Apartments & Pets – To Allow or Not

Owners of multifamily housing often struggle with whether or not to permit pets at their properties. Until recently, in some areas, it was nearly impossible to find apartment communities that permit pets. While that has begun to change,  there are still a lot of properties that do not permit pets. This article will outline the pros and cons of permitting pets at apartment complexes and if the decision is made to allow pets, we will provide some recommended policies to make the experience the best possible for both landlords and renters.

A November 2020 survey by PetScreening and J. Turner Research showed that nearly 40% of renters have a pet. Another 21% planned to get a pet in 2021. Since March 2020 (the start of the pandemic), based on a study by the SPCA, about 20% of U.S. households have obtained a pet.

Surveys in July 2021 found that 75% of rental properties allow pets – this is a big increase since 2005 when only 50% accepted pets.

There is no doubt that landlords who do not accept pets are at a competitive disadvantage to those who do.  The question remains – do the benefits of allowing pets in an apartment community outweigh the disadvantages?

Perhaps the best comprehensive study of pets in rental housing is the “Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiatives Report,” published by Michelson Found Animals and The Human Animal Bond Research Institute in 2021. Here are some of the major findings of the study:

  • 72% of tenants said that pet-friendly housing was hard to find (which seems at odds with the 75% figure cited above) and 59% said it was too expensive.
  • Residents in pet-friendly housing stay 21% longer.
  • 83% of pet-friendly landlords say that vacancies are filled more quickly.

Clearly, there are concerns with allowing animals to live in communal housing and many of the objections are what non-pet-friendly landlords hang their hats on.  Some of the most common concerns are –

  • Damage: animals may certainly damage property, but these concerns are easily offset by (1) careful screening of the animals; and (2) requiring high upfront deposits {with most of the deposit being refundable}. These high initial deposits will separate the serious from the casual pet owner. Serious pet owners are much more likely to be responsible pet owners. It should be noted that virtually all affordable housing programs – including LIHTC, HUD, and Rural Development allow for pet fees or, in the case of HUD and RD, refundable deposits.
    • Important Reminder: No fees or deposits may be charged for assistance animals for the disabled.
  • Odor: This issue is dealt with by making tenants responsible for any disturbance by their animal – including odor – and dealing with problems quickly.
  • Liability: All landlords that accept pets should require renter’s insurance with pet riders.

Other concerns are a disturbance of neighbors, possible allergies of other residents (making sure everyone knows this is a pet-friendly property can alleviate this concern), and insurance policy exclusions for certain dog breeds.

Despite these negative issues, the advantage of allowing pets far outweighs the disadvantages. By far the most important benefit to allowing pets is increased income.  In addition to the extra income from upfront or monthly fees, properties will have happier tenants (people with pets have been shown to have less stress), increased renewals (due to the scarcity of pet-friendly rentals, there is a built-in advantage – especially when owners do away with weight limits in the pet policies), and a larger tenant pool.

It is also true that in general, responsible pet owners make for responsible tenants. If someone is mature enough to take care of an animal – and put up the large deposit for having the animal – there is a good chance they will treat your property with the same respect.

Allowing pets will also go a long way in eliminating the problem of fake “support” animals since applicants will not have to find a way to get the animal into the property by showing that the animal is needed due to a disability. While some pet owners will still attempt this in pet-friendly properties in order to avoid the pet fees and deposits, it is much less a problem in pet-friendly apartments.

While the pet fees will increase property revenue, the real cost savings comes from a lowered turnover rate and a decrease in vacancy losses.

Owners who decide to allow pets should develop a comprehensive and strict pet policy. Again, serious pet owners will not object because the policy will not require more than they would normally do with regard to their animal(s). Following are some elements of a good pet policy that should be considered (always note that the pet policy does not apply to assistance animals):

