Surviving Your Pet-owning Tenant

My feelings on pet-owning tenants and pet policies have “evolved” over my eight years of landlording.  My initial position was that I would just not rent to pet owners.  Who wants to deal with the on-going problems caused by an irresponsible pet owners?– barking dogs, property damage from chewing and scratching, pet urine, water damage from an aquarium, a general ‘free-fur-all’ to name a few.

Sure, all prospective tenants swear that they have the best trained pet in the history of mankind and that they will clean-up after them and keep them under control,  but that promise goes out the window as soon as the last piece of furniture has been moved into place.   I’ve heard every sob story in the book.  One couple, claimed they would have to put their dog to sleep, if I wouldn’t accept their pet!  As much as I would have liked to reject all pet owners,  I quickly discovered that in my non-scientific poll,  it seems 95% of renters have a pet of some kind–what’s up with that?  In any case, while I would  prefer non pet owners  over pet owners, there just aren’t enough prospective renters with pet allergies to go around, so I had to find some way to cope with pets or more specifically pet owners.

Drawing on my own experience as a renter, I knew that landlords would collect pet deposits to protect their interests.  Aha! That’s what I’ll do.  I’ll collect a pet security deposit.  But how much?  What if the deposit doesn’t cover the potential damage?  I experimented with the amount, but eventually settled on a flat $500 security deposit, that seemed like the right number.  Large enough to cover most unintentional damage, but not so large as to price tenants out.

It didn’t take long for me to discover that my tenant’s idea of cleaning the property at move-out didn’t match my idea of what a clean move-out looks like.  I picture what the property looked like when I handed the keys.  I want to eliminate any evidence that an animal ever lived in the house.  Maybe this was too high an ideal to expect from tenants who have gone nose blind to their own pets.  My nose on the other hand is a finely tuned instrument that can sniff out the slightest evidence of guinea pig or hamster and I assume the same for any new prospective tenant especially non pet-owners.

Since it would be difficult to explain to a tenant that they hadn’t cleaned to my expectations at move-out and I will be keeping some portion of their pet deposit, leading to predictable anger, resentment, and hard feelings; I had to adjust my pet policy.  So, in addition to a security deposit, I started requiring a $250 non-refundable pet fee for the expected extra cleaning that will be required after my furry friend moves out; avoiding the difficult conversations and hard feelings at the end of the rental.  I heard about other landlords doing this, so it wasn’t an original idea.  For conscientious tenants this has been a winning formula, however, it only works for good tenants.

Some tenants are just filthy whose personal hygiene is not much better than their pets.  In addition to a good pet deposit, make sure you fully check out a prospective tenant.  I personally won’t extend a lease to anyone under 25.  As a group, 18 to 24 year-olds just aren’t mature enough to handle taking care of a house.  There may be some individuals under 25 with the maturity to be trusted with my property, but they would be an exception to the rule. The one time I violated that rule, I regretted it.

In addition to the age restriction, I will not extend a lease to anyone who’s previous landlord I have not been able to talk to.  If they don’t have a previous rental relationship or don’t want me to talk to a previous landlord (big red flag)–automatic rejection.   I’ve actually had a prospective tenant tell me they don’t want to talk to a previous landlord.  I need to find out how they treated the landlord’s property.  If they did not treat his/her property responsibly, I have no reason to believe that they will treat my property any differently.  Also, make sure you have a lease and that includes a section that specifically addresses your policy concerning pets.  If push comes to shove, you will need some basis for legally removing a tenant from you property for serious and persistent violations of your pet policy.

I’ve not experienced one of these myself, but I’ve heard about rules that require landlords to accept tenants who claim to need a support pet.  I’m not sure what the legal responsibility of landlord are in regards to these claims, so I won’t offer any advice other than to speak to your legal advisor.

In summary, when I comes to dealing with pet-owning tenants: (1) choose your pet owning prospective tenant carefully;  (2) include a section in your lease detailing your pet policy and discuss it with your prospective tenant; and (3) collect a pet deposit and non-refundable pet fee. If you do these things, you will too can survive your pet-owning tenants.

 

 

 

 

 

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