6 Things You Need to Know When Renting with a Pet

in Renter Life

Although 68% of U.S. households have a pet, it’s still a challenge for pet-owners to rent a decent pet-friendly space with a furry family member. Many landlords and agents are hesitant to allow tenants to have pets in their properties. Usually, landlords are concerned that pets will cause damages to the property or make furniture look worn out and less appealing to the next tenant.

What landlords should pay attention to is the fact that housing with limitations on the type and/or size of pets permitted (such as allowing cats only, limiting the animal size, etc.) was also found to be cheaper than other pet-friendly housing. Landlords who allow pets tend to make more money from tenants with pets because of charging additional pet compensations. First, let’s differentiate between these payments.

Pet rent vs Pet deposit vs Pet fee

If landlords allow pets in their properties, they may request the following payments:

  • Pet rent 
  • Pet deposit 
  • Refundable or nonrefundable pet fee

Pet rent is a monthly charge added to the baseline rent price. The fee can vary depending on the number of pets and their breed. It usually averages from $50 to $100 per pet. 

A pet deposit is a fee paid by the tenants when they move in. They are usually required to cover the cost of property damage, cleaning fees, and any unpaid rent. If there’s no damage at the end of the lease, then you get the deposit back. However, pet owners also need to understand that landlords are not obliged to refund the full sum of pet deposits due to possible damage or inevitable wear and tear. 

man in white dress shirt wearing round analog watch with brown leather bracelet holding black chihuahua during daytime

To feel educated and secure, be sure to check your state law related to this question. For example, in California, the pet deposit amount depends on whether the rental unit is furnished. The landlord cannot charge more than two months’ rent for an unfurnished unit, and not more than three months’ rent for furnished units. Non-refundable pet/security deposits are illegal in some states (Wisconsin, California, etc.). Pet deposits are more common than pet rent. 

And lastly, a pet fee is the one-time admission price to have a pet in the rental. It’s essentially a fee for allowing the pet into the property. 

Note: Pet deposits are refundable and pet fees aren’t.

While a typical renter has to abide by an apartment’s pet policy, those who have a service animal or an emotional support animal do have some lee-way. Let’s distinguish between service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals. 

Service animals vs emotional support animals

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as a dog that has been individually trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability. The task(s) performed by the service animal must be directly related to the person’s disability. 

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a pet that provides therapeutic support to a person with a mental illness.  Emotional support animals are not required to have any specific training. Their primary role is to provide their owners with emotional comfort. To be designated as an emotional support animal, the pet must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person diagnosed with a certain mental illness or disorder. 

adult tricolored dog lying on brown wood parquet

Legal aspect

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) makes it illegal to harass persons because of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin. The Act also prohibits housing providers from discriminating against tenants because of their disability and from treating persons with disabilities less favorably than others because of the disability. FHA states any person with a mental or physical disability cannot be turned away from the housing with their service animal or emotional support animal. This includes buildings and apartments that normally do not allow pets. 

assorted-title of books piled in the shelves

Under FHA, a landlord has the right to ask for proper documentation for an emotional support animal. The document stating that the individual has a mental health disorder and that the presence of the emotional support animal is necessary for the individual’s mental health, is called an ESA letter. An ESA letter is issued for 1 year only, and after that, it needs to be renewed. The doctor’s license ID should be indicated on the ESA letter. 

When it comes to having an emotional support animal, there are very specific rules and regulations set in place by the Fair Housing Act. Under the FHA, a landlord or property owner is not allowed to:

  • make a tenant pay any extra pet rent, fees or deposit for having an emotional support animal
  • ask a tenant about the disability
  • require the tenant to register their emotional support animal (there’s no national registry for ESAs!)
  • require the animal to have any specific training

Accommodation can be denied if the animal imposes a direct threat to the health and safety of others, or a financial or administrative burden on the housing provider. 

If your dog doesn’t have the right to live in rentals with a “no-pet” policy, as service animals and emotional support animals do, these tips are for you. 

How to boost your chances to live with your pet 

Finding a pet-friendly place isn’t the easiest thing to do. Here are tips to make sure you and your pets are well prepared and have the upper hand when searching for your next home.

selective focus photography of short-coated brown puppy facing right side

Tip #1 Be upfront about your pet and what they mean to you and your family

Keeping your property manager and landlord in the loop about having a pet could save you the headaches later on. That way you will not be faced with an eviction notice, bad referral or any other legal ramifications. For example, if your lease states that you do not allow pets, then technically if the tenant sneaks the pet, he violates the lease. In that case, you have grounds for eviction. We recommend being honest. 

Tip #2 Introduce the pet 

Mention your pet’s name, age, tell the landlord some funny or cute stories about living with your pet. Attach information, such as a photo of the pet, its breed, whether it’s microchipped, vaccinated and so on.

Every landlord wants to meet a well-behaved pet. Keep that in mind before showing your pet’s true colors. But if you’re sure that you have a great pet that will melt the landlord’s heart then you can use it to your advantage.

Tip #3 Show that you are responsible

There are a couple of reasons why dealing with pet owners can be a win-win for all parties involved:

  • Taking care of a pet requires a lot of time and attention, and pet owners usually put the same energy toward taking care of a property. 
  • Pet owners tend to stick around longer since there aren’t as many properties available to pet parents. And pet parents typically do not want to stress out their pets by moving often.

Explaining these arguments to your landlord may help you convince a property owner to allow you to live with your furry family member. 

Tip #4 Gather references

Ask your previous property manager for a pet reference. If you have a prior landlord confirming that your pet was lovely, and didn’t cause any problems or property damage, nine times out of ten you’ll be as good as gold. You can also get a letter from your vet showing that your pet’s shots are up to date. If your pet has attended training classes bring that documentation as well. 

Tip #5 Propose a trial period

If the landlord is on the fence about allowing you to live with a pet, you might be able to push them towards a short term trial period where they can observe how the animal behaves and gets along in the space. It decreases risks for property owners. 

Tip #6 Offer to sign a special pet agreement

Make sure all the terms that were discussed have been written up clearly before signing. This could address what you’d do if your pet were being noisy, or causing a disturbance. Discuss what you’d do if a pet accidentally damaged the property. Take responsibility for your pet’s actions agreeing that you will clean up after your pet or pay to get rid of, for example, any pest infestations caused by your pet.

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