Pets allowed?
May 23, 2009 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Renting the downstairs of my duplex. Should I allow dogs? Cats? Under which rules?

We live upstairs. The last renters had a great French bulldog (Gristle), who was quiet, fun, and didn't make a mess. Did I just get lucky?
posted by msalt to Pets & Animals (29 answers total)
I am a pet lover and former pet owner (dogs and cats.) I sympathize with any pet owner trying to rent a pet-friendly apartment. (I am currently petless because my apartment does not allow it.)

I have also owned rental property. Frankly, I would never allow pets. I think you probably got lucky. You should have no problem renting your place with a no-pets policy. Why add any complications to the already potentially complicated situation of renting.

Keep it simple.
posted by The Deej at 2:08 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd consider renting to a person who had an older dog or one older cat. Ask for a pet deposit. Puppies can be wildly destructive. Ours chewed up woodwork, linoleum flooring and permanently stained the carpet in some areas. Fortunately we own our own house. Hopefully their modeling careers will take off soon so they can pay for all the damage they did.
posted by pluckysparrow at 2:14 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can advertise as "pets considered on a case by case basis" and then go from there. Ask a ton of questions about the pet, ask to meet the pet if you want.

Definitely do a pet deposit. To cut down on some costs, you could specify that the pets are not to use the grounds at all and limit the amount or size of the pets to something you are comfortable with. And then put that pet ("1 pug" or "1 cat" etc) as a note on the lease so that 1 Pug doesn't turn into 1 Pug and 1 Chihuahua or 1 cat doesn't turn into 4 cats.
posted by jerseygirl at 2:25 PM on May 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm not saying you shouldn't disallow pets, but small children are way more destructive in my opinion.

Also, you could consider a compromise of allowing fish (keep in mind a size limit, in case the tank breaks - water damage, etc.) and other tank-only pets.
posted by bettafish at 2:26 PM on May 23, 2009

As a responsible pet owner with a completely non-destructive cat, you chould go the route I've seen in many a Craigslist ad of "considering" one dog or cat with pet deposit. That allows you to meet the animal in question and decide, which would particularly be useful in the case of dogs.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 2:28 PM on May 23, 2009

Seconding the pet deposit idea. What do you have to lose?
Besides, I'm willing to bet money you'd never notice a cat.
posted by aquafortis at 2:30 PM on May 23, 2009

What premium would a pet owner be willing to pay? How much is it worth to you renting to a pet owner whose dog or cat may make a mess of the carpet or do other damage?

I say rent the apartment, no-pets, unless the pet-owner is willing to either a.) pay an additional monthly charge (to cover damage and wear) or b.) an upfront, non-refundable fee (in addition to whatever refundable deposit you require.)
posted by wfrgms at 2:30 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

IANYL. I'd say be upfront about it, charge a pet deposit and place a section in your rental contract binding the tenant to any damages beyond the deposit's coverage. Maybe even require them to professionally clean any flooring and carpeting at the end of their lease term— you can often eradicate the pet stain, but not the odor. It's just a precaution so you're not footing the bill for damages after the tenants have cleaned out.

Personally, I love pets and live with one currently, and I'd appreciate a straightforward declaration of the rules by a landlord. Most of the agencies in my area charge a monthly pet fee, which is nonrefundable, and I call BS on that; IMO that's a sneaky legal way to discourage pet ownership.
posted by a halcyon day at 2:33 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cats can end up ruining floors with pee if they have weird litterbox habits and reading AskMe has shown that a lot of cats have litterbox issues. Cats may very well ruin screens, and may occasionally claw woodwork.

A badly housebroken dog may ruin floors with pee, eat woodwork, claw the door because the mail carrier visited, bark, leave poop all over the yard. A badly trained dog may harm someone and cause insurance issues.

I used to have a duplex, and I used to have a dog. My ad said "Very well-behaved pets considered." My rental agreement specified expectations for dog owners. Cat ruined the screens. Dogs scratched a door (mail carrier), left poop on the lawn and barked. It's not a bad idea to ask for an additional deposit if you allow a pet.
posted by theora55 at 2:36 PM on May 23, 2009

Besides, I'm willing to bet money you'd never notice a cat.

I love the 2 stupid cats we have, but the boy cat scratched the carpet seams upstairs. He's lucky the carpets are going to ripped out anyway, because if they were new or decent, I'd be so super pissed.

If you do allow pets, put in the lease "tenant is fully and legally responsible for all damage caused by pet" and just do a full inspection of the place before they move out.
posted by jerseygirl at 2:36 PM on May 23, 2009

Wow, people sure are mean here!

Pets can be destructive. So can small children. So can grown-up tenants, who, by the way, can trash your rental like no dog ever could. Most pets, like most tenants, are non-destructive. My dog has never damaged anything. When I had cats, they never caused any trouble.

