Should You Screen Tenant’s Pets?

<strong>Should You Screen Tenant’s Pets?</strong>

Many people have pets, and landlords have to face the choice of whether to allow pets in the unit or not. If they do, then they may face issues such as complaints, mess, even liability. So, how do you screen pets?

Pros and Cons of Allowing Pets

The obvious pro of allowing pets is that it attracts more tenants, especially if pet friendly rentals are hard to find.  More than 164 million Americans own pets. Nobody wants to have to choose between their pet and their home. You can also charge a pet rent, as long as you keep it reasonable.

However, there are some downsides. Dogs and cats can damage units. Large fish tanks can cause significant problems if something goes wrong (many landlords limit the size of fish tanks). Pocket pets can get out. Exotic pets can have issues of their own. You can always allow some pets and not others, such as only allowing dogs or cats.

Should You Restrict Breeds?

Breed specific restrictions are controversial. Many landlords ban certain breeds that are considered particularly dangerous, but breed-specific legislation is becoming extremely unpopular and does not offer a good solution. The reality is that any dog can bite and some dogs get a bad reputation when they are no more likely to misbehave than other breeds. However, your insurance company may require that you limit certain breeds.

Restricting breeds can seem like a quick solution. What is more reasonable is to restrict the size of dogs you allow on  the property, especially if you have smaller property. (On the other hand, if you do have large property, not having a size restriction can attract tenants who love big dogs). Allowing restricted breeds can also increase your tenant pool because people who own these breeds often struggle to find a landlord that will take them.

Should You Screen Pets?

Pets will live in the rental, so it makes sense to screen them. At the most basic level, tenants should be required to declare the age, sex and, for dogs, breed of their pet. (Cat breed differences are minimal). An even better approach is to require physical descriptions and pictures of all pets. This is also helpful to identify a pet that may escape without a collar.

But you should, yes, go beyond that and screen incoming pets. For new tenants, ask:

  • Age, sex, and breed
  • Physical appearance
  • Whether or not the animal has been altered/fixed. You should require that pets be spayed and neutered to reduce undesirable behavior. You can also charge a higher rent for an intact animal.
  • How long they have owned the pet
  • Proof of vaccination against distemper and rabies
  • Behavioral or medical problems the pet might have

Understand that in many cases if you tell an incoming tenant they can’t have the pet, they will go elsewhere. If they are moving from another rental, then contact their landlord and find out if the pet caused any problems. You can also “interview” the pet or, better yet, bring in a trainer or behaviorist to do so.

You should also screen pets that come in after the tenant is already living in the rental. In many cases rescues will contact you anyway to make sure you allow pets, and you can take the opportunity to ask them about the animal your tenant is considering acquiring.

Precautions to Reduce Damage By Pets

Finally, you can take precautions to reduce the damage done by pets:

  • Require cats be confined to the owner’s unit at all times. This doesn’t mean that you should penalize tenants for the occasional escape, but that cats should not be allowed to roam.
  • Disallow tethering of dogs.
  • Require dog feces be removed and properly disposed of, and that owners immediately clean up on common ground. Some landlords require DNA to be kept on file so that feces can be tested, but this may not be worth the expense.
  • Encourage tenants to train dogs. You will get bonus points with renters by offering referrals to trainers or obedience classes as well as reducing problems caused by untrained dogs.
  • Encourage staff who are comfortable to make friends with dogs. They will then notice if a dog is acting strangely.

Allowing pets can significantly increase your pool of renters. However, you should screen pets to make sure they are vaccinated, altered, and do not have a history of aggression.