Author Topic: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!  (Read 8564 times)

srob

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tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« on: July 15, 2016, 01:44:07 PM »
I have a long-time tenant in a small complex with a no-pet policy. The tenant just informed me that she is getting her doctor to sign a letter stating that she needs an emotional support dog to help with anxiety. I really don't want a dog in the apartments..they are old and you can hear everything. Apparently you can't charge a pet deposit or anything for these. The apartment is mostly carpeted. Anyway, it sounds like if she gets doctors orders that there is nothing I can legally to do stop it, but what restrictions can I impose to decrease the impact to other tenants? breed restrictions? behavioral agreements? pet liability insurance requirements? anyone have any experience with this? Could I pay her to move out and get a pet somewhere else?

Blonde Lawyer

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #1 on: July 15, 2016, 02:28:00 PM »
Talk with a landlord/tenant attorney who is very familiar with your state's specific laws in this ever changing area of the law.  Make sure you are clear if it is an emotional support animal or a service dog because the requirements to accommodate are different and will also differ by state.  Tread carefully.

hoodedfalcon

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2016, 02:51:30 PM »
Tread carefully here. The Fair Housing Act (and possibly the ADA) speaks to this issue. There may also be state law to look out for. 

HUD Notice: FHEO-2013-01 may respond to some of your questions (google it). But generally:

An assistance animal is not a pet
An assistance animal does not need to be individually trained or certified
Assistance animals do not have to be dogs under the FHA
Breed, size, and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal
Cannot require pet deposit
Cannot deny assistance animal because LL doubts the disability
LL can request documentation if disability or need is not readily known
LL cannot request documentation if disability or need is apparent (blind individual with seeing eye dog, for example)

BAMxi

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2016, 04:59:29 PM »
I have a long-time tenant in a small complex with a no-pet policy. The tenant just informed me that she is getting her doctor to sign a letter stating that she needs an emotional support dog to help with anxiety. I really don't want a dog in the apartments..they are old and you can hear everything. Apparently you can't charge a pet deposit or anything for these. The apartment is mostly carpeted. Anyway, it sounds like if she gets doctors orders that there is nothing I can legally to do stop it, but what restrictions can I impose to decrease the impact to other tenants? breed restrictions? behavioral agreements? pet liability insurance requirements? anyone have any experience with this? Could I pay her to move out and get a pet somewhere else?

Poster before me has it right as far as the HUD guidelines. I'm a property manager in MO. There really isn't much you can do to limit the pet coming in, once you're given the notice from the doctor. Like the previous poster said, you can request additional documentation if the need isn't apparent, but tread VERY carefully if you do that. There are severe legal repercussions for digging too deep. NEVER ask for medical history or the like.

A couple things to note that you CAN do: you can still charge for any and all damages to the unit once the tenant moves out, caused by the pet or otherwise. You can, at your option, offer to let the tenant out of his/her lease (you cannot cancel their lease and force them to move out if they've already established residency in the unit. check your local laws. But if the person is wanting to move out, you could offer to let them out of their lease early and just find someone new once they're gone). You may also impose fines upon the resident if he/she does not properly dispose of animal waste left in the yard or in the grass of common areas (this is probably more relevant if you're running a duplex/complex of some sort versus a single rental property in which the tenant is responsible for yard maintenance).

Again, disability status is a protected class, so be very careful here. Do not pry into their medical history beyond receiving the note from the doctor stating the reason they need the animal. In my experience, it's kind of a toss up. Many people abuse this, but also many people actually benefit from it. The best advice I can give you is to thoroughly walk the unit for damages after the resident moves out and take lots of pictures!

La Bibliotecaria Feroz

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #4 on: July 15, 2016, 05:22:57 PM »
People often conflate emotional support animals with service animals. A key difference is that the latter are trained to perform specific tasks, just as pulling a wheelchair or notifying the handler of a pending seizure.

