Dog People Only Need Apply: Becoming a Pet-Friendly Landlord

 

I discriminate and it’s legal. I rent exclusively to my own kind, people who share their lives with dogs, and have been doing it successfully for 22 years. 

Having a dogs-only policy over the years has confirmed what I instinctively knew from the outset: responsible dog people make fantastic tenants. Many of the qualities it takes to be a successful pet steward are the same qualities it takes to be a good tenant, such as discipline, consistency, cleanliness, and empathy. Besides, if a person has it together enough to take good care of an animal, they usually have it together enough to take good care of their homes.

After buying my first triplex in 1987, I called to list the property with a rental agency. When the intake person asked me if pets were okay, I said, “Pets are welcome!” Little did I know that using those three little words would result in there being a swarm of people and pets on my doorstep the next morning. I met so many humans and canines that day that I wasn’t sure how I would select my new tenants. I knew I had to come up with some kind of criteria PDQ.

Here is the 10-point pet screening formula that I developed. It has never failed me. I have tweaked it a bit over the years, but the basic formula is tried, tested, and proven successful in creating a peaceful and happy living situation for my tenants and their canine companions. (Though the following list uses “dog” in the singular, these guidelines apply to all of a prospective tenant’s pets.)

 

Carefully evaluate the relationship between the people and their dog. For example: Is the dog under voice control? Is there genuine caring between each person and the dog? Is the dog at ease during interactions? Is there a lack of fear/cowering on the dog’s part?

Notice the temperament of the dog. Is he calm and content? If so, that usually means the animal is being well cared for and is getting enough exercise. I don’t even consider renting to a person whose dog is pulling at the leash or appears hyperactive, because this can mean that the steward doesn’t train or exercise him adequately.

Check the work schedule of the person (people). I like to rent to couples who have staggered schedules so the dog has adequate care and company and is not left alone indoors for long periods of time. I also like to rent to people who work at home, come home for lunch, or take their dogs to work with them.

Under no circumstances do I rent to people whose dog I haven’t met. Despite great dog resumes, references, and pictures, there is no substitute for checking things out for yourself. Regardless of the offers of cash or the pleading and promises, keep in mind that you are in the process of creating a long-term relationship with someone and their pet. You don’t want to go through needless acrimony down the line with this or your other tenants, or with neighbors, much less a possible eviction proceeding if the dog does not live up to the hype. 

Make sure the prospective tenant’s dog gets along well with the other dog(s) on the property. Once you have narrowed it down to a few candidates, try to schedule meetings where prospective tenants and their dogs can interact with your current tenants and dogs in a neutral setting, like a nearby park, or even on the sidewalk in front of the building. If the dogs get along well, they are likely to play together regularly, meaning the dogs get more exercise and the people can exchange pet care. This can make for happy, long-term tenants.

Be sure to check out references. For novice property owners, it is a good idea to take the extra step of visiting the prospective tenants in their current living situation to see how they live with their dog.

Fenced yards are a must. They prevent dogs from being cooped up indoors needlessly, decreasing the possibility of your property being damaged or soiled.  I always allow tenants to install dog doors, if they want them. 

Make sure that prospective tenants walk their dogs at least once a day. This cuts down on dog waste in the yard and usually results in happier animals and people and nicer living conditions. Do not rent to people who plan to tie their dogs up in the backyard. 

Discuss in detail the animal maintenance regimens of prospective tenants, most importantly how they handle parasite issues. I require the use of a flea deterrent medication such as Frontline.

Explain your pet policies in detail and have tenants sign a pet agreement. I got a sample pet policy, agreement, reference form and guidelines from the San Francisco SPCA (see below).

 

Why go through all this trouble, you might ask? Why not just rent to pet-free people? First and foremost, I happen to love dogs (I have shared 51 of my 56 years with them) and I enjoy creating safe, peaceful, pet-friendly communities. Furthermore, renting to people with pets makes great business sense in that there are fewer turnovers, increased protection for the property, lower vacancy rates, increased marketability, and enhanced profitability. I think my pet-friendly rental policy is an example of doing well and doing good at the same time.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, “research has proven time and again that pets help most of us live happier and healthier lives.  Allowing pets in your rental housing will not only help your residents, it will also help you by generating a positive public image and better return on your investment.” Renting to people who share their lives with dogs is truly a win-win situation.

 

Need help deciding whether or not to rent to dog people?

If you or someone you know is considering adopting a pet-friendly rental policy, consider utilizing the services of the San Francisco SPCA’s Open Door Program, which includes:

 

  • Information about the benefits/myths of pets in rental housing;
  • A downloadable Landlord and Tenant and packet that includes pet policies, a pet resume form, sample pet agreement, and other guidelines (call 415-554-3000 to request it by mail); and
  • A listing of pet-friendly housing complexes in the Bay Area, as well as individual listings and pet-friendly hotels.

 

For more information visit: www.sfspca.org or email them at publicinfo@sfspca.org

 

Tenants with Service Dogs

Under state law (Civil Code §54.1), it is unlawful to refuse to rent housing to an individual who uses the services of a guide, signal, or service dog. Furthermore, a landlord must allow such an individual to keep a guide, signal, or service dog on the premises and cannot require an additional security deposit for such dogs.

Elaine Lee is a Bay Area-based attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant law, estate planning, pet trusts, and probate. For more information visit www.elaineleeattorney.com or call 510-848 9528.