Upwards of 70% of today’s renters own a pet, yet finding accommodating housing can prove challenging. For landlords, accepting pets comes with some inherent risk, yet not accepting them severely limits the pool of prospects. That said, allowing pets requires landlords to create strict policies and require extra fees to help protect your valuable investment from damage. Join us below to examine what makes up good pet policies for rentals and what you can do to protect your business.
What is a Pet Policy?
Except for service or emotional support animals, landlords can decide whether or not to accept pets into their rental property. A pet policy describes any special requirements, fees, or restrictions. For example, some landlords may restrict the number of pets, size, or breed. A pet policy and a pet addendum are typically included with the lease and signed by the tenant, acknowledging responsibility for their animals and any damage incurred.
Service Animals vs. Pets: What is the Difference?
Per the Fair Housing Act, landlords must accept a service animal if the tenant meets certain criteria, even if the landlord has a no pet policy. That said, many rental owners are still confused as to the key differences between a pet and a service animal. So let’s clarify some of these definitions below based on information from the Americans with Disabilities Act website.
Pets are Family Too
We all love our pets, but a companion animal is not the same as a trained service animal. A pet has no specific ADA training and instead primarily provides companionship to the residents in a household.
What is a Service Animal?
Landlords must realize that service animals are not pets. Instead, these are specially trained animals that perform specific tasks for a tenant with a disability. Moreover, these animals benefit individuals with physical, sensory, intellectual, psychiatric, or any other mental disability. Additionally, they perform their duties flawlessly in public and a variety of distracting situations.
Are Emotional Support or Therapy Animals the Same as Service Animals?
No. Unlike highly trained service animals, emotional support animals or ESAs are any animals that provide emotional stability to alleviate symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. That said, this can include animals who help relieve loneliness, reduce stress and anxiety, or assist with phobias. Also, emotional support animals are not limited to only dogs or cats.
Therapy or comfort animals are typically found in high-stress areas, such as clinical settings or active disasters. These animals, usually dogs, are trained to be a calming presence that offers physical, emotional, or social comfort to individuals in need. However, they are not trained to assist one individual with any specific disability-related tasks.
Understanding Landlord Obligations for Service Animals
If a landlord does not allow pets, a tenant with a service animal or ESA can request a reasonable accommodation that allows them the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a space. So, for landlords, the Fair Housing Act requires reasonable accommodation for assistance animals that meet all the following conditions below –
- Tenants must submit a written request for reasonable accommodation
- The reasonable accommodation request must be accompanied by supporting disability-related information
If the disability-related need for a service animal accommodation is not apparent, the landlord must still accept the animal as long as they cannot prove that the following situations would apply –
- Accepting the request would create an undue financial or administrative burden on the landlord
- The specific assistance animal would create a direct threat to the health or safety of others. Additionally, this is true despite any reasonable accommodations that would reduce or eliminate this threat.
- Accommodations would profoundly alter the essential nature of the landlord’s operations.
- Accepting the request could result in significant physical property damage despite reasonable accommodations that could reduce or eliminate that threat.
Pro Tip: Adding a standardized process to handle pet and assistance animal matters will help landlords comply with Fair Housing Laws and ADA standards. Services like PetScreening.com add a layer of liability protection by helping to validate accommodation requests through a comprehensive legal review process.
How to Develop a Comprehensive Pet Policies for Rentals
Deciding to accept pets in a rental property requires owners to set up certain policies and procedures to help protect their investment. A legally binding pet agreement can reduce a landlord’s liability and risk, but only if it includes certain key elements. Continue reading as we examine how to create comprehensive pet policies for rentals below.
Check Your Insurance Policy and Local Laws
Before deciding to allow pets in your rental property, owners should reach out to their insurance provider. Some homeowner’s policies restrict types of dogs in which keeping them on the premises creates added liability. In some cases, the insurer may want to verify the property has a proper fence; it all depends on the company and the policy. So, it is best to read through your coverage and talk to a qualified insurance professional to ensure you are protected.
In addition to your insurance, research local pet laws, and applicable ordinances. Understanding potential liabilities early on will help you communicate needs and restrictions to your tenants. Additionally, failing to adhere to these laws could result in fines against the pet owner or the property owner. A few examples of possible local laws include –
- All dogs or cats must be on a leash when off the property.
- Cats and dogs must have proof of rabies vaccination if over the age of 4 months.
- All animals must have shelter from the wind, snow, rain, cold, and sun, as well as adequate daily food and clean water in well-maintained untippable bowls.
- Allowing dogs to bark excessively is a violation of the law
- Owners must promptly remove pet waste on public and private property.
Pro Tip: If your property is part of an HOA, do not forget to check their rules as well so your tenant can remain compliant and avoid fines. Also, keep in mind that some jurisdictions will limit the amount or circumstances of a pet deposit or pet fees that landlords charge.
