charge tenants with pets.

  • Pet fee: This is 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 based on sizes and breeds.
  • Pet rent: As the term indicates, pet rent is 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: This is 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. 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 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.

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