You should check the laws in your state. Many places that have to accept service animals are allowed to prohibit emotional support animals. My workplace, for instance, does not permit emotional support animals. We are not allowed to ask people about their disability but we can ask if the animal is needed because of a disability, and what tasks it is trained to perform. If no tasks, out it goes.

NoNonsenseLandlord

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #5 on: July 15, 2016, 10:53:40 PM »
Check with your insurance company.  Some breeds may be excluded.  A pitbull for instance, may need extra insurance, at your tenants expense.

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2016, 11:17:13 AM »
Really interested in this thread and not sure folks will come back. We also have a small 8 unit apartment complex (2 buildings). We have never allowed pets but see a trend of people responding to ads both with dogs (asking for exceptions) and those with support animals (not service animals). From the reading I have done in NY (not NY City), we will likely have to take support animals (even things like pigs - no kidding - nothing against pigs, this is just not a dog/cat issue though). We haven't (yet) had someone move in and then announce an animal though. And this is what we think could very well happen.

So - we are starting to re-think the whole pet policy. We have a huge (think football field) yard and we are in a small village where limiting pets (and smoking) really limits the number of renters we have access to.  Maybe we're crazy for even thinking about it - but we've had some great folks (I know them) who want to rent and we've refused because of pets.

I was going to start another thread (since I did the search box and couldn't get it to work) - asking what others thought.

beltim

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2016, 11:39:57 AM »
Nationwide, 56% of households have pets and there is a small but positive relationship between household income and pet ownership, at least up to ~100k annual income.

earlycheckout

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #8 on: July 20, 2016, 09:57:13 PM »
Some information:

https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

FWIW, we operate several vacation rentals and allow dogs because we get a ton more business that way. We've never had a problem with any of our dogs thus far. Nothing ripped, peed on, etc.  We tried cats but both times a disaster (with massive fur, and peeing on a carpet). 

Lagom

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #9 on: July 20, 2016, 10:32:04 PM »
Really interested in this thread and not sure folks will come back. We also have a small 8 unit apartment complex (2 buildings). We have never allowed pets but see a trend of people responding to ads both with dogs (asking for exceptions) and those with support animals (not service animals). From the reading I have done in NY (not NY City), we will likely have to take support animals (even things like pigs - no kidding - nothing against pigs, this is just not a dog/cat issue though). We haven't (yet) had someone move in and then announce an animal though. And this is what we think could very well happen.

So - we are starting to re-think the whole pet policy. We have a huge (think football field) yard and we are in a small village where limiting pets (and smoking) really limits the number of renters we have access to.  Maybe we're crazy for even thinking about it - but we've had some great folks (I know them) who want to rent and we've refused because of pets.

I was going to start another thread (since I did the search box and couldn't get it to work) - asking what others thought.

Honestly, I would be interested to hear from landlords with concrete evidence why their no pet policy makes monetary sense. I mean, sure there is some increased likelihood of damage, but you can generally increase the security deposit and/or rent, and it seems unlikely a pet would cause THAT much damage, especially if it belonged to a tenant that had plenty of clear indicators of responsibility (high credit score, good references, etc.). Frankly, children are at least as likely (if not more so) to damage a property, but it's pretty uncommon to forbid them!

I say this as a dog owner who has frequently had to ask for exceptions when responding to postings. I have had good success with that approach, and I am certainly a responsible tenant, but it's pretty annoying having to go through the process. I think a landlord willing to take pets might legitimately be able to raise their standards for tenants (regarding credit scores and so forth), since they would have so much less competition. Seems like an opportunity to me.

I will grant multi-unit properties are trickier than SFHs, especially apartment buildings with thin walls.

MakeSmarterDecisions

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #10 on: July 21, 2016, 05:03:04 AM »
Hi Lagom,
I agree with what you are saying and that is why we might re-visit. We also had a tenant sneak a dog in (just "watching it" for someone) and it wasn't a huge problem (although they didn't always clean up after it outside - which pissed off my husband). BUT - I think we could raise our standards in terms of who we accept too (and really raise rents) - which may end up working out. Since we have two buildings - we talked about maybe making one "pet friendly" too - and the other not.

