Renting with a pet? 10 tips to get Buddy in the door
With vacancy rates up and apartments struggling to fill units, landlords are more willing than ever to say yes to pets. But you'll still need to show you're a best-of-breed pet owner. Here's how.
Trying to find a rental with a pet is enough to make you howl. It's exasperating, particularly if you have a dog that's bigger than Paris Hilton's handbag.
The knee-jerk "no pets" or "only dogs under 25 pounds" tag easily pops up on three-quarters of apartment listings. And those landlords who don't imagine Buddy as the Tasmanian Devil instead see dollar signs, tacking on extraneous fees and pet rents that can add $1,000 a year or more to the cost of housing.
Many renters just give up. Often citing moving as a reason, people drop off between 6 million and 8 million pets annually at U.S. shelters. Of those, a combined 3 million dogs and cats — 8,200 per day — are euthanized each year.
"It's devastating," says Allie Phillips, director of public policy for the American Humane Association. "These rules have consequences."
But there is good news. Attitudes — or at least circumstances — are shifting. Large apartment companies have made pet accommodations almost commonplace, and more independent managers are now considering giving it a try.
No better time for pet-loving renters
Some of the change in the approach to pets comes after years of landlord and tenant education efforts by animal groups, such The Humane Society of the United States’ Pets for Life program, or the Dumb Friends League’s Pets Are Welcome program, which offers Colorado landlords free behavioral assistance for their furry tenants.
But much is due to market forces. The number of American households that now include pets has climbed to 71.1 million, or 63%, with surveys estimating that between half and three-quarters of renters either have or want pets. Among pet owners, the largest chunk, 63%, own at least one dog.
Given the demand, apartment corporations have learned they can rent units more quickly and rake in more cash simply by allowing dogs and cats. When they're able to, big players such as Archstone and AIMCO (the Apartment and Investment Management Co.) will charge a $50 monthly pet rent and a $400 nonrefundable fee, on top of the extra security deposit. These property owners are praising their four-legged tenants all the way to the bank. (AIMCO reported a net income of $415 million in 2008.)
And independent owners, more interested in retaining tenants and less likely to charge such fees, have been increasingly opening their doors the last two years as they struggle with oversupply and high vacancy rates. Anything is better than letting a unit sit empty.
"It's never been a better time to be a pet owner and be in the market for an apartment," says Maurice Ortiz, marketing director for the Apartment People, an apartment brokerage in Chicago. "Managers are being extremely flexible."
But there's a big kink in the leash ahead. Market forces are tenuous: When the economy rebounds and those renters who are now doubling up with roommates increase the tenant pool, many independent managers could reverse course. It's simply easier not to deal with the extra hassle of pets.
Buddy may be your best friend (owners in one survey said that if stranded on an island they'd rather have their pet along than another person), but animals — unlike toddlers, college students, wannabe rock stars and other human apartment-dwellers — are not a protected class under fair housing laws (with the exception of animals that aid the disabled).
So while now is a great time to negotiate on behalf of you and your pet, do so wisely and with an eye to keeping the door open for the next guy and his dog.
"Even if you're an animal lover, you've got to look at it from the business side," says Cheryl Lang, founder of No Paws Left Behind, which finds homes for pets abandoned because of foreclosure. "You've got to have something in it for (landlords), or they're just not going to do it."
In the leasing business, that means demonstrating to owners that they can easily expand their pool of high-quality tenants by including those with pets. In fact, in what may be the only published study on the topic, a 2003 survey (.PDF file) by the Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research and Education Promoting Animal Welfare (FIREPAW) found that the average worst damage in apartments with pets totaled $430, an amount almost always covered by the regular security deposit and at least $100 less than the average damage in apartments with children.
But owners need to see it for themselves. So here are 10 tips to help prove your case:
1. Be a good pet owner
This should go without saying, but let's say it anyway. Before applying for an apartment, ask yourself if you know how to keep the cat from spraying and the dog from wailing in that home. Consult your local shelter for training classes (as low as $10) or use online resources, such as these guides at the Dumb Friends League. It's your job to provide the right care, attention and exercise.
2. Sympathize with the owner's concerns
Apartments have different reasons for prohibiting pets. Some tenants might be allergic. Some owners might subscribe to the once-common sentiment that animals are dirty and belong outside. It's their property; you have to respect their position.
But other owners quit allowing pets after one or two bad experiences or have never allowed them (in the FIREPAW survey, 37% who didn't allow pets never had). They don't know how to screen for responsible pet tenants, or that it's even possible.
Many borrow gratuitous policies without even knowing why. Take the ubiquitous restriction by a dog's weight, which some mistakenly associate with temperament.
"For some reason, people tend to think that a small dog is going to cause a lot less damage and be a lot quieter than a large dog," says Ortiz, the apartment broker. "It's actually totally the opposite."
Even so, owners are legitimately concerned about their tenants and their property. Acknowledge that there are bad pet owners out there. Be sympathetic to their past problems. Then describe exactly how you've prevented such occurrences in the past.
Well I have two cats and finding an apartment that will even allow them is difficult enough, but keeping them from destroying the place is even harder. My babies scratch at the bedroom and bathroom doors because they are always wanting in and out. When I say scratch I mean absolutely tearing up the carpet in the doorways. When I moved apartments I bought these mats called Carpet Scratch Stoppers that are designed to go in doorways to keep cats from gaining access to the carpet. Thankfully they work great and I may get my deposit back this time !