What, exactly, are you worried about? A cat could pee on the carpet. But you'll probably have to replace the carpets for the next tenant anyway, unless you're going to ask your tenants to take their shoes off before they come into their home. Some puppies chew on furniture -- you're not renting out furniture, are you?

Just ask for a big pet deposit. Maybe another month's rent. Most pet owners will happily pay it. It would be very, very hard for a dog to do more than a month's rent worth of damage. As compared with, say, smoke damage or flooding, which are caused by people and their opposable thumbs.

I tend to think that people with pets are, by and large, less selfish and more responsible.

You could, reasonably, say "no new pets." Puppies might chew on furniture (though that's the tenant's problem) but it is a rare adult dog who still chews on things he's not supposed to.
posted by musofire at 2:41 PM on May 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

What, exactly, are you worried about? A cat could pee on the carpet. But you'll probably have to replace the carpets for the next tenant anyway, unless you're going to ask your tenants to take their shoes off before they come into their home

Yeah cat piss? Not the easiest smell to get out of anything. It's actually a pain in the ass. Because the orange scratcher cat I have, didn't enjoy Feline Pine and pissed on my curtains to demonstrate his dissatisfaction with the product. And nothing got that smell out, not special enzyme cleaners at the dry cleaners, not regular washing... I had to pretty much soak them in vinegar.

And generally, you don't replace wall to wall carpet in between tenants. Steam clean, yes, but that might not get cat piss out.

I tend to think that people with pets are, by and large, less selfish and more responsible.

Eeeehh, that's kind of a broad stroke to paint with. Good pet owners are responsible. Bad pet owners are assholes.
posted by jerseygirl at 2:50 PM on May 23, 2009

So I have counseled several other landlords to allow pets, mostly because in some areas (like around Boston) if you allow dogs, especially medium to large dogs, you get so many people who want to rent your place you can have your pick. Plus I've seen way more damage done to a place by myself and my friends (even though we are all actually good tenants, just a bit clumsy) than any of our pets. I agree with other posters and say you want to meet the dog (at least) in person first, because then you can get a sense of the amount of training the animal has and the responsibility level of the owners.

As far as pet deposits go, be careful there, they aren't legal in all places (MA being one), you can charge a security deposit, but no additional pet deposit.
posted by katers890 at 2:50 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a renter, it's very difficult to find a place that will take 2 medium sized dogs (35 lbs), and we have had to pay a premium for the privilege. No one bats an eye when we say we have cats, but they've been more destructive than the dogs, who are extremely well behaved.

If you're concerned about the floors, put tile down if you can. Specify that the tenant must have the carpet professionally cleaned before leaving. Like others said, require a deposit.
posted by desjardins at 2:51 PM on May 23, 2009

Animals can be destructive, but then people can be pretty destructive too. We have rented to people with cats and dogs and haven't had any problems, yet. You can spell out very clearly in the lease what animal behavior will be tolerated and what won't. Some states limit how much you can demand as a security deposit (for example, California caps it at two months' rent, not sure about Oregon.) You can definitely ask to meet the pet beforehand. You can ask about obedience training, spay/neuter status, and what the dog's routine is. That will tell you a lot about the pet and the owner. (Does the dog get walked daily? Twice a day? Once a week? There is a big difference there.) Being current on their shots is a must.

Also, pet owners are more likely than not to be reliable people- they have a dog or a cat who depends on them, so they generally are fairly stable and dependable people, which are good traits in tenants. I know there are exceptions to this but I also know that a lot of pet lovers are so thrilled to find a place that will rent to them that they take extra care with the property. Since you will be living upstairs you can keep an eye on things and quickly bring things to your tenant's notice if you have a problem with something their pet is doing.

Finally, I remember when I was a renter I'd frequently see ads for apartments allowing small dogs only. This made little sense to me, because in my experience many small dogs can be really tightly wound and barky, and many large dogs much more mellow and quieter. So I don't think a size limit serves much of a purpose. I'd much rather rent to someone with a six year old, neutered, 80 pound shelter dog of unknown parentage than someone with a young teacup chihuahua that never gets walked and nips at everyone.
posted by ambrosia at 2:56 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pets can be destructive. So can small children. So can grown-up tenants, who, by the way, can trash your rental like no dog ever could.

THIS. Was at a party once where the person throwing the party was a renter of a house. Party turned from straight on party to a housewrecker in about 10 minutes, complete with a chainsaw(!). I don't know of any cat or dog that can destroy load bearing members and cause $50,000 in damage to a house...

I've rented a lot of places with my cats, but eventually bought because of a lot of reasons, one of them being I was tired of being limited to a small percentage of the rental market because of my cats.

