Tips for Landlords

Why Pet-Owning Tenants are Desirable

  • Lower vacancy rates and longer tenancies
  • A larger pool of prospective tenants.  Welcoming pets increases the marketability of your units.
  •  Higher rents
  • More responsible tenants.  Responsible petkeepers are responsible people.  They tend to be stable, more reliable and more home-centered.  This makes them exemplary tenants.
  • A higher level of commitment to the property, the community, and the neighborhood
  • Decreased legal liability and decreased time, effort, and expense enforcing a “No Pets” policy. “Pets Welcome” policies actually give landlords greater control over the animals in their properties.
  • Increased security.  The presence of dogs, and people who spend more time at home, contribute to fewer break-ins and less vandalism.  All residents benefit, as well as the property owner.
  • Increased goodwill in your community.  More than 60% of American households have pets.  The health and social benefits of living with animals and the increased use of service animals in a variety of new roles and sectors have merited a great deal of media attention.  Moreover, pet owners are more educated, more committed, and more vocal than ever.

Myths and Mischief

Small dogs make better apartment dwellers.

Wrong!  Weight and breed have little to do with a dog’s suitability for apartment living.  Small terriers, toy and miniature breeds are often high-strung barkers and chewers.  Toy breeds are frequently harder to housetrain.  Some of the largest dogs are the biggest “couch potatoes.”  Age, neutering,  provision of adequate exercise and attention from the owner, and-most important—TRAINING, are what really count.

Cats should be declawed.

Wrong!  This is a cruel and drastic surgical procedure which often results in far more serious behavior problems.  Nail-clipping, nail capping, and scratching-post training are more effective solutions.  Cats who scratch seldom attack walls or woodwork or carpeting, which are of concern to the landlord.  (If a cat ruins its owner’s upholstered furniture, that’s his/her business!)

Certain breeds of dogs are dangerous and do not belong in multi-family housing.

Wrong!  Aggression in dogs is not confined to a few breeds.  Individual temperament and training determine which animals are safe.  Moreover, many states and localities have laws prohibiting breed discrimination.  Judgment should always be made on a case-by-case basis.  Dogs with a known history of aggression should not be permitted.  Ask for veterinarian, trainer, former landlord or neighbor references if you are in doubt about a specific animal.  Ask prospective tenants whether their dogs have been obedience trained.  Encourage them to train the dog to pass the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test.  Because sexually intact dogs are three times more likely to bite, require that all dogs be spayed or neutered.

Multiple animals should be prohibited.

Not necessarily so.  Two’s often company, resulting in less boredom when left home alone, and thus fewer behavior problems—less whining, barking, crying, scratching, destructive chewing, etc.  Again, this is an owner care and management issue.  Permitting more than one animal must be based on the individual’s ability to care properly for the pets.

“If I allow one, I have to allow all.”

Wrong.  In private market housing there is no equal opportunity law pertaining to pets.  (Certain exceptions may apply to people with disabilities.)  You can—and SHOULD—select only responsible pet owners as tenants.  See “Screening Pet-Keeping Tenants.”

Dos and Dont’s

  • DO Select only responsible pet owners as tenants.
  • DON’T Restrict dogs by weight or size
  • DO Ask for references from previous landlords.
  • DON’T Prohibit selective breeds of dogs.  Training and management and responsible pet caretaking are the only assurance against dangerous dogs.
  • DO Evaluate animals on an individual basis
  • DON’T Allow dogs with a history of aggression
  • DO Ask to meet all prospective canine tenants.
  • DON’T Require declawing of cats.  This is a cruel and disfiguring procedure which often results in more severe behavior problems.  Scratching is better solved with behavior modification and management techniques on the part of the cat owner.
  • DO Require cats be kept indoors only
  • DON’T Require debarking of dogs.  This is a drastic and unnecessary surgical procedure.  Excessive barking, whining, and howling need not be tolerated.  Responsible dog guardians can control barking through appropriate training and management. This is also illegal in Massachusetts.
  • DO Require all animals to be spayed or neutered
  • DON’T Summarily restrict tenants to one animal.  Animals who are left alone during the day are often better behaved if they have a buddy.  Establish reasonable limits based on care and management provided by the owner.
    DO Insist that dog-owners scoop the poops
  • DON’T Allow dogs to be left outside unattended, either loose or tied.  Expressly prohibit chaining or tethering of animals.  This includes townhouses and single-family houses with fenced yards.
    DO Require dogs to be leashed or under reliable voice control at all times when outside owner’s apartment, including halls and indoor public areas, on the grounds, and in parking areas
  • DON’T Allow exotic or wild animals
  • DO. In high-rise buildings, designate one elevator for use by dogs.  In case of one-elevator buildings, require dog-owners to use the service elevator when coming or going with their animals. (This permits dog-shy tenants to avoid having to ride with dogs.)
  • DON’T Let a bad experience with one irresponsible pet owner or negative hearsay cancel your commitment to allowing your tenants to have  companion animals.
  • DO Provide all tenants, including those without animals, with your Pet Policy.
  • DO Establish a Pet Committee in multi-unit buildings.  Both pet-keepers and residents without animals should be included on the committee.
  • DO Encourage dog owners to train their dogs to achieve the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen certification.
  • DO Notify your local animal welfare organizations and shelters that you permit pets.  They may be a valuable source of referrals of responsible pet-keeping tenants.

