Last Updated on May 28, 2020 by Mark Ferguson
I have owned rental properties for many years and prefer not to rent to tenants with pets, but that doesn’t mean I never do. There are situations where I will rent to tenants with certain pets. I understand that many people have pets and love their pets, but I also love my rental properties and do not want them destroyed by a cat or dog. It takes a lot of work to find great rentals, fix them up, and keep them well maintained. Pets can be one of the easiest ways to destroy a rental property if they are not well behaved or not looked after.
How can pets destroy a property?
If a pet is trained well or the pet lives outside, that pet may never harm a home. If a pet is not trained well or is an older animal, they can do a lot of damage to a house. The biggest risk with pets doing damage to a home is urination inside the house. If you have had the pleasure of being in a home that has pet damage, it is not pretty and smells horrible. The smell can be overwhelming, especially from cats. As a house flipper and landlord, I have dealt with a lot of smells, but cat urine may be the worst smell for me.
Pets can destroy carpet, hardwood floors, subfloor, and even drywall. In some cases pets will chew through doors, trim, or destroy grass in the backyard. If you are going to allow pets, you have to do your due diligence on the pet and weigh the risk of damage versus the reward of more money. You also need to check on your tenants to make sure they do not bring pets into the home after they sign the lease.
If you own a property that has multiple units, you may have some tenants who are allergic to pets. You could be harming some tenants by allowing pets in some units.
The property below is a flip that was destroyed by pets.
Why allow any pets?
People with pets still need a place to live, and many times, they will pay more to rent a house than non-pet owners. Pet owners may pay more in monthly rent or pay a higher security deposit. I have rented my homes to tenants with pets, but I have always charged a higher deposit and/or a monthly pet fee. That higher rent or deposit can make the risk of allowing pets worth it if you check out the pet first.
If you have a property that is hard to rent out, renting to people who have pets may be a viable option to get it rented. Tenants with pets have limited options because so many landlords do not allow pets.
What types of pets should landlords allow?
I have never allowed a cat in my rental properties because cat smell is so much worse than dog smell and much harder to get out. I have smelled houses with cats from 50 feet away with the doors closed. If you have the pleasure of entering a house like that, the smell sticks with you once you leave the home. It’s not fun. You might have to burn your clothes!
In my experience, the larger the pet, the greater the chance is they will do damage. A large dog is stronger and can do more damage than a smaller dog. A large dog also urinates more and leaves bigger messes. If I do allow a dog in a home, I will allow a small dog. I also look to limit the number of pets in a rental. I do not want to rent to someone with 5 dogs or 5 cats as they tend to do more damage the more pets there are.
I would be careful with fish as well! I used to have saltwater fish tanks, and they can do some major damage to a home. They can leak, the humidity can cause mold, and they can be a fire danger as well.
Should you allow aggressive breeds?
Many cities have ordinances against aggressive dogs, including pit bulls. If a city says it is illegal to own a pit bull, that should tell a landlord something about how wise it is to allow pit bulls in their rentals. If an aggressive breed hurts someone, and a landlord rented out a home knowingly allowing an aggressive-breed dog, that landlord could be held liable for allowing the tenants to rent the home with that dog. This is another great reason to stick with smaller, less-aggressive breeds.
How do you know if a pet will do damage?
Just like you ask tenants for references, you can also ask for pet references. The best way to see how well a pet will behave is to check with previous landlords to see if the tenants had pets and if the pets did any damage. If the tenants cannot provide a pet reference, then it can be very hard to see how the pets behave unless the tenants will show you their current home. It is not a bad idea to see the tenants take care of their current residence if they will let you see it.
Even the best pets can do damage. When pets get older, they tend to use the bathroom inside the house instead of outside the house, and they can lose control of their continence. You will never know for sure what pets will do damage and what pets will be great.
How much more should you charge for pets?
I usually adjust rent or the deposit based on the individual situation. The more pets, the better chance for damage, and the more I will charge a tenant. For a small dog that I think has very little chance of doing damage, I may charge $250 more in deposit and $25 or $50 more in rent a month. For multiple dogs, I may charge a $500 deposit and $50 a month more in rent. If I am trying to get a premium amount of rent for a property, I may not charge more for monthly rent for pets. I may only charge a higher deposit because I know by charging a premium amount for rent, I should expect to attract people with pets who can’t find any other houses to rent and as a result are willing to pay more to have a dog. All things being equal, I would rather have a tenant without a pet at all.
How do you protect against tenants having pets without a landlord’s knowledge?
In my lease, I have many clauses the tenants must adhere to or they can be fined. In the lease, it says if any pet is found on the property without permission from the landlord, the tenant can be charged $750 per occurrence. That is a hefty fine and hopefully makes my tenants think twice about having pets that are not allowed. This does not protect against every tenant, and I think it is also wise to set up routine inspections on your rental properties to change furnace filters or light bulbs and see if there are any signs of pets. I have a sixth sense for pets because I am allergic to them, especially cats.
What about service or emotional support animals?
Many people now have emotional-support or service animals. Each state treats these animals differently, and landlords need to know what their state laws allow and do not allow. In some cases, a landlord may not deny a tenant because they have a service animal or emotional-support animal. That does not mean you can’t deny the potential tenant for other reasons. Some tenants will sign a lease without mentioning the pets and then say they get an emotional-support animal, putting the landlord in a bind.
This can be a very murky and tricky situation to deal with. I would suggest checking with local authorities to see what the law states and what the landlord can and cannot do.
I try to avoid tenants with pets, but I still rent to tenants with pets on occasion. The biggest factor I look at when renting out a home is how qualified the tenants are. If I have a choice between two equally qualified tenants and one that does not have pets, I would obviously prefer the tenants without the pets. If I have one tenant I think is much more qualified than a tenant who does not have pets, I may go with the more-qualified tenant even though they have a pet. Often, a pet will behave good or bad depending on how well they are trained and how well their owner takes care of them.
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