How can I create a pet-friendly lease?
If you are not allowing pets at your property, it's a good idea to add a pet clause to the lease that states no pets are allowed and the possible repercussions if an unauthorized pet is brought into the rental, which could be eviction or paying a large fee.
If you decide to allow pets in your property, you will want to add a pet agreement or pet addendum to your lease agreement. The pet agreement specifically states which animals the landlord is authorizing to reside at the property while passing all responsibility and liability for the pet to the tenant, including potential damage to the property. This document outlines:
- Specific pet policies (such as what happens if the pet is a nuisance to neighbors)
- Rules and requirements (such as picking up after your pet and leashing or caging rules)
- Fees, including nonrefundable or refundable pet deposits, monthly pet fees, and fees assessed in the event of damage
It is also a good idea to add a clause into the agreement that states what happens if the tenants acquire an additional pet after they move in without seeking landlord approval. Some leases will require the entire upfront pet fee or deposit with monthly fees from the time the dog was acquired for the lease term.
If the pet or tenant is in violation of your pet agreement, make sure your addendum allows you to retain the right to remove the pet and tenant and terminate the lease.
What is the proper insurance for pets?
To reduce your risk and liability, you should require your tenant to have renters insurance, which covers liability if their pet injures someone else or causes harm to the property like starting a fire. Not all issues are covered with a renters insurance policy, like a fish tank breaking and causing water damage, so it's important to know what is and is not covered for the landlord and tenant.
Your insurance company may also have certain restrictions and may not insure a rental property with a non-covered pet. Make sure to check with your insurance company asking what their pet policy is and if there are any specific restrictions, such as breeds that are not covered.
How can I best protect my property from pet damage?
Putting the proper insurance in place and getting a substantial pet deposit or monthly pet fee are a few ways to mitigate possible pet damage to your property, but there are also things you can do around the property to help.
Installing durable flooring (such as tile or vinyl) that doesn't scratch or hold stains and odors easily will increase the longevity of your floors.
Fencing the property, if possible, is a good idea because it allows the pet to use the restroom or be outdoors without the risk of escaping. It also lowers liability and risk by keeping the pet protected from other animals or people while on your property.
Am I required to allow service, emotional support, or therapy animals?
The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act grant certain protections and rights to tenants who have a service animal or assistance animal because of a disability such as a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits a person's daily life activities.
Service animals complete specific tasks or jobs for their owner, such as a guide dog, and for most are required to be with their companion at all times. Assistance animals are in a different legal class as service animals, and do not need to be trained on a task or job such as a dog that detects and alerts their companion of oncoming seizures or a cat who alleviates a person’s depression or anxiety.
If you have a tenant that states they have an assistant animal and the need for the animal is not apparent, ask for a letter from a medical professional stating their need and the animal's job for the person.
You as a landlord are required by fair housing laws to provide "reasonable accommodation" for the animal, are not allowed to charge pet fees or pet deposits. You can, however, request payment for any damage caused to the property by the animal as long as you would normally charge the same to nondisabled tenants. If the animal is causing a nuisance, you can follow legal proceedings to try and have the animal or tenant removed.
Pets can be an added risk and liability, but most of the risk can be hedged with renter's insurance and increased income and fees. Allowing pets is becoming more popular, although there are still far more no-pet rentals than pet-friendly ones. Weigh the risk-to-reward and decide whether the potential increase in return on investment is worth the potential damage or added liability for you.