Were I in your shoes I would rent to people with pets, but at the same time, go with your guy feeling when you meet these potential renters. If they give you a weird feeling, pass on them and take someone else. Definitely get a pet deposit on top of the regular deposit, and as a final precaution, once they're moved in for a couple of months, schedule some maintenance that would require access to their place. Give them a few days' notice and go do the maintenance and while you're there just kinda glance around. Don't be NOSY, but if the pets are causing any serious issues you'll be able to spot/smell them fairly easily but it'll still be early days enough that reversing the problem won't be very difficult. If you spot nothing, great! Go home, have a beer and relax.
posted by barc0001 at 3:34 PM on May 23, 2009

you could specify that the pets are not to use the grounds at all

Really? To me the whole point of renting a place with a yard is so that my dog and I can play fetch, and she can take a quick pee when I don't have time for a long walk.
posted by radioamy at 4:20 PM on May 23, 2009

In my 11 years as a tenant, I've lived with 14 cats: 5 extended cat-sits, 2 fostered strays, 5 foster kittens (from birth to 2 months of age), and 2 long-term adult pets. Although there have been isolated instances of scratched furniture and three (only three!) unfortunate instances where someone peed on my stuff.... not a single one of this herd of cats has ever caused any permanent damage whatsoever to any of the apartments I lived in.

On the other hand, my occasionally-motley procession of roommates routinely gouged holes in the walls, scratched the varnish off the hardwood floors, busted a door and the neighbour's satellite dish, set fire to the balcony, spilled nail polish on the carpet, and allowed the toilet they'd just clogged to drain into an air-vent, thus raining sewagey water onto the downstairs neighbours as they sat on their couch minding their own business.

So yeah, pets aren't necessarily the problem. A quiet, considerate, and conscientious renter with a menagerie of wildlife can do much less damage to your house than one month renting to one jerk (yeah, I'm looking at you, Dave, you colossal ass, and you still owe me $200). If I were a landlord, I would take pets conditionally, maybe ask for a pet damage deposit of a couple hundred with a clearly-laid-out list of what constitutes "pet damage", and most of all, I'd interview people very carefully.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:22 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have always had to pay above current market rate rent because I'm a big dog owner. I also tend to not move around as much as others just because of the hassle of trying to find another big dog friendly apartment.
You can benefit by allowing a large dog (after meeting them, using good judgment and setting guidelines) by charging higher rent and possibly getting a longer term good tenant.
The place I currently live required me to bring the dog up to their offices so that they could meet him (he slept through the whole process), then included in the lease certain qualifiers, such as this dog only was allowed (if he died, I wasn't allowed to get another one), must be on the leash at all times in the building, if at any time another tenant complained about the dog they had the right to withdraw my lease without going through an eviction proceeding, etc.
I also agree with the point that ambrosia made, larger older dogs can be dream tenants. In an average dog, once it has hit 3 years old most of it's puppiness and destructive urges have been grown out of. I would also ask the prospective tenants how long they've had the dog, even if it's older. If it's a shelter dog that they've only had for a month or so, they may not know all of its habits yet. If they've had it more than a few months, odds are they know the dog pretty well.
posted by newpotato at 4:35 PM on May 23, 2009

This made little sense to me, because in my experience many small dogs can be really tightly wound and barky,

THAT. At the dog park we go to, the loudest dogs seem to always be the tiniest ones.

Really? To me the whole point of renting a place with a yard is so that my dog and I can play fetch, and she can take a quick pee when I don't have time for a long walk.

Different than say, tethering the dog outside or letting the dog dig everywhere. Plus, depending on the size of your dog, a quick pee can leave little burn marks in the lawn. The thing is, not everyone is a great pet owner or conscientious about cleaning up after their dog.
posted by jerseygirl at 4:50 PM on May 23, 2009

My former roommates got a puppy and had to spend a bit of time and money reversing the damage he did to the house. That is something you might want to take into consideration, especially if the place is furnished.

newpotato took the words right out of my, um, fingers. Meet the pet first. A well-trained dog or a well-mannered cat will make a better tenant than some humans.
posted by futureisunwritten at 6:09 PM on May 23, 2009

I think your default should be to NOT allow pets, because it's going to be difficult to find a responsible pet owner with a pet that is compatible with your living arrangement.

We used to rent with a dog. The two places we rented were not the nicest places - pet friendly landlords typically do not care that much about the property they are renting out.

We decided to find another home for our dog so that we could actually rent a decent place. Now I find it very difficult to consider sharing my house with an animal ever again because they are so dirty.

But not everyone feels this way, including some landlords. It's fine to say that you'll screen potential tenants in hopes of finding a responsible pet owner, but I wonder what local tenancy laws say about such screening. Can you defend yourself against charges of discrimination?

