Renting to Tenants with Pets: The Decision is Easier Than You Think

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Allow pets in your rental unit? 

Absolutely.

Most landlords fear that by allowing tenants with pets to move into their unit, the place will be returned to the owner looking like a fraternity house after the homecoming party.  At a minimum, the pet will cause minor damage that the landlord must repair when the tenant vacates.  In a worst-case scenario, the unit is completely trashed, the owner vacates, and the landlord has to clean up the pet AND owner’s mess.

Here is a more likely scenario.  IF there is any damage caused by the pet, the tenant either writes a check or says “Fido used cabinet door as a chew toy, take it out of my security deposit.  If the damage is more than that, let me know and I’ll write you a check.”  Since you screened your tenants’ credit/background before you rented to them, you know they are responsible people.  They will be responsible for their animals too.  Instead of worrying about pets destroying the unit, worry more about getting a quality tenant in the unit, even if they do have pets.

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Why You Should Allow Pets

Allowing pets lets you expand the number of tenants that will look at your unit when you have a vacancy.

Pets are not a protected category, so feel free to use your judgment of what animals you will allow in your unit.  The interviewing tenant, with ten pit bulls and may have played for the Falcons, is not the type of pets I want living in my units.  However, the person with two cats and a goldfish is more than welcome to sign the lease.  To make it clear that I have the final say over what pets are permitted, as well as announcing that I do accept pets, I will write in my apartment ads “some pets are allowed at landlord’s discretion.”

Some landlords charge a higher security deposit fee for pets.  I think this is unnecessary, but often times if I have someone who is interested in the unit, I will charge an extra $20-$50/month for the pet.  If they balk at the surcharge, I waive it.  It doesn’t hurt to try to squeeze several hundred dollars extra a year out of your rental for allowing a pet to live in the unit.

Rules for Governing Pets

Make it clear to all your tenants the rules for having pets in the unit.  They are expected to clean up after their animals, keep the noise to a minimum, and leash up the pets when they leave the unit.  Explain to tenants that do not have pets that if they want one in the future, they must clear it through you.

I also write on my leases what pets will be in the unit.  If there are pets in the unit, I clearly write out how many and what kinds of pets will be moving in.  The last thing you want to do is to turn the place into a zoo when you rent to this guy (go to the 1:05 mark for the main point I’m driving at):

Ultimately, you are renting to the human in the unit who is responsible for their pets.  By allowing pets, you can expand your revenues and decrease your vacancies with very little downside on your part.  Please leave me a comment/question.  I would like to hear your thoughts.

Photo: David Blackwell

About Author

Mark G+ owns multiple residential rental properties. For over a decade, he has worked a full-time job in an unrelated field, managed rental property with no nightmare tenants, and received rent checks every month without hassle. Mark is the owner of leaseyourplace.com a site dedicated to helping landlords.

19 Comments

  1. One could also argue that pet owners also move less often since its more difficult to find a suitable rental, which cuts down on your vacancy rate.

    I know many owners that charge the add-on fee to the monthly rent, but that has never sat well with me. I prefer the pet deposit route,

    Another interesting thing to note is that while many landlords don’t like renting to tenants with dogs, in my experience the damage done by a dog is often less costly to repair than damage from cat’s clawing at the carpets and spraying or peeing on flooring. Some properties seem better suited for pets than others, but you’re right that it simply comes down to renting to quality, responsible tenants.

    • I got a tenant that thought it was a good idea to sneak a dog into their unit. I can’t wait till their lease is up to get rid of them. good riddens a******s !!! Also before your web site there was a book “caring and feeding of tenants” – great book, really gave me my start. I like to think of your blog as continuing education in the modern world.

  2. Ironically, today a long-time tenant called me and asked if they could get a dog, I said “no problem”. I pointed out that if they plan on moving in the future, a lot of landlords refuse pets.

    I agree with you. Dogs will chew up cabinets and dry wall–very obvious repairable damage, but a cat will crawl behind a furnace, die, and the owner will just say “Garfield is a shy cat; that is why we haven’t seen him in three weeks.”