Rubic

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #11 on: July 21, 2016, 09:48:45 AM »
I will grant multi-unit properties are trickier than SFHs, especially apartment buildings with thin walls.

Even more egregious is the one dog owner in each complex who somehow neglects to clean up their pet poop.  It's a very small minority of pet owners, but they poison the well for everyone else.

Bourbon

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #12 on: July 21, 2016, 09:57:07 AM »
Never run into this situation.  Out of curiosity - My leases are not written to automatically renew or go month to month, so we sign a new lease every year.

If this situation occurred and we had to accept an animal in a property we normally do not(we both allow and don't depending on the property/market), would I be in legal gray area if I chose not to sign a new lease with that tenant when it expired?

earlycheckout

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #13 on: July 21, 2016, 01:06:07 PM »
Was thinking about this problem. An alternative approach- especially if you have limited options- might be to work with her on what kind of dog she gets (assuming she has latitude if its a 'comfort' dog).

I'd suggest a non-shedding variety (e.g. wheaton terrier, poodle, schnauzer, but there are others), one that isn't a puppy (puppies are the worse for accidents and chewing things but older dogs come ready trained usually and are a ton less work for owners), and one that isn't a big barker (bigger dogs but it depends on breed). Push her toward a bichon: cute, cuddly and portable, does not shed, and is known for being quiet and not barky.

I think she might also strongly desire these things too, so you could focus on how it's in your mutual interest (no one wants to have neighbors pissed off at you and your barking dog, and who needs dog hair and getting up at 3am for a puppy to pee).

BAMxi

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #14 on: July 24, 2016, 10:14:52 AM »
Never run into this situation.  Out of curiosity - My leases are not written to automatically renew or go month to month, so we sign a new lease every year.

If this situation occurred and we had to accept an animal in a property we normally do not(we both allow and don't depending on the property/market), would I be in legal gray area if I chose not to sign a new lease with that tenant when it expired?

It's always at your option to not renew someone's lease, as long as appropriate notice to vacate is given. Check your local laws, but in MO, we can just send an email stating the lease expires in 30 days and they must be moved out by then. It's still your property after all. Nothing saying that you have to keep renting it to the same person forever.

MakeSmarterDecisions

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #15 on: July 24, 2016, 11:25:15 AM »
I thought the same thing about giving them notice.  I don't think there would be a problem. I wonder if this is why folks who have contacted us with support animals don't hide that. I would guess they might want to know up front if the landlord was OK with it so they don't have to move each year.

Blonde Lawyer

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #16 on: July 25, 2016, 12:50:23 PM »
You can't not renew someone's lease for an illegal/discriminatory reason.  Refusing to renew them for an emotional support animal is illegal.  If that's the only thing that's changed, it would be a pretty easy case for them to prove too.  Breaking the law will cause you a lot more headaches.

brute

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #17 on: July 25, 2016, 02:00:18 PM »
Would they consider a support fish?

MakeSmarterDecisions

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #18 on: July 25, 2016, 03:22:24 PM »
Thanks Blonde Lawyer - that certainly makes sense. And it make sense if there were no problems then why wouldn't you renew it anyway? If there were problems with the animal, you would have a different reason to consider not extending the lease.

srob

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #19 on: July 26, 2016, 01:04:59 PM »
thanks for replies everyone! It sounds like there really isn't much that I can do except for not renewing the lease, and even then it has to be for a legitimate reason, not retaliatory for the service animal like some have stated.

This tenant has been a problem for a while, cursing out my manager when we raised the rent $20 last year, not getting along with other tenants, etc. So if she slips up, I would not have a problem not renewing.

southern granny

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #20 on: July 26, 2016, 01:42:56 PM »
I have always had dogs and have never had one to do damage to our home.  My shoes and purses are another story.  The only "damage" to the house is dirty carpet in their favorite laying area.  Of course. I know that some dogs can be destructive (usually due to lack of exercise) but hopefully your tenant will get a good one.

srob

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #21 on: July 26, 2016, 04:52:19 PM »
btw she got a chihuahua!