One solution is to advertise by word of mouth. Perhaps your friends and workmates know of someone with a pet who would be a good fit.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:54 PM on May 23, 2009

Thanks for all the good ideas. A couple more good things to know: I have two youngish daughters (12 and 9) who love animals, but I know I'm not around enough to get one myself. So Gristle was a great compromise, the animal equivalent of a grandchild (get to play with them, and hand 'em back when they're no fun.) Also, noise is a big concern. I really don't want a loudly barking dog. Again, the French bulldog was perfect.
posted by msalt at 7:23 PM on May 23, 2009

In some jurisdictions, it's illegal for you to make rules against/about tenants having pets (or there are limitations on doing so), let alone extra fees/deposit... If a pet causes problems you can sue them over it, but you can't ban it (nor can you ban children, etc).
posted by glider at 8:33 PM on May 23, 2009

Here is a link from Nolo Press with some good tips for landlords re: pets. (Although the link to guidelines from the San Francisco SPCA wasn't lead to anything useful.)
posted by metahawk at 10:00 PM on May 23, 2009

When me and my partner were looking for a place, we spent a desperately long time trying to find somewhere to allow our cat. Eventually we found a landlord who would allow, after we explained to her that our cat was neutered, had de-fleaing treatment, was regularly de-wormed, and was a clean, well house trained moggie. It also helped that we took out contents insurance to cover the possibility of any damage caused by the pet. Maybe you could find out if potential tenants will consider similar measures?
posted by TheWaves at 5:08 AM on May 24, 2009

I have been a renter with cats and dogs, a homeowner with both, and a landlord to tenants with both. When I was a tenant, one of my dogs chewed on some door trim. Fortunately, it's the same crap they have at Home Depot and I was able to fix it. I lived in an apartment complex where they did not replace the carpet between tenants. The first time one of my dogs had an accident, I got a Little Green machine and cleaned up messes immediately with it.

As a landlord, I rented to a very nice couple with two young girls and a dog. The kids, as they will, drew on the walls. The dog was sometimes locked in the kitchen and as a result, scratched away at the swinging door a fair amount. None of the damage is over the top but it's tedious to repair. I'm no longer a landlord but if I did, I'd want to think long and hard about it.

As a homeowner, I try to keep a close eye on my dog and keep her reasonably occupied. She has chewed on some wood furniture legs and had a few accidents. But nothing earth shattering. But I'm handy and can repair the damage my dog can do.

For you, it's a little different: you're in a duplex. Be very careful about dogs... I know I wouldn't want my dog in a duplex. She barks and it carries throughout the house. I'm not sure I'd want some stranger's dog barking downstairs from me.
posted by jdfan at 2:06 PM on May 24, 2009

My cat is a total scratcher- I won't replace our old couches because she's demolished them. But, we adopted her when she was an adult so really there's not a lot we can do to stop it at this point. She should have been better trained as a kitten. She knows we don't like her to scratch, so she's smart enough to do it when we're not around (and rubbing an animal's nose in something hours after the fact just confuses them, they live too moment to moment to connect 1 and 2).
But she's never done a thing to the apartment. Not even the screens.

It is also VERY common here to see apartment ads that specify no dogs, but allow cats. Cats are a lot less destructive than dogs. Might be because my area has a larger percentage of pet ownership than usual, though (I know ONE person without a dog or cat, every one else I know has at least one pet, usually more).

Maybe ask for "pet references?" If you already ask for landlord references from people, just have them specify one where they also lived with the pet in question, so when you call you can ask if the animal was a problem.
posted by Kellydamnit at 12:11 PM on May 25, 2009

Do a search on metafilter and look at the number of questions that people have about removing pet urine (there's not many posts about poop) from surfaces. Or asking how to fix something destructive that the pet has done (w/o alerting the landlord.)

I would say to not allow pets. Beyond the impact to the physical structure of your building, there's also the impact to any other tenants and neighbors.

I currently live in a 3 apartment building. The landlord told us that there would be no pets allowed. Two months after we moved in, one of the other tenants got a dog. At first we noticed a strange smell, then some barking. Then the dog would bark all day. I work from home and it was really distracting.

Then a few months later, we noticed some other wonderful smells. Much like cat piss. Turns out the third tenant got cats and our entryway smells like cat urine b/c of air currents and the way the building was built or rehabbed.

Luckily we are moving back to the home we own in the city we love at the end of June.

People have the ability to control themselves. If they can't, there are consequences, such as security deposit. However, animals are much harder to control and most people don't have the ability to do a good job. Children at least grow up. Animals never really do.
posted by reddot at 7:25 PM on May 25, 2009

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