  • Allow only common household pets. The following language is typical:
    • One four-legged, warm-blooded pet (two cats are often permitted);
    • Two birds or small caged animals; and
    • A ten-gallon fish tank (the number of fish is not limited).
  • Request that residents not feed or house stray animals.
  • Define a “pet:”
    • A common household pet is defined as a domesticated animal, such as a dog, cat, bird, rodent (including a rabbit), fish or turtle that is traditionally kept in the home for pleasure rather than for commercial purposes. Common household pets do not include reptiles (except turtles). If this definition conflicts with any applicable state or local law or regulation defining the pets that may be owned or kept in dwelling accommodations, the state or local law or regulation will apply.
  • Location of Pets in the Building
    • Pets are not allowed in public lobbies, dining areas, playgrounds, or other public gathering areas. When dogs or cats are moved through the building, they must be moved from the resident’s apartment to the nearest outside exit, avoiding public areas. Pets may not be left tied or unattended on any part of the property.
  • Sizes & Breeds
    • There is no size limit for dogs. However, the following breeds are prohibited: Presa Canaro, Chow Chow, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, Cane Corsos, Malamutes, Wolf-Dog Hybrids, and Pit Bulls. (I also recommend in this section that you check with the locality for any prohibited animals (e.g., NYC prohibits ferrets), and check your insurance policy for any prohibitions).
  • Licensure & Tags
    • Every dog and cat must wear the appropriate local animal license, a valid rabies tag, and a tag bearing the owner’s name, address, and phone number. All licenses and tags must be current.
  • Registration
    • Every dog and cat must be registered with the manager prior to admission and annually during the resident’s re-certification and/or lease renewal. Registration of dogs and cats requires (1) proof of licensure; (2) proof of up-to-date inoculations; (3) verification that the pet has been spayed or neutered (or documentation from a veterinarian that such surgery would be detrimental to the animal’s health); (4) evidence of a flea control program; and (5) verification of alternate caretakers.
  • Prior to the admittance of a pet into a community, residents should be required to complete the following forms:
    • Pet Application
    • Kennel Release
  • Residents may keep only the pet described in the Pet Application with no substitution or addition of other pets without the prior consent of management. Management will maintain a photograph of the pet in the household file. Fish are not covered under this rule.
  • Pet Deposit
    • Each dog or cat owner must provide a pet deposit of $300.00 (or an amount required by state law, whichever is less), in addition to the standard rental security deposit. This deposit will be maintained in a separate account as provided for by state law and applicable agency regulations for the maintenance of security deposits. Upon termination of residence by the pet owner or removal of all dogs or cats from the owner’s apartment, all or part of the pet deposit will be refunded minus reasonable expenses directly attributable to the presence of the pet. HUD-based communities – If the resident is unable to provide the complete deposit at the time the pet enters the community, then a payment schedule can be used.
  • For HUD properties, the initial deposit cannot exceed $50 at the time the pet is brought into the community. Installments of $10 may be made until the deposit is reached. A resident must be allowed to pay the entire amount or in increments that are greater than $10 if he or she chooses to do so.
    • Tax Credit communities – the pet deposit may exceed $300, and management may require the entire deposit at one time.
  • Sanitation
    • Dogs and cats are required to be “house-broken.” Cats must be litterbox trained and dogs must be able to eliminate outside the building in designated pet exercise locations. Pet owners are responsible for the immediate clean-up of the feces of their dogs. Resident dog owners must bag and securely tie dog feces and deposit it in outside trash receptacles or other specified locations if applicable. Fines may apply if this requirement is not met. Cat owners must change litter frequently. It is not acceptable to drop pet waste down the trash chute. Litter must be placed in a bag, tied securely, and dropped in outside trash receptacles or other specified locations if applicable.
  • Noise
    • Pets that make noise that disrupts other residents are unacceptable.
  • Pet Behavior
    • No pet that bites, attacks or demonstrates other aggressive behavior toward humans may be kept in the community. Pet owners shall assume liability for any injury sustained by residents, guests, or staff members that are caused by the owner’s pet.
  • Control of Pets
    • Dogs and cats must be effectively restrained and under the control of a responsible individual at all times outside the confines of the pet owner’s apartment and while in the community.
  • Alternate Caretaker
    • Resident must not leave a pet unattended for more than 24 consecutive hours. When applicable, the pet owner must provide the names of at least two people who are willing to assume immediate responsibility for the pet in case of an emergency, such as when the pet owner is absent or unable to adequately maintain the pet. Written verification of the willingness of these people to assume alternate caretaker responsibility is required. It is the responsibility of the pet owner to inform the manager of any change in the names, addresses, or telephone numbers of alternate caretakers.
    • In cases of emergency, when management is unable to reach the alternate caretakers, the pet owner must agree to allow management to enter the unit and place the pet in an appropriate boarding facility for a maximum of 30 days. The pet owner will be responsible for the cost of the animal care facility. Within 30 days of such an emergency, the resident, his agent, family, or estate must make arrangements with the animal care facility as to the disposition of the pet and will be responsible for all obligations, financial and otherwise, in such disposition.
  • Sick or Injured Animals
    • No sick or injured pet will be accepted for occupancy without consultation and written acknowledgment of a veterinarian as to the condition of the pet’s ability to live in an apartment situation. Acceptance regardless of documentation and consultation is the prerogative of the manager. Admitted pets that suffer illnesses or injury, must be immediately taken for veterinarian care at the pet owner’s expense.
  • Refusal
    • Management can refuse to admit a pet for the following reasons:
      • The pet is not a common household pet
      • Pet does not comply with the pet policy
      • Pet owner fails to provide complete registration information or fails to annually update the pet registration
      • It is reasonably determined based on the pet owner’s habits and practices, that the pet owner will be unable to keep the pet in compliance with the pet rules and other lease obligations.
  • Notices
    • In the case of a violation of these rules, including management’s refusal to register a pet, management will give the applicant/resident a written notice with an explanation in accordance with HUD requirements.

For the sake of full disclosure, I am an animal lover and have multiple animals living under my roof. Having said that, I am also a businessman, and every apartment community I owned allowed pets. Not just because I love animals, but because I enjoyed the financial benefit of permitting animals at my properties. A well-thought-out and comprehensive set of pet policies will present a financial benefit to any property.