  3. I always allow pets in my SFRs. I charge an extra $300 deposit per pet.

    Currently I have a huge German Shepard the size of a pony in one of them. So far it’s been a year and no pet damage on that one.

    I would say that more than half my tenants have pets. I have had two instances where tenants have snuck a dog in without asking permission ($250 fine) so it seems that even if you have a “no pets allowed” policy you cannot win. If you can’t beat em – join em.

  4. I allow pets, with $100-300 extra pet deposit (depends on size), and $10-25/month extra pet rent, which is common in my market. Really helps my cash flow. I always drive by an applicants current residence AND KNOCK, “Hi, I was in the neighborhood, thought I’d drop by and say hi, meet your terrier…(uh oh, it’s a PIT BULL terrier…). Tenant notice laws don’t apply to non-tenants, and you can learn a lot, good and bad.

  5. Allowing cats is a great way to manage a mouse problem.

    Dogs to me always cause a problem and the owners will NOT take responsibility (they have emotional blindsides that cannot see their dog as anything but and angel), but if you are OK with dogs, and you get good tenants and a good dog, they will probably stay for a long time. You will be the only game in town.

  6. What’s your policy concerning dog attacks of any kind and liability, do you. Require your renters to have there own ins. Policy that would cover a dog? Do you know whether or not you would be liable if fido finally got the mailman?

  7. I had one set of tenants with a cat that I discovered by driving by the property and seeing the cat in the window. The damage when they left was that the window screens were completely bowed out by the cat leaning against them and the cat had picked a corner of the dining room and apparently used that as an alternate litter box. They shampooed the carpet when they left, but the unit was not renting so I went out to visit–the stench when I walked through the door was awful. I also found out that they had had to call the plumber because they stopped up the toilet trying to flush kitty litter down it. A $300 pet deposit does not cover the cost for screen and carpet replacement much less plumbing visits (they never told me about the plumber).

    • Tenant/pet issues are going to happen. Unfortunately, those are the risks of being a landlord and there is no way to hedge those. The only thing you can do is screen your tenants and evaluate if you want their pet(s) in your building. Trust your gut.

  8. Great article. Personally I am very flexible about cats…my apartments don’t have carpet for them to ruin.
    Dogs are another story. I am more afraid of what a dog might do to me or another tenant than the property itself. My insurance company is not a big fan either. I am very picky about dogs and actually insist that I get to meet the dog in person before it moves in. Just to be sure that mixed breed is no mixed with pit bull for example.

  9. Thanks for this article! I run a small pet store, and have two cats and a dog. I’ve always found it frustrating how hard it is for even a responsible tenant to find a place that allows pets. My dog is well behaved – only chews on her chew toys – is well housetrained and never goes in the house, PLUS comes to work with me every day. My cats are litter trained, spayed and neutered and at the worst one will sometimes get pee outside of the litter box, in the bathroom, on the pee pads I have down in front of it. I have always had my pet deposits completely refunded (even before I had a dog, and just had the cats) and if for whatever reason any of my pets did do damage I have told my landlords that I would be more than happy to fix whatever damage there was and/or have them take it out of my pet deposit (as that is what it’s for). Even with three cats in a small condo I was in in Philly, when I moved out and cleaned and told the realtor I had had three cats she was surprised and it didn’t smell “like cat” in there! Landlords need to understand that although some people are irresponsible pet owners – opening their rental up at least to the possibility of pet owners can actually net them a great, responsible tenant which might actually end up being a better tenant than one that does not have pets!

  10. I deliberately made a number of pet/kid-proofing decisions when I rehabbed my place (carpet tile — amazing!), specifically so I could choose good tenants with pets, while minimizing damage (my first tenants had pets, but ironically 99% of the damage was caused by the teens). The property had been badly damaged by an indoor hound dog before I bought it (though I should always be grateful to that particular dog– overwhelming pee smell was one thing that chased other potential buyers away!). I’m thinking that when I replace the few non-pet-proof flooring surfaces (laminate) I will go for vinyl tile floor (can cut out & replace individual tiles rather than whole floor).
    That said, I will charge an additional pet deposit if I do have tenants with animals again – it seems fairer than “pet rent” for those whose animals really don’t cause any damage.

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