Pet ownership in the United States is at an all-time high and, proportionally, the demand for pet-friendly properties is on the rise. The pandemic caused millions of Americans to adopt pets into their families. A pet-friendly property attracts more prospective renters, which means more revenue for you.
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But we get it. The prospect of opening up your properties to pets can be intimidating. How do you deal with potential pet damage, noise complaints, odor, and insurance? It all starts with an effective pet screening program.
We’re going to walk you through the pet screening process and how you can screen and welcome responsible pet owners today.
Why should you allow pets in rental properties?
- Long-term residency: Settling in with a pet is one of the most important decisions a renter can make when deciding where to live. If a tenant feels like their pet is enjoying a good quality of life, they are more likely to renew their lease and stay for a longer period of time. Moving to new environments is a stressful experience, and most pet owners don’t want their pets to experience it very often.
- More applicants and higher market value: Allowing pets in your rentals may provide a competitive edge, especially if a responsible tenant is trying to decide between a similar property that isn’t pet-friendly. This could also improve market value, particularly in pet-friendly neighborhoods, potentially justifying higher rents.
- Responsible pet owners are often responsible tenants: Taking good care of a pet requires dedication and responsibility. In the same way, responsible pet owners are more likely to be responsible with the space that they—and their pets—call home.
What exactly is pet screening?
Pet screening is similar to tenant screening. It’s a background check conducted by a third-party service that gives property owners knowledge about a pet’s health, behavior, and personality. This may entail an in-person meeting, an application with a questionnaire, and health screening documentation.
What does a pet screening entail?
You’ve got a couple of options when it comes to pet screening. You can either conduct the screening yourself, or use a third-party service to take care of all the details.
If you plan to go it alone, here’s what you’ll need to vet each renter’s pet:
A good place to start is to create a pet screening application, which provides a high-level overview of their pet. Here are a few sample questions to get you started:
- What animal and breed is your pet?
- What is your pet’s weight?
- What is your pet’s age?
- How long have you had this pet?
- Can you provide proof of vaccinations?
- Can you provide a letter from your veterinarian confirming that your pet is in good health and up-to-date on vaccinations?
- Has your pet ever hurt another person or animal?
- Is your pet house-trained?
- Does your pet have any behavior issues? This may include bared teeth, growling, raised hackles, or excessive barking.
- Is your dog spayed or neutered? Do you have plans to do so?
- Have you and your dog completed a dog training class?
- Do you keep your dog on a leash when going for walks?
- Do you immediately clean up after your dog?
- How much time does your dog spend alone each day?
- Is your cat spayed or neutered? Do you have plans to do so?
- Do you keep your cat indoors?
- Does your cat use a litter box?
- Is your cat registered and in possession of identification?
While the pet screening application may give you a good overview, sometimes it’s necessary to conduct an in-person screening to ensure the pet was accurately described. However, keep in mind that pets can get nervous with new people and in new environments, so the initial interaction may not be reflective of how they will behave. If you do not have experience interacting with animals, we recommend you leave any interactive screening processes to a licensed professional.
Benefits of a pet screening service
This whole process can take quite a lot of your time, so it’s often a good idea to let a third-party service set up a pet policy and manage screenings for you.
A screening service sets you up with a pet policy that helps you determine the right fees to charge and how to limit pet-related risks. Applicants submit requests for pet accommodations directly, then the service reviews the request to measure any risks and ensure that you’re abiding by relevant regulations.
Pet clauses in lease agreements
Now that you know the benefits of allowing pets, it’s time to include a general policy on pets, or a pet clause, in your lease agreements. Services like PetScreening can do the work for you, but if you prefer to craft one yourself, there’s a few things to keep in mind. The clause doesn’t have to be extensive, but should include:
- the type of screening you decide to implement
- the types of pets you are allowing
- the fees and any deposit associated with your pet policy
We’ve already covered the basics of screening, so let’s explore the other two components.
What kinds of pets should be screened and how often?
It’s not only the big, scary dogs that need to be screened. It’s integral that you are consistent with the process across the board to ensure you’re mitigating any potential risks down the line and prevent the appearance of discrimination.
A lot can happen over the course of a year, so you should request updated records every time a lease is renewed. While you may not have to be as comprehensive as the initial screening, having an updated bill of health could reduce future risks.
What about service and emotional support animals?
The exemption would be for registered service dogs and emotional support animals. According to the ADA, “A service animal is a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”
Legislation varies from state to state on the definition and rights of service animals, so be sure you read up on your local guidelines.
In that case, you can simply request a letter from the tenant or mental health professional confirming the need for a service animal. You may also request the identification of the service animal as well as the animal’s records.
You cannot ask for a tenant’s medical records or a pet deposit. However, your tenants may be accountable for any damage beyond what would be considered normal wear and tear.
This can get a little tricky, so alternatively, you can consider a service like PetScreening to handle it for you.
Navigating fees and deposits
To offset the cost of a service—or the resources you’re spending screening pets yourself—and even bring in some additional recurring revenue, you’ll need to charge the right fees.
With the exception of service animals, you can ultimately decide how you want to charge your tenants for pets—if at all. Be sure to check your local state laws before charging pet fees.
There are three types of pet-related fees you may charge:
- One-time fee: This is a non-refundable fee paid at the beginning of the lease to cover the pet for the entirety of the lease. Some states do not allow non-refundable fees, such as California, Hawaii, and Montana, so be sure to check your local state laws.
- Monthly rent: Additional fees charged on a monthly basis
- Deposit: This is a deposit in addition to the security deposit that is accepted at the beginning of the lease. The deposit can be returned if the property is left in acceptable condition.
Notice to tenants to remove pets
Unfortunately, renters might occasionally violate your pet policy. Be sure that you’re in the right when it comes to local laws and confirm that the resident is, in fact, violating the policy. Often, a complaint from a neighbor doesn’t paint the whole picture. In the case of a violation, clear and understanding communication with the resident is always a good first step. Make sure they were aware of the pet policy (this is where a clear pet clause helps) and give them a reasonable amount of time to resolve the issue.
If the problem persists, it’s time to send the tenant an unauthorized pet lease violation form or similar notice to remove pets. Be sure reiterate the policy and outline the timeline they have to comply.
Getting this puppy started
Opening up your rental properties to pets doesn’t have to be a risk or a pain. A solid screening process helps you minimize risk and potentially increase your rental rates. As a bonus, a pet screening service can make managing pets easy and help you earn even more revenue, all while making a home for your residents’ furry friends.Read more on Resident Management