Decide Which Types of Pets to Allow
One of the most important decisions a landlord must make is determining which pets to accept and if there will be any limitations. Always remember, owners, do not need to accept pets they are uncomfortable with. So, let’s review some of the questions to ask yourself when creating pet policies for rentals below –
- Do I want to accept both domestic and exotic pets? – Most landlords are familiar with dogs and cats. However, today’s renter may come with a variety of pets, including birds, reptiles, fish, small mammals, or even a pot-bellied pig. So, consider the habitat of the pet and any potential damage it may cause. It is not uncommon for landlords to limit pets to only domestic animals and prohibit exotic creatures. Whatever you decide, clearly state any exceptions in your pet policy.
- Will all breeds be accepted? – Some property owners opt to restrict certain breeds labeled “dangerous” from the property. One of the biggest issues, besides personal preference, is insurance. So, verify with your homeowner’s insurance if “dangerous” breeds may affect your liability coverage.
- Should I restrict the number of pets or pets based on weight? – Instead of banning certain breeds, some owners chose to impose a weight limit. For example, “accepting pets under 30 pounds only.” Additionally, most landlords limit the number of pets depending on the size of the home and the size of the pet. For example, having 3 cats is very different than 2 Great Danes.
In addition to these questions, it is important to address other pets coming onto the premises. For example, perhaps the tenant decides to dog sit, or friends bring their dogs over for an outing. As the property owner, it is important to specify if guests are permitted to bring other pets to the property.
Create a Lease Pet Addendum
Residential lease agreements cement landlord and tenant expectations, requirements, responsibilities, and consequences for any violations. Therefore, if a landlord decides to allow pets, a special pet addendum will outline specific rules and necessary fees related to keeping an animal on the premises. Some of the items to include on a pet addendum include, but are not limited to –
- Pet Information – Including each pet’s name, weight, breed, and physical description. Additionally, ask the tenant to submit a clear and current photo of their pet to keep for your records.
- Vaccination and License Records – Most local jurisdictions have vaccine requirements for pets over the age of 4 months. So, verify the tenant’s pet is current on any applicable vaccinations and has the proper veterinary paperwork. The tenant should forward a copy of these records either before or when the pet addendum and lease are signed.
- Special Rules, Provisions, or Fees – List any special requirements and fees the landlord and tenant agree to. This could include never leaving the pet unsupervised outside of the residence, immediately picking up and removing waste, or keeping noise to a minimum.
- Signatures – Both the landlord and tenant must sign and date the pet addendum to acknowledge their individual responsibilities.
Pro Tip: It is also a good idea to require tenants with pets, and all tenants, to carry renter’s insurance. This adds another layer of liability protection against excessive damage or if the pet injured someone on the premises.
Should Landlords Charge Extra Pet Deposits or Fees?
A major concern landlords have when it comes to accepting pets is potential property damage. So, to help offset those fears, some landlords impose additional security deposits or monthly pet fees. That said, there are a few things to consider when creating pet policies for rentals –
Things to Consider for Pet Deposits
- Keep it Reasonable – While owners may think more charges equal more security, this is not always the case. In fact, high fees can actually drive away otherwise great tenants. So, keep fees reasonable and limit pet deposits to anywhere from $200 to $500. Also, consider the type of pet and its size when determining how much to charge.
- Keep it Legal – Some states impose limits on how much security deposit landlords can charge, including the regular deposit and pet deposit. For example, if the law says landlords can charge no more than two months’ rent, the regular security deposit and pet deposit cannot exceed that amount. Also, since a service animal is not a pet, do not impose any additional deposits or fees for any animals required to accommodate a disability.
What is Pet Rent?
Pet deposits are a one-time, refundable fee, whereas pet rent is supplemental rent. Typically, this fee helps cover the additional wear and tear a pet can cause to the unit. However, like the deposit, this fee should match the type and number of pets. For instance, some owners may choose to charge pet rent based on “$20 per month per pet,” while some may say a flat “$25 per month pet rent.” Again, it is up to the owner as long as the amount does not violate any local laws. However, keep it reasonable, or you risk driving away potential prospects.
How to Further Protect Your Rental Investment
Accepting pets is a great way to expand the prospective renter pool when marketing a property. That said, creating pet policies for rentals is an essential part of a landlord’s job. However, this is just one facet of establishing clear and concise boundaries with your tenants, with the ultimate goal of protecting your valuable investment.
One way to protect and maximize your investment potential is to seek the advice of a qualified property manager. The experts at Bay Property Management Group understand the local market and all applicable laws that pertain to pets in your rental home. Let our team guide you through how much, and when to charge added fees while handling all daily operations, so you do not have to. So give us a call today to find out how full-service property management can make rental ownership the profitable and enjoyable experience it should be.