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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.