Being a property manager or owner, you’re continually balancing a plethora of considerations, from maintenance requests to fair housing laws. One of the most significant factors to ponder upon is the topic of pet policies in your rental properties. It’s a complex, multifaceted issue that influences the potential tenant pool, rental income, and the overall management of the property. In the U.S., a whopping 67% of households, or about 85 million families, own a pet, according to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). That’s a substantial market that you don’t want to miss out on, but it’s also one that comes with its unique challenges and responsibilities. This comprehensive guide will help you navigate the complex landscape of pets and leasing, arming you with the insights you need to make informed decisions.
Why Pet-Friendly Properties Are Crucial
Let’s begin by understanding the crucial role of pet-friendly rental properties. According to a recent study by the Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research and Education Promoting Animal Welfare (FIREPAW), 72% of renters have pets, while only about 55% of landlords or rental owners allow pets. If your property doesn’t accommodate pets, you could be ruling out a vast majority of potential tenants. This restriction can lead to longer vacancy periods, translating into missed rental income.
The same study found that pet-friendly rentals have significantly lower vacancy rates and stay on the market for shorter periods. Furthermore, renters with pets were found to stay an average of 23 months compared to 15 months for renters without pets. Thus, allowing pets can also improve tenant retention and reduce the cost and hassle of turnover.
Pet Policies: Balancing Tenant Rights and Property Protection
Despite the compelling arguments for allowing pets, it’s crucial to have a clear, comprehensive pet policy in place. This policy helps protect the property and manage the tenant’s expectations. It should cover aspects like the type and number of pets allowed, pet fees, pet behavior expectations, and liability for damages.
One common practice among landlords is to limit the size and breed of dogs allowed. However, this practice has recently come under scrutiny, and some jurisdictions including Colorado have enacted legislation prohibiting breed-specific restrictions. As a property manager, it’s essential to stay updated on these changes to avoid potential legal issues.
The Art of Pet Fees
One way to mitigate the potential risks associated with pet ownership is through pet fees. These may include a pet deposit, pet rent, or a non-refundable pet fee. However, the applicability and legality of these fees vary by state and even by city, so it’s vital to understand local regulations.
According to a survey by FIREPAW, pet-owning tenants are willing to pay more for pet-friendly housing. On average, they were willing to pay a one-time pet deposit of between $200-$350 (depending on the size and type of pet) and monthly pet rent of $36. However, setting these fees requires a balance – charge too much, and you might deter potential tenants; charge too little, and you might not adequately cover the potential risks. With the recent introduction of HB 23-1068, these fees in Colorado have now been capped at $300 as an additional security deposit for allowing pets, with rent for pets not exceeding $35 per month or 1.5% of the monthly rent. The bill also introduces the Pet Friendly Landlord Damage Mitigation Program, which provides reimbursement (up to $1000) for additional damages
Responsible Pet Ownership and Tenant Screening
It’s not just about whether to allow pets but also about ensuring that the pet owners are responsible. This responsibility starts with a thorough tenant screening process. Consider asking prospective tenants for references from previous landlords or property managers. A well-behaved pet at a previous rental can be a strong indicator of a responsible pet owner.
Additionally, consider asking about their pet’s behavior, any aggressive tendencies, and how they handle issues like pet waste and noise. This information can help you assess whether the tenant and their pet will be a good fit for your property.
Fair Housing and Assistance Animals
A crucial factor to consider when crafting pet policies is the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These laws require landlords to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, which may include allowing assistance animals. Assistance animals, which can be service animals or emotional support animals, are not considered pets and therefore, are exempt from pet policies, including pet fees and deposits. If damage does occur by the assistant animal it should be taken out of the tenant’s security deposit with proper explanation and documentation what the charge was for. It’s critical to handle these cases correctly to avoid discrimination claims.
Damage Mitigation: Pet-Proofing Properties
While allowing pets can open up a broader tenant pool, it’s essential to take proactive steps to mitigate potential damages. This process, often called pet-proofing, involves making strategic upgrades to your property. Choose durable materials for flooring, such as tile or laminate. Opt for semi-gloss paint on the walls for easy cleaning, and consider installing a fence in the yard for dogs.
Pet Agreement: The Legal Document
A pet agreement should be part of the lease when renting to tenants with pets. This document outlines the tenant’s responsibility for their pet, covers property rules about pets, and details what happens if the pet causes damage or other problems. It also spells out any fees or deposits related to pet ownership.
It’s advisable to work with a legal professional to ensure your pet agreement covers all necessary areas and aligns with local laws and regulations. Keep in mind that the language around pets must be clear and precise to avoid any ambiguities that might lead to future conflicts.
It’s essential for both parties, the property owner and tenant, to have adequate insurance coverage. Encourage tenants to have renters’ insurance that includes liability coverage for their pets. As a landlord or property manager, check with your insurance provider to understand your policy’s coverage and limitations regarding pets.
Furthermore, consider requiring tenants to carry a specific minimum amount of liability coverage for their pets. This requirement can protect you financially if a tenant’s pet injures someone or causes significant property damage.
Dealing with Nuisance Issues
Pets can sometimes lead to nuisance issues, such as noise complaints from barking dogs or issues with pet waste. Clearly define rules about pet behavior in the lease agreement and ensure tenants understand their responsibilities. Have a plan for how to handle these issues if they arise.
Conclusion: Pets and Leasing Can Coexist Harmoniously
In conclusion, navigating pet policies as a property manager can be complex, but it’s an essential aspect of modern property management. By creating a comprehensive pet policy, you can tap into the vast market of pet-owning renters, reduce vacancy rates, and increase tenant retention, all while protecting your property from potential damages.
Remember, pet-owning tenants aren’t just looking for a place to live—they’re looking for a home for their furry friends too. By fostering an environment where responsible pet ownership is encouraged, you’re not only creating a more desirable rental property but also promoting a community where pets and people coexist harmoniously.
With an understanding of the intricacies involved, a robust pet policy in place, and a commitment to responsible pet ownership from your tenants, pets and leasing can undoubtedly coexist in a mutually beneficial way.
At Keyrenter Property Management, we specialize in helping property owners like you navigate these challenges, ensuring you stay compliant while maximizing your property’s potential. We offer comprehensive services designed to alleviate these concerns and complexities. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or if you’re interested in learning how we can support your property management needs.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is intended to serve as a general guide based on our experience in the field of property management. It should not be interpreted as legal advice. Regulations and legislation surrounding pet ownership in rental properties vary and can change frequently. Therefore, it’s crucial to consult with a legal professional to ensure compliance with new and existing laws specific to your locality.
We hope this guide has shed some light on the complex world of pet policies in rental properties. If you’ve found these insights valuable and wish to stay informed on similar topics, we invite you to subscribe to our monthly educational newsletter, The Denver Landlord’s Digest. By joining our community, you’ll receive regular updates and exclusive insights on the nuances of property management, offering you the tailored knowledge you need to navigate the rental property landscape. Click here to subscribe today!