Moving is a pain. From swapping out your cable provider, setting up utilities, and packing your entire life into boxes, none of it is easy. And that’s all after you’ve found the right place and signed on the dotted line. Add a dog or a cat (or both!) to the mix, and it gets even more complicated.
From finding a pet-friendly apartment to considering additional fees and liability, there are a lot of factors to consider when renting with pets that you probably haven’t thought about—but should.
Luckily, this guide to renting with pets can help. We spoke to career realtors and pet pros alike to deliver the step-by-step game plan to ensure you find the perfect rental property for both you and your furry family member. Just make sure you read this before scheduling the movers, OK?
Finding a Pet-Friendly Apartment
First, understand that while you might love that new, modern high-rise, renting with pets means it might not be in the cards. It’s not uncommon for a landlord or condo board to ban animals entirely or have restrictions on breed, weight, or number of pets in a unit, says Lisa Troyano-Ascolese, owner, licensed partner and broker of record of Engel & Völkers Real Estate in Hoboken, New Jersey. Translation: Your options are inherently limited. (This, despite pets occupying 46 percent of rental households in the U.S.—30 percent of tenants have dogs and 34 percent have cats, according to Zillow’s 2018 Consumer Housing Trend Report.)
You may have better luck with a cat rather than a dog or a puppy, however. From the landlord’s perspective, “dogs can really destroy a property,” says Troyano-Ascolese. “Puppies chew things; dogs have harder nails.” Cats are thought to be less of a damage liability, she explains.
Luckily, finding the right place is as easy as a Google search: Simply type in “pet-friendly apartments in BLANK town,” explains Troyano-Ascolese. Plus, many online real estate marketplaces that pull inventory directly from the MLS (think: Realtor.com, HotPads, Zillow, and Apartments.com) will have a pet-friendly filter, so you can easily scan your options and weed out the others.
Once you’ve narrowed down your search and begin viewing apartments, try envisioning your pet’s daily routine in each space, says Erika Gonzalez, CCDT, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and founder, president and head trainer of From Dusk Till Dog LLC in Mantua, New Jersey. Where will you place their water bowl? Is there room for a crate or playpen? Where’s the nearest exit for potty breaks? How many stairs will they need to climb? Afterward, take a drive around the block, checking out what a typical walk with your dog might look like, she says. You’ll also want to do your research on neighborhood amenities such as nearby dog parks, groomers, pet sitters and dog walkers.
If you have your heart set on a unit and a landlord won’t budge on a “no pets allowed” policy or another restriction, there are a few tactics that are worth deploying to try to persuade them.
“I always recommend creating a doggy resume,” says Gonzalez. This can include skills the dog knows, training they’ve received (or plans to enroll them)—even fun personality quirks, so a landlord can get to know your pet. It should highlight their good qualities, as any resume should. Plus, it should show a landlord that you’re a responsible pet parent, she adds. References from your previous landlord, a rescue organization you adopted from, or even your vet can speak to both you and your pet’s stellar behavior, says Joshua Clark, an economist with Zillow.
Keep in mind, while it never hurts to ask, “the majority of landlords, if they say no pets, they mean no pets,” says Troyano-Ascolese. And something you absolutely don’t want to do is bring a pet into an apartment without asking or attempt to skirt the rules (i.e. your Labradoodle puppy might be small now, but when they grow up, can quickly surpass the 50 lb. weight limit). This is grounds for eviction, explains Clark, which puts both you and your pet at risk.
Bottom line, “the landlord has the right to decline any pet,” explains Troyano-Ascolese. “And it would also be out of the landlord’s control if the unit is a condominium and the homeowner's association have its own restrictions.” Avoid any extra headaches and work directly through a licensed realtor. They can mediate between you and the decision makers to decipher the reason for the pet policy, what can be amended, and where the sticking points are before you sign a contract.
Signing the Lease
You found your new pet-friendly rental, and are ready to sign on the dotted line. [Hard stop.] Not before reading the fine print, please. Verbal approval isn’t going to cut it legally if you get into a sticky situation (say, if your dog “breaks the rules”), so you want all the specifics in writing, says Clark.
