How To Set The Best Landlord Pet Policy

Tenants love their pets and if you don't allow them you could be missing out. But how do you set a good pet policy to protect your rental?

Having a solid pet policy in place is an important first step in protecting your rental from the potential damage that can be caused by pets. What goes into your pet policy really comes down to you, so it’s important that you carefully weigh the pros and cons of allowing pets into your rentals as well as understanding best practices for setting a pet policy.

Before you let your tenants bring in their pets you should have your ground rules outlined as a clause in the lease and explained to your tenants so that all parties are clear on what is and isn’t allowed.

It’s important to note that you should always have a pet policy for renters outlined in a clause in your lease whether or not you are going to choose to allow them. This will either be a no-pets allowed policy which will state that pets are not allowed under any circumstances. Or a “pets allowed” policy which will include the details outlined in this article.

1. What Pets Are Allowed?

First, your pet policy for renters should specify what types of pets are allowed. This means specifying details such as how many, what types, and even the size.  Common types of pets are dogs, cats, birds, fish, reptiles, rabbits, hamsters, and gerbils.

pet policy landlord

Specifying the maximum limit will help you stop your soft-hearted tenants from adopting dozens of furry friends and risking the potential damages associated with that.

For example, you might allow 1 dog or cat, or a maximum of 2 hamsters.

When it comes to dogs, you can be a little more specific and you may want to consider looking through the dangerous breeds list. This list will vary, so check with your insurance company.

Dangerous breeds generally include:

  • Pit Bulls
  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Chows
  • Akitas
  • Alaskan Malamutes
  • German Shepherds
  • Siberian Huskies
  • St. Bernard’s
  • Wolf Hybrids

If you don’t want to ban specific breeds you can instead create a weight requirement. Ie. no more than 35lbs or taller than 20 inches. This will allow you to exclude many of the dangerous breeds without specifying – plus bigger dogs often cause more wear and tear than the small ones (not always though!).

A final thing to think about on this note is only allowing approved animals. Tenants can only have those animals approved by you. And cannot take in animals from friends or families or replace their dog that dies with a new puppy – at least not without talking to you first and having you approve the animal.

2. Make Sure Tenants Are Responsible for Their Pets

Your pet policy should also list the responsibilities the tenant has towards their pet once they are living in your rental.

For example, all pets should have the required shots and identity tags. Check your state laws to determine the vaccines and licenses required locally.

Other things you should include:

  • All dogs will be on a leash at all times outside of the apartment.
  • Other animals, such as birds, reptiles, rabbits, and hamsters, will be appropriately caged.
  • The tenant is responsible for cleaning up after their pet inside the apartment or building and outside.
  • The tenant is required to pay for any damage their animal has caused.
  • Require or advise (up to you) the tenant to get renters insurance with liability coverage.

If any part of the pet agreement is violated, or the pet becomes a nuisance or a hazard to others, property management can require the pet to be removed or can terminate the tenancy. If only the pet is removed, this will not affect the validity of the signed lease agreement, which the tenant will still have to adhere to.

pet policy landlord

3. Pet Screening As Part Of Your Pet Policy

Just like when you are selecting your tenant, you should screen the pets that come into your property. You won’t be able to do anything as comprehensive as a background check, but you can certainly ask the tenant some pointed questions and before you a-okay the animal.

Questions To Ask Prospective Tenants About Their Pets:

  • Where did you get the pet?
  • How long have you had the pet?
  • How old is the pet?
  • Are they house trained?
  • Have they ever caused damage to a property?
  • Has the pet ever bitten a human?
  • Who is primarily responsible for caring for the pet?
  • Who will care for the pet when the owner is not home?
  • Does the animal have the proper vaccinations and licenses?

Meeting the animal is important, firstly, because you will be able to check if the tenant is lying to you about the animal. If you have put a size restriction in place and they turn up with a Great Dane then you may need to reconsider the tenant’s application. You will also want to determine as much of the following as possible:

See how the animal behaves in general.

