WELCOMING PETS--HOW TO DO IT
Copyright 2011 LANDLORD.COM
If you ask a landlord what his pet policy is, you will often get one of two two-word answers, either “no pets!” or “waddya mean?” The first answer, while having the virtue of simplicity, may not be the best. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that half of all the renters in the United States are also pet owners. These are, in the main, responsible persons who properly care for their animals and pose little risk of damage to the landlord’s property or annoyance to other tenants. An arbitrary no pets policy cuts the pool of available
tenants in half. On the other hand, the absence of a pet policy forfeits control to the tenant and opens the landlord to that minority of pet owners that has made life more difficult for all.
There are undoubtedly some environments in which pets are simply not practical or desirable. But for most landlords, permitting tenants to have pets is feasible, and to do so would open a whole new market of excellent potential residents. Because of the scarcity of pet friendly landlords, these prospects may even be willing to pay more rent just because they are welcome. These benefits do not come without a cost, however. The landlord needs to formulate the way in which he will deal with pets and their owners carefully so as not to open himself up to headaches
that might far outweigh any benefit derived.
The Humane Society of the United States (This link opens a new window so you can switch back and forth between sites) has devoted an entire web site to assisting landlords in addressing this issue, and tenants in maintaining their pets responsibly, especially in the multi-housing environment. Naturally, their site, good as it is, was produced for everybody. The purpose of this article is to fill in some gaps and to emphasize some things that we thought they did not hit hard enough. We will not rehash what is already said there, but will assume you have already taken the time to peruse all the items on
their site, including their suggested forms which are in PDF format.
The formation of a coherent policy is the first and most important step. You should decide what types of pets you will allow, what kind of information you will need about the pets, where they can go and where they cannot, etc. The Pet Keeping Guidelines form is excellent as a starting point, and will resolve most questions, but it is designed primarily as a policy for a home owners or condominium association. If you want to use it, we recommend you entirely eliminate the section “D. Enforcement.” Otherwise, use it as a starting point to formulate your own
policy based on your individual needs. Add this to, and make it a part of your rental agreement, and enforce violations as a breach of contract.
If you are renting to a prospect with a pet, screen the pet as carefully as you would screen the prospect. We will have more to say of this below, but for now, we strongly suggest that you have the prospect fill out the Pet Application form that HSUS suggests. Make sure you get all the information that is applicable to the type of pet involved.
Once you have made the decision to rent, you should have a pet agreement that sets out the terms and conditions under which the pet may be kept. This should be attached to the rental agreement as an addendum. The HSUS site suggests one that we do not recommend. Among other things, it includes a clause providing for arbitration in the event of a dispute with the landlord. Arbitration clauses in residential leases and rental agreements are never a good idea because they can lead to interminable delay in the event eviction is necessary. You run the same risk
of getting a bad pet as you run getting a bad tenant, no matter how good your screening is. While that is not a reason not to consider allowing pets, it is a reason for maintaining maximum flexibility. You do not want to have to spend a couple of thousands of dollars and six months going through an American Arbitration Association arbitration before you can get an order evicting a nuisance. We recommend that you use our form of pet agreement. You can download it for free.
As you consider your pet policy and whether you want to admit pets to your rentals, keep the following in mind.
· Adopt a policy and stick to it. The purpose of making a policy is to arrive at a reasoned decision, based on knowledge and not ignorance, after careful consideration, and not on the spur of the moment. A policy is a reasoned decision made once and adhered to, so that the decision does not have to be made again and again on the spur of the moment when time for due consideration may not be available. This will be as important in deciding on criteria for acceptance of pets as it is in deciding on criteria for
the acceptance of tenants.
· Get a pet deposit. HSUS mentions this, but we emphasize it. If it is not prohibited by your local jurisdiction, by all means get an additional deposit for the animal, which is designed to compensate you for whatever damage the animal might do. This also gives the pet owner “skin in the game.” He will be more likely to care for his pet responsibly if he knows it will cost him money if he does not.
· You would never think of accepting a tenant without interviewing him. Do not think about accepting a pet without interviewing the pet. We do not mean goldfish. This applies mostly to dogs. Suggest that your tenant bring the animal when he views the apartment or house so that you can get an impression of the animal’s personality and how much control the owner actually exercises over it.
· Check your insurance. This is remote but worth a call to your agent. Make sure there is not some weird clause voiding your coverage if you allow pets or excluding coverage for damage caused by pets you have allowed If so, find how much it will cost to close the gap.
· Deal tactfully with existing tenants. This is primarily for those landlords who have previously excluded pets but want to change their policy. A change in policy that does not apply to existing tenants will be much resented and will lead to friction. Inform all tenants of the new pet policy, and make it clear that permission within the guidelines must still be obtained from management.
We are not proselytizing for anything more than prudence. It is perfectly all right to have a no pets policy, but you should realize that such a policy comes with a cost just as any other policy will do. Approach the feasibility of a pet friendly policy with an open mind and if you decide to do it, apply the principles the HSUS and we have suggested above with care. You may well find the outcome rewarding.
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