Ask questions about the apartment pet policy:
- Are there certain places where dogs can be off leash?
- Are there common areas that are off limits to pets?
- Can dogs relieve themselves anywhere outdoors on the property, or is that restricted?
- If any of these guidelines are not adhered to, are you, as the tenant at fault? And is this cause enough for eviction? A fine?
Whatever the answers, you want them in writing, and the landlord will, too—it protects everyone, explains Troyano-Ascolese. Plus, if you find there are way too many rules for comfort, you can bail before it’s too late and you’re out of a security deposit.
Something else to look for in a lease agreement are extra fees associated with pets in apartments. “These can vary from property to property,” Clark says. “The most common is a pet deposit—separate from a general security deposit—which is specifically for any damage a pet might cause. Some landlords also charge ‘pet rent which is a monthly fee, often per pet.” Pet deposits can run as high as $500; “pet rent” can typically cost anywhere from $25 to $100 a month.
Tenants are also sometimes charged non-refundable pet cleaning fees, regardless of any accidents or other pet related damages.
(Note: States have different laws about what landlords can legally charge for pets, so make sure to do your research about your tenant rights and talk to your realtor.)
5 Tips to Make Renting with Pets Easier
- Start your search earlier. The truth is, if you have pets—particularly a large dog—it may take longer to find a suitable rental. On average, renters with pets fill out 1.6 times as many applications as renters without pets, according to Zillow’s 2018 Consumer Housing Trend Report. If you know you’re up against a firm move-out date, start your search early, so time is on your side.
- Ask around. Check with local pet supply stores, rescues or even dog-walkers for advice on the best pet-friendly building in the area. People who are already embedded in the animal community will have the insider info you can’t find elsewhere.
- Get creative with the costs. Try to negotiate your fees. You might be able to get your landlord to bend on a monthly pet rent if you offer to pay a higher upfront pet deposit to cover any wear or tear on the unit caused by your pet.
- Verify approved breeds. The list of commonly “blacklisted” breeds on rental agreements might surprise you. They often go beyond the obvious (and often misunderstood) bully breeds. You’ll also find German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Chow Chows, and even Dalmatians have been snubbed.
- Never lie through omission. It might be tempting, but don’t “forget” to tell your landlord about a new pet. Perhaps your property manager doesn’t live on-site, or maybe you don’t see how your landlord could possibly know about your tabby cat who hides under the bed most of the day. If you’re found with a pet you didn’t disclose, you could be in breach of your lease and have to pay fines, get rid of your pet, or even be evicted.
Sources: Joshua Clark, Zillow economist; Rachel Stults, consumer and lifestyle expert at realtor.com
FWIW, as long as the tenant and owner are in agreement, and the changes are in writing, an existing lease can be amended, explains Troyano-Ascolese. So, if you move in with a Frenchie and want to adopt a calico a few months later, get the OK in writing and simply re-sign, she says.
Being a Good Tenant
Once you settle in, you’re bound to find that not every neighbor will be keen to live near someone with a pet.
The best way to avoid any turmoil is by making it seem like you don’t even have one, says Gonzalez.
“The best dogs for neighbors are the dogs they forget are above them or next to them,” she explains. Even the strongest animal-lovers don’t want to hear barking, jumping, whining, or zoomies at all hours of the night.
To quell any issues (say, with a new puppy, or an anxious dog who is still getting used to their new surroundings), Gonzalez recommends working with a positive-reinforcement trainer on management and enrichment techniques to keep your pet entertained and out of trouble. This includes things such as puzzle toys, long-lasting chews, and a dog crate or gate when necessary to limit reactive behavior. For cooped up cats, similar enrichment techniques (coupled with elevated perches for climbing, such as on cat trees) work wonders, she notes.
So, aside from simply abiding by the building’s bylaws, keeping your pet comfortable, entertained, and safe (even when you can’t be home with them) go a long way to keep the peace not only in your own unit, but among your neighbors and landlord as well.