  • Is it aggressive or friendly?
  • Is it trained?
  • See how the tenant interacts with their animal, does it listen to them, are they close, and does the tenant discipline it if it misbehaves?
pet policy landlord

4. Pet Fees, Pet Deposits, and Pet Rent As Part Of Your Pet Policy

One fairly common method landlords use to protect themselves from pet damages is to get them to pay a fee for having their pet on the property. Most tenants understand why and are happy enough to pay if they get to keep their pets with them. This can take the form of pet fees, a pet deposit, or even pet rent.

It’s worth noting that while general security deposits are legal in every state, separate pet fees are only legal in some. You will want to check with your local state’s laws for more information.

If your state does allow you to charge a separate pet fee in addition to the security deposit, determining the cost may depend on a variety of factors, including the type of pet, size, and value of the property.

Pet Deposit

Be sure to check your state and local law on deposits. Pet deposits are refundable depending on any damage incurred by the animal. If you inspect the property upon move-out and notice damage, take the following steps, as you would when refunding a traditional security deposit:

  • Document each problem/instance of damage to pictures.
  • Create an itemized list of how much was spent on repairing the damage.
  • Tally how much each repair costs to determine the portion, if any, of the security deposit that will be returned.

Pet Fees

Many states have laws that allow landlords to retain this “deposit” whether or not damage occurs. In these cases, the nonrefundable “deposit” is known as a pet fee. The reasoning is that pets increase the normal wear and tear on an apartment, whether or not they do obvious damage.

You must determine the cost of your pet fee wisely as these aren’t dependent on undocumented damages. They must, therefore, be reasonable and cover the additional wear and tear. Pet fees are typically priced in the same range as a pet deposit and may span from $100 to $300. If the fee is too large and the tenant decides to challenge it – which they can do – a judge has the final decision and an obviously unreasonable fee will only work against you.

Pet Rent

A pet deposit or pet fee is a one-time payment, other landlords opt for a recurring monthly charge called a pet rent. Pet rent, like a pet fee, is intended to cover additional wear and tear that may occur due to the presence of an animal. It also accounts for damage on the surrounding property, like hallways, common areas, or additional yard maintenance.

Again, the size of the pet rent will depend on the animal and the property value. A landlord may typically charge between $10 to $25 per month for a single pet. Over the course of a year, that adds up to between $120 and $300.

Think carefully before implementing these fee policies for the following reasons:

  • A fee might not be legal. In states such as California, landlords cannot charge more than a specified sum as a deposit. This sum covers the total of all types of deposits. So, if the total amount of the deposits that you charge to all tenants has reached the maximum, you cannot charge a pet deposit on top of that.
  • A fee might not be a good idea. Firstly, if the tenant thinks they have already paid for damages in the form of a pet fee then they may not care so much about making sure their pet behaves on the property. Secondly, what if it’s the human that’s a slob. If part of the deposit is marked for pet damage only, you might not be able to use that money to clean up the tenant’s mess. Often, it’s better to impose a non-specific deposit.
  • A fee might be too high. If you decide to impose a specified pet deposit, keep it reasonable, such as $200 to $300 per year. If your tenant challenges it, a judge may not enforce it.

Finally, do not impose a pet deposit or fee for a tenant who keeps a service or companion animal. Such animals aren’t pets – they are animals needed to accommodate a disability.

pet policy landlord

Final Thoughts On Setting A Landlord Pet Policy

Just like protecting yourself from bad tenants doing your due diligence when it comes to allowing pets will help protect you from possible damages and extraneous expenses that are associated with having animals on your property.

You should always state in your pet policy that you have the right to make changes to the pet agreement as long as you give proper notice, at least 30 days. This protects you in case, for example, you decide not to allow dogs in the future.

By defining your pet policy in writing from the very beginning, your tenants will understand what is expected of them as pet owners, as well as the consequences if they do not follow the rules.

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We hope you found this blog interesting! However, do note that it should not be used as a substitute for competent legal and/or other advice from a licensed professional.