A Landlord’s Guide to Pet Screening
Does your potential new tenant (who otherwise seems like an ideal fit for your property) have a pet in tow? Do they meet the financial and personality requirements for taking over a unit in your building––but you fear that their dog or cat might pose a problem? You might want to think twice about denying their tenancy. In this article, we’ll tell you the reasons why.
What is a Pet Screening?
Simply put, a pet screening is a background check performed on any animal(s) a tenant is planning to bring with them upon entering a residency lease. Screenings, performed by third-party candidates, provide landlords with an insight into the animal’s personality, health, and overall behavior. While some consider pet screenings to be an unnecessary and heavily involved process, many landlords consider them to be as essential as screening tests for human tenants since they help to get a sense of any potential damages or complaints that might arise.
A pet screening is not as simple as simply meeting a tenant's dog or cat. Any pet can behave peacefully and calmly when on the spot––but a thorough, professional screening process will determine any existing behavioral issues, if there is a history of violence or aggression with the animal, or if any health problems (like dietary or stomach-related issues that could lead to "accidents" inside the property) exist. Also, animals often take longer to physically adjust to new surroundings so even if a well-behaved dog with no red flags in its past moves into your property, it might take weeks or months to adapt––all the while, it is barking, tearing at carpets, lunging at other tenants, or causing noise complaints from neighbors.
Why are Pet Screenings Important?
There are many reasons why pet screenings are important for landlords. But some of the major factors worth considering are:
1. They help to preserve your property
Even mild-mannered pets can cause excessive wear and tear on your property––both inside and outside. Whether it's their size, the length of their claws at any given time, their bathroom habits, and their propensity for shedding. If you, as a landlord, pride yourself on the upkeep of your buildings' interiors and exterior, performing a pet screening can drastically help preserve the long-term rentability of your property.
2. They reduce the number of risks
While dogs, cats, and birds can pose potential issues, they are nothing compared to the other types of pets some tenants try to move into their units––including exotic animals, like snakes and large spiders, plus ferrets, potbellied pigs, and even large breed felines like cougars and tigers. These types of animals pose significantly greater threats to your property and other tenants than excessive barking. Landlords may be deemed criminally and financially liable if any renter's pet hurts another tenant or damages a tenant’s valuables. Performing a pet screening helps to mitigate all of these threats before allowing tenants to move in.
3. They help retain paying tenants
In most cases, landlords rent out their investment properties to tenants for financial benefits. Therefore, it's beneficial for landlords to find reliable, long-term tenants. If too many of the tenants in your multi-unit property have wild and unruly pets, other long-term tenants (with or without pets of their own) might become irritated or feel pressured to leave. Pet screenings can greatly improve tenant satisfaction, ensuring that every renter in the building is kept happy.
4. They help to promote responsible pet ownership
Always a good idea, screenings can help encourage tenants to better train their pets if the alternative is losing out on a great place to live. Allowing only animals that come with positive behavior traits and a clean history can motivate tenants to keep their pets on their landlord’s good side, therefore becoming more responsible pet owners.
5. In some cases, it’s the law
Depending on where you live in the country, some landlords are required by certain regional by-laws to allow pets for tenants, which means that performing pet screenings can be somewhat of a necessary evil.
What About Service Animals?
For landlords reviewing applicants who own service animals, it is important to note that there is a major distinction. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal (typically a dog) is categorized as “trained to assist the owner who has a disability.”
Again, depending on where you live, there can be regional by-laws that require landlords to make allowances for tenants with a service animal looking to rent a residential property unit––these are outlined in The Federal Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act as a “reasonable accommodation for tenants with disabilities.” Many courts would consider a tenant's use of a service animal as an accommodation that should exist outside any landlord's no-pet policy. Landlords should use caution if and when challenging a tenant’s right to a service animal.
How to Perform a Pet Screening?
Before performing a pet screening, it is best to verbally, and in writing, make sure that your tenant is aware of all rules and regulations regarding pet ownership as it applies to your property––and get them to sign a document acknowledging such an agreement.
This transparency protects landlords while giving tenants a solid understanding of their role as pet owners throughout their lease, including any increase in rent or a pet deposit.
A pet screening presents an ideal opportunity for landlords to ask questions of their pet-owning tenants to ensure that the pet(s) in question will be a good match for the rental property. Some of the most important questions that are part of a basic pet screening application include:
- What type of pet do you have?
- How long have you owned your pet?
- Is your pet housetrained?
- Does your pet have any behavioral or medical issues? What are you doing about it?
- How much time does your pet spend alone on average?
- Can you provide references regarding your pet from any of your previous landlords?
- Can you provide me with a letter from your vet confirming that your pet is healthy?
- Who looks after your pet in a medical emergency or if you are on vacation?
- Will any pet sitters be staying on the property?
- Are you willing to pay the pet security deposit and pet rent?
Conduct an in-person pet interview
If your pet screening application should raise some red flags, it would be best advised for landlords to conduct an in-person pet interview. This type of interaction can sometimes be included as part of the initial pet screening process, or as a last resort––depending on the discretion of the landlord.
The first step of the pet interview should be to confirm that the pet in question matches the information provided on the application. Double-check the photo, the breed, and the size, and even follow up with the veterinarian. Once the pet’s identity is established, you can move on to addressing the concerns present on the application form.
When a pet is determined to pass inspection, and a deposit and/or additional fee is mutually agreed upon (if necessary), the pet screening process is complete.
Pet Screening Checklist for Landlords
- Know the benefits of performing a pet screening
- Know the difference between a pet and a service animal
- Make sure the tenant is aware of the building's pet policy
- Have the tenant sign a document, acknowledging the building's pet policy
- Perform the pet screening by asking as many questions as necessary to assess the animal’s fitness for residing on your property
- If necessary, meet the tenant and their pet in person
- Verify the pet matches the information provided on the pet screening application
- If satisfied, approve the tenant’s application
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