Tenants with Pets: Best Practices for Landlords

One statistic regarding pet ownership in the United States is that measured by the APPA National Pet Owners Survey. As we shared in our guide on  Fix & Flips: What Packs a Punch (and What Doesn’t)?, their 2019-2020 survey indicated that 67% of U.S. households own a pet. The most popular pet is a dog, followed by a cat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 38% of US households have one or more dogs. The percent of pet ownership surely has gone up during the pandemic, with many people getting a “pandemic pet.”

One of the age-old questions for landlords is whether or not they should allow pets. Given how prevalent pets are these days, it seems like the answer should be an automatic “yes.” With that said, though, it is critical that the landlord (1) research local regulations, (2) understand what effect allowing pets could have on a homeowners’ policy, (3) craft a lease that makes pet policies and fees comprehensive and transparent, and (4) understand that landlords must make “reasonable accommodations” to allow animals who serve as service or support animals.

Research local regulations

In Baltimore City, there are various animal control laws of which a landlord should be aware. For example:

  • All dogs and cats over the age of four months must be licensed.
  • Animal Waste must be picked up immediately. It is a violation to leave animal waste on your property, and while walking your animal on public property, parks, and private property, without promptly removing it.
  • Tethers must be at least three -and-a half times the dog’s body length and positioned to prevent tangling and choking.

In Baltimore County, there are various animal laws and policies of which a landlord should be aware. For example:

  • All dogs and cats must be licensed by four months of age.
  • It is a violation of the law to allow dogs to bark excessively.
  • Owners are responsible for the timely removal of pet waste on public and private property.
  • If chained outside, the chain must have a swivel.

In Prince George’s County, there is a pit bull ban. Pit Bulls include any and all of the following breed of dogs: Staffordshire Bull Terrier; American Staffordshire Terrier; American Pit Bull Terrier; or dogs that exhibit the characteristics of a Pit Bull more than any other breed of dog.

Pets and Homeowners’ Policies

Dog bites are more common than many people think. In 2016, there were an estimated 4.5 million dog bites in the U.S. The Insurance Information Institute and Sate Farm reported that dog bites and other dog-related injuries comprised more than 1/3 of all payments under homeowners liability claims, amounting to almost $700 million.

Accordingly, many homeowners’ policies will not cover canine breeds that can cause severe harm with a single bite. Some insurance carriers may cover dog breeds that others consider to be high risk, but they may make those decisions on a case-by-case basis and may have additional requirements such as a meet-and-greet.

Crafting a lease agreement

  • Pets can wreak havoc on their living spaces. They may mark their territory, have accidents, scratch surfaces, shed profusely, etc. Given the potential for damage, landlords should require a pet deposit and/or incorporate a pet premium in the rent. Note that some landlords instead require a nonrefundable “pet fee” rather than a refundable pet deposit. Some go this route to avoid any debate over whether the pet caused the damage or not.
  • The lease agreement should include a limit on the number of pets that the tenant can have.
  • The lease agreement should indicate any excluded pet breeds if it impacts the landlord’s homeowners’ insurance.
  • The lease agreement should require that the pet owner provide documentation evidencing the good health of the animal (a “pet health certificate”). This will provide the landlord assurance that the pet is in general good health, has received all state required vaccinations, and is parasite-free.

Special circumstances – service and support animals

It is important to note that service and support animals are not pets, which means that owners do not have to pay “pet fees.” The landlord still has the right o charge a security deposit and can seek recompense if the animal causes any damage to the residence. Further, if there are nuisance complaints regarding the animal, the landlord can apply to have the animal removed using appropriate legal channels.

The landlord can request that the tenant provide a letter from his/her doctor/therapist that confirms the tenant has a physical or mental impairment and how the service or support animal helps the tenant cope with the challenge and/or relieve its symptoms. The landlord may not:

  • Require a health care professional to use a specific form
  • Require a health care professional to provide notarized statements
  • Require a health care provider to make statements under penalty of perjury
  • Require a health care provider to provided detailed information about a person’s physical or mental impairment(s)

In January 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a press release titled, “HUD Issues Guidance on Reasonable Accommodations Under the Fair Housing Act Relating to Assistance Animals.” The press release introduced a new Assistance Animal Notice that is a must-read for landlords. HUD “strongly encourages” housing providers to give careful attention to this Notice when making decisions relating to animals and “strongly encourages” individuals with disabilities to do the same when making reasonable accommodation requests.

Final words

Given the propensity for pet ownership, landlords who accept pets might consider what would make their rentals more attractive to pet owners. For example, fenced in backyards and doggie doors will likely make a prospective tenant with a pet more inclined to be interested in the rental.