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I'm a landlord, and at first, we allowed pets. I felt like: hey, I'm a pet owner. Who am I to tell people they can't own a pet? But here's the problem: If my pet causes damage, I'm responsible for paying to have it fixed. If my tenant's pet causes damage, I'm still the one responsible for paying to have it fixed.
We had a family in a house that pretty much let the (small to medium sized) dog use the carpeting as a litter box. It was so bad in one area, that it soaked through the carpeting, pad, and floor boards. I actually had to pull up about 30 sq ft of floor boards and replace them. The difference between their sec dep and the damage was in the realm of $800. And that doesn't count in our labor, and the time the house sat empty to effect the repairs. Raise your hand if you think the tenant offered to pay me any of that.
That, in essence, is the problem. For the most part, tenants want me to take all the financial risk. When I've told people that I'll need an extra security deposit, and charge them a fee, they don't want to pay.
Bottom line, if you want a pet, and you're renting, you have to factor in what it is going to cost. As long as people are willing to do that, I don't have much of a problem.
The MYTH that large dogs are more damaging than small ones NEEDS to be STOPPED. It is just NOT TRUE!!!
WHERE did this silly myth come from and why has it perpetuated for many years????
Almost every single place that we have rented has been privately owned and NOT listed as an available rental. Whenever we have needed to move we have dedicated an entire weekend to house-hunting. We explore our new town, figure out which area we would like to live in, then start calling the real estate agents listed on "for sale" homes to ask if the owner would consider leasing the property. If they say no, we move on to the next one...no biggie. If they say yes then we ask when we may take a tour of the place to see if we like it. Once we have a list of places we feel home-y about then we do some research. My mom works in real estate so I will email her a list of addresses of places we would like to rent and she does a quick MLS search for us and lets me know how long the property has been on the market, what the owner's mortgage is (how much they still owe to date) and how long they've owned the place. That gives us a lot of insight about how desperate the owner is and how much wiggle room we have with them (and don't tell me that is privileged information because everyone knows SOMEONE in real estate...all of that information is very easy to come by if you're willing to work it). Once the hubs and I have seen the place and met with the landlord or property manager and gotten their first numbers for rent and deposits and lease term then we go back, look over our notes that mom sent us and call back with a counter-offer.
Just about ANY owner that has let a property sit for almost a year will at least consider renting. Especially if the tenants want to lease for a year...the owner can remove the listing and in a year's time re-list the property for a higher number. We have letters of recommendation for ourselves and our pets...each time, we asked if they would be willing to sign a LOR and we wrote it up ourselves and they just signed it. We prefer to rent from private owners than from corporate leasing companies. Private owners are MUCH more willing to negotiate, they are much more flexible about letting a tenant paint (I STILL insist that they pre-approve the colors though because when I move out I'm going to have a lot more to worry about than re-painting), and they are much more concerned about having quality repairs done QUICKLY because they personally OWN THE UNIT. They are going to take care of their investment.
BUT, when leasing from a private owner you need to be sure and cover your ass...request a certified letter from their mortgage lender stating that the property is in good standing and has never been in the pre-foreclosure process. I've also requested before that the owner provide us with a receipt of mortgage payment so I know that the bank wont be knocking on my door in three months to evict us because the homeowner decided to pocket our money and let the property foreclose. Any homeowner worth renting from will not only understand this request, but will be more than happy to fulfill it.
I took both animals with me when looking at properties and the let the landlord meet the animal. They were so impressed with how easy going the furry critters were, they had no problems renting to me.
And, when the lease was over I even got my pet deposit back.
To Gijima. Thank you for your comments. Wish you owned a apt. where I am that I could rent. I keep it really clean. Because my adorable dog sheds....I comb him out every single day, I sometimes(especially during shedding seasons) vacumn three times a day and swiffer up the kitchen floor. I didn't like the old floor in this kitchen...so I paid for new congoleum to be put down and to have the kitchen painted myself. I put in flowers, shrubs, a lawn(it was just dirt when I moved in thirty years ago...a cement stoop out the backdoor and I bought my own mower and things and mow my lawm myself, weed and trim the hedges and weed the flower beds I put in. I also shovel the sidewalk and driveway myself all winter long. Since I am retired I am usually home all day with the dog and we play catch in the yard and go for walks. He is very, very quiet...you wouldn't even know there is a dog in here. I can understand about bad tenants because my landlady owns five houses and some of the people she has rented too are unbelievable. I have been here 30 years and pay my rent on time every month...pay for all my own utilites..keep the place up AND I have even helped her by paying her water bills on this place when she got behind so that her water wouldn't get turned off. I try to be a tenant anyone would be glad to have and I treat the place with as much pride as if I owned it myself. I think you get back what you put out in life and I try to live everyday treating people as I would want them to treat me. I find if you are considerate of others it comes back to you usually tenfold. I will take your suggestions when she passes away and I have to seek another place to live. I also thought maybe while she is still around I could write out a reference and have her sign it since she really wouldn't write one out too well as she is from the "old country" and doesn't really know English very well even now. Thanks again. Even knowing someone cared enough to answer made me feel slightly better.