Screening Pet-Keeping Tenants

The following is a checklist for guidance in interviewing prospective tenants with pets.  SEEING THE ANIMAL YOURSELF is one of the best ways to assess whether the person is a responsible pet owner.  The animal should appear clean, well-groomed, and be odor-free.  A dog should be calm and responsive to the owner’s commands.  The owner should be in control without yelling, jerking the leash, or hitting the animal.

Basic info: Pet’s name
Pet’s sex/spayed or neutered? (Make this a requirement!)
Pet’s age
How long has the prospective tenant owned this animal?

Most of the following questions do not have “right” or “wrong” answers.  The important thing is that a responsible pet owner has answers, is comfortable explaining them, and that they seem reasonable.

For Dogs:

  • Routine daily schedule:  How often is the dog walked?  What kind of regular exercise does the animal get?
  • Is the dog left alone for extended periods of time?  How many hours?  Describe the typical situation.  How does the dog amuse him/herself when alone?
  • Has the dog had any obedience training?  Describe.  Is your dog an AKC Canine Good Citizen?  (If yes, the owner and animal are likely to be excellent tenants.)
  • How do you deal with the following behaviors:  Barking/whining?  Chewing?  Scratching?
  • How does the dog behave with other people?  Strangers?  Children?  Other dogs?
  • Is the dog licensed with the town/city?  (Answer should be YES.)

For Cats:

  • Is she/he reliably litter-box trained?  (Answer should be YES.)  How often do you change the litter?
  • What toys does your cat play with?
  • Does the cat use a scratching post?

For All Pets:

  • Who takes care of the animal when you take a trip without him/her?
  • Who is your veterinarian?
  • How do you control fleas and other parasites?
  • Do you have references from previous landlords where you’ve lived with this animal?

Reasonable Rules for Canine Tenants

  • Dog will never be left outside unattended.
  • Dog will be leashed or under voice control at all times when entering and leaving tenant’s apartment, the building, and in outdoor areas of the property.
  • Petkeeper will pick up and dispose of all solid waste left by the dog both on the premises and off.
  • Excessive barking, whining, or howling will not be tolerated.  “Excessive” is defined as longer in duration than 10 minutes, or 5 minutes of continuous barking more than three times a day.
  • Dog will not be left alone in apartment for periods longer than 6 hours unless it can be demonstrated that the animal is capable of more extended times.  In no case will the period be greater than 10 hours.  If the human tenant’s schedule requires absences from home of longer duration, he/she will engage a petwalker to take the dog out during the day, or arrange for off-premises “doggie daycare.”
  • Dog will be bathed and groomed as necessary. An effective flea and parasite control program is required.

Links to On-Line Resources for Information, Forms, Policies, etc.

www.hsus.org/programs/companion/renting/managers.html:  how to create a pets-welcome policy, why it is profitable to do so, identifying responsible pet owners, sample policies and agreement documents, etc.

www.rental-housing.com/rental/petpages.htm:  how tenants get around “No Pets” policies, eliminating odors, pet agreements, pet letters, large dogs, etc.—lots of very good information and guidelines.

www.mspca.org: Click on Renting with Pets  for “Guidelines for Responsible Pet Ownership” and other information.

www.sfspca.org/landlords.htm:  general guidelines.  For a complete packet of info, contact The Open Door Program, San Francisco SPCA, 2500 16th St., San Francisco, CA 94103, or phone 415-554-3000, or e‑mail: publicinfo@sfspca.org.

http://www.akc.org/:  for information about the Canine Good Citizen program.  Call for booklet: 919-852-3875.

http://www.leasewithpets.com/ offers pet deposit warranties to cover pet damage up to $5,000 per dwelling unit—as a supplement or alternative to a regular pet deposit.  Costs include a $300 fee, refundable at the end of tenancy if no claim is made, and $250/yr. for one animal (plus $60/yr./each additional animal).

For consulting services to implement a successful pet-friendly rental policy or to help mediate animal-related disputes with tenants, e-mail Ruth Smiler, Animal-Affirmative Housing Advocate, at ruth@mannersforlife.com.

Welcome Aboard!  How You Can Help

Are you one of the savvy landlords or property managers who already has a positive history of renting to tenants with companion animals?  We value you as our ally in reducing the number of homeless animals in Massachusetts.  MAC would like to hear from you!

We wish to compile a statewide directory of pet-friendly buildings and developments.  We are considering providing listings of current vacancies at this site.

What can we do to help you?

Are you willing to be a peer-mentor to share your experience with other property owners who are considering opening their units to pets?

Please address your feedback, ideas, comments to:Info@massanimalcoalition.org

The landlord and tenant information for this website have been supplied courtesy of Ruth Smiler ruth@mannersforlife.com