Tenant Pet Policies: How Should Landlords Handle Pets in their Rental Properties?
That’s why many landlords who rent to pet owners develop some kind of guidelines for the types of pets they will accept, says Jesse Holland, Certified Property Manager and President of Sunrise Management & Consulting. He added that many landlords base their decisions, especially when it comes to dogs, on the type of breed and weight limits. For example, if a landlord imposed a policy that said no tenant could have a pet that weighed over 30 pounds, it would automatically allow the landlord to reject a rental application from a perspective tenant that had a pit bull or a Doberman Pinscher.
There are some resources that a landlord can use to help them formulate a policy. The Human Society of the United States (see the Resource Box below for their policy suggestions) recommends that landlords evaluate tenant applicants and their pets on a case-by-case basis. They also add that size and breed aren’t indicative of a pet's temperament, and local laws may prohibit a landlord from refusing a certain type of animal based solely on what kind of breed it is.
However, the agency does say that landlords need to do their homework and research the history of that particular pet. Talk to the applicant’s former landlord, neighbors, and veterinarian, and if the animal has a history of dangerous behavior, don’t accept the rental application. A landlord should also require that all dogs be spayed or neutered because this makes them less likely to exhibit dangerous behavior.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a report in September 2000 (see Resource Box for report) indicating what they considered to be the most dangerous breeds of dogs in terms of fatal human attacks. The agency performed this study over a 20-year period, gathering data from a variety of sources including the Humane Society of the United States and the American Kennel Club.
This emphasis on determining the right breeds to accept isn’t only about the safety of other tenants and the prevention of possible lawsuits. Many insurance companies will deny or revoke your insurance coverage if you rent to tenants with certain breeds or breed mixes. There is also the issue of the laws your local municipality may have regarding renting to dangerous breeds. Before you accept a rental application from a tenant with a pet that may be considered dangerous, you need to check local law to see if there is any statute that prohibits renting to a tenant with this kind of pet; and then check with your insurance carrier to see if renting to this individual will invalidate your coverage.
Once you have established you policy, it is important that you be consistent in enforcing it, says Jesse. If you aren’t then you can be cited for violating the Fair Housing Act.
The other thing to keep in mind is that service animals aren’t bound by any restrictions. A tenant who can present a doctor’s note that says their pet is in some way responsible for their health, either physical or mental, can’t be denied residency based on the animal’s size or breed. The landlord cannot charge extra rent or a pet deposit for animals that are considered service animals.
Finally, even though you may have rented to a tenant who had no pets, they may change their minds over the course of their tenancy and decide to get one. If an existing tenant decides to get a pet that is prohibited by your policy, Jesse says you can evict that tenant. Just be sure your rental agreement has the proper wording that indicates that violating the pet policy is grounds for eviction.