Five Steps for Landlords to Safely Rent to Dog Owners

Couple_with_DogiStock_000001092724Small(2)What Keeps You Awake at Night?

If you are a landlord, perhaps you’d like to rent to people with pets, but the implications worry you too much. In fact, concern about what could happen keeps you awake at night. You imagine that new hardwood floor scratched to pieces, antisocial barking, and tenants with a vicious dog that refuse to leave. Then there is your worst nightmare of the dog attacking another tenant and you being liable. But you can stop worrying because by following these five simple steps, you can rent to pet owners and rest easy.

Advantages of Pet-Owning Tenants

There is a large pool of responsible people out there with good, regular income who are desperately seeking accommodation just like yours. You’d be happy to rent to them, right? If the only thing stopping you is their pet, think again.

Statistics show that pet owners are more likely to have a good, regular income than non-pet owners, and that pet owners are more commonly long-term tenants who move less frequently.

Indeed, responsible pet owners are just that, responsible. Renting to pet owners vastly increases the pool of potential tenants available to you. If your property is in an area where there is a lack of pet-friendly residences, then you may also be able to charge premium rent.

What’s not to like about tenants with a sense of responsibility, who can pay the bills, and stay a long time?

Proper Prior Planning

Still not convinced?

With a little proper prior planning, the barriers to renting to pet owners can be safely dismantled. These five common-sense steps reduce the risks and ensure potential liabilities are covered.

Step One: Interview Tenant and Pet

Cut the risk right at the beginning by watching how the prospective tenant interacts with his pet. Badly behaved pets are a product of poor owner discipline. Watch how they get along: Does the owner have control? Is the dog a model citizen or more suited to a canine penitentiary?

Ask questions about the pet, such as how long the owner has had him, if he is up-to-date with vaccinations, how old he is, and how many hours he’s left alone a day. All of this fleshes out the picture of how responsible the owner is.

Don’t forget to ask direct questions about the pet’s behavior, such as whether he has ever bitten anyone, what damage he has done to previous property, and confirm that the owner has dog liability insurance. If you have asked in good faith and received positive answers, this helps protect you should something go wrong.

If you are planning to move forward with a contract, take a photograph of the pet. This helps confirm his identity should there be any dispute about a future dog attack.

Step Two: A Clear Pet Policy

The lease is your opportunity to lay down ground rules. Make your pet policy clear. Write down what constitutes damage to the property (such as scratched woodwork, stained carpets, and damaged furniture). Record the consequences if the pet behaves antisocially, including under what circumstances the tenant must vacate the property (first bite, excessive barking, fouling of the neighborhood, that sort of thing).

The latter provides you with legal authority to evict a tenant should something go wrong. If the lease does not specifically state these terms, then you may have a harder time shifting the tenant should you need to.

Step Three: The Pet Owner’s Liability

Make it clear that the tenancy is conditional on the pet owner maintaining dog liability coverage. Put it in writing in the lease and make sure the owner reads the clause and signs off on it.

The pet owner is liable for medical expenses and costs arising from a dog attack and having bite liability coverage to ensure they can pay these expenses and still cover their rent.

Step Four: Refundable Pet Damage Deposit

It is sensible to hold a refundable deposit specifically against damage caused by the pet to your property. This acts as a reminder to the owner to ensure their pet behaves. However, check state law first, because in some states it is illegal to charge a tenant separately for their pet.

Step Five: Landlord Liability Insurance

Take out your own coverage against liability for personal injury caused by the tenant’s pet. Although the dog is the tenant’s responsibility (in the same way they, not you, are responsible for their children’s antics), there are some circumstances in which you may be vulnerable.

The worst case scenario is if a dog with a history of aggression bites another tenant and you do nothing to ensure the future safety of other tenants. If another attack then happens, as the landlord, you may bear some responsibility because you did not protect the other tenants.

Part of protecting yourself includes having previously assessed the pet’s good nature and acting as soon as an incident occurs to evict the client, have the dog removed, or take other measures appropriate for public safety.

When taking out liability coverage, be sure to check out details, such as any exclusions that apply to particular breeds. Pit Bulls or other breeds deemed to be dangerous may not be covered under standard policies. In that case, you have the choice of putting height and weight restrictions in the lease about the size of dog a tenant can keep (most dangerous dogs are larger breeds), or seeking out special insurance.

Not all insurance companies are interested in providing landlord dog liability coverage. You can spend a lot of time calling around to many different companies, or you can make one call to Melendez Insurance. Our agents have a wealth of information at their fingertips to help find the best policy for you, and can write policies for a number of different carriers, thus ensuring they can find the right fit for your needs.

And Finally…

Renting to pet owners is a potentially lucrative business and one that need not keep you awake. By following these five simple steps, you can rent to pet owners and still get your beauty sleep.