Frs1661

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #22 on: July 27, 2016, 06:22:56 AM »
You can't not renew someone's lease for an illegal/discriminatory reason.  Refusing to renew them for an emotional support animal is illegal.  If that's the only thing that's changed, it would be a pretty easy case for them to prove too.  Breaking the law will cause you a lot more headaches.
Is this really accurate? I'll agree that you can't terminate a lease early without cause,  but the end date of the lease is agreed upon by both parties at the beginning of the term. Choosing not to extend the contract is not an adverse action. I'm sure state laws vary, but it is hard to believe that you could be compelled to renew leases indefinitely.

hoodedfalcon

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #23 on: July 27, 2016, 06:51:10 AM »
You can't not renew someone's lease for an illegal/discriminatory reason.  Refusing to renew them for an emotional support animal is illegal.  If that's the only thing that's changed, it would be a pretty easy case for them to prove too.  Breaking the law will cause you a lot more headaches.
Is this really accurate? I'll agree that you can't terminate a lease early without cause,  but the end date of the lease is agreed upon by both parties at the beginning of the term. Choosing not to extend the contract is not an adverse action. I'm sure state laws vary, but it is hard to believe that you could be compelled to renew leases indefinitely.

Blonde Lawyer is correct given the hypothetical. If the T makes a fair housing complaint and the only reason the LL has for the non-renewal was discriminatory, the T is going to prevail. This would be pretty cut and dry.

Blonde Lawyer

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #24 on: July 27, 2016, 07:38:36 AM »
You can't not renew someone's lease for an illegal/discriminatory reason.  Refusing to renew them for an emotional support animal is illegal.  If that's the only thing that's changed, it would be a pretty easy case for them to prove too.  Breaking the law will cause you a lot more headaches.
Is this really accurate? I'll agree that you can't terminate a lease early without cause,  but the end date of the lease is agreed upon by both parties at the beginning of the term. Choosing not to extend the contract is not an adverse action. I'm sure state laws vary, but it is hard to believe that you could be compelled to renew leases indefinitely.

If you decide to not continue leasing the property at all you would be fine.  If you went with another tenant it would be problematic.  Look at it as if you had no tenant and you had two applying.  One with a service dog and one without.  That's essentially what a renewal situation is.  Deciding whether to keep your current tenant or look for another.

fishnfool

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #25 on: July 27, 2016, 08:18:21 AM »
Suppose you have other tenants in this complex that are alergic to animals and rented from you thinking they're safe.

I would be doing my best to get rid of this tenant wanting a pet asap.

fishnfool

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #26 on: July 27, 2016, 08:21:12 AM »
Let me add that I do love animals,  but only when they're  living outside... or properly cooked!

Frs1661

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #27 on: July 27, 2016, 10:12:13 AM »
Blonde lawyer and hoodedfalcon, thanks for the clarification. As a prospective RE investor I need to know these things!

OP, I hope that chihuahua treats your property well!

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Blonde Lawyer

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #28 on: July 27, 2016, 11:47:14 AM »
Suppose you have other tenants in this complex that are alergic to animals and rented from you thinking they're safe.

I would be doing my best to get rid of this tenant wanting a pet asap.

You have to attempt to accommodate both disabilities per the ADA (if we are taking a true service animal and not ESA).  ESA's are protected under a different housing law and I don't know how that law deals with conflicting disabilities.  Haven't researched it yet.  It's unlikely that a service dog in one apartment would cause an allergy for someone in a different apartment.  In a workplace situation people try things like using separate entrances, offices as far apart as possible, etc.  In the end, service dog trumps allergy in the ADA but I don't know about the ESA fed legislation.  (Also, this is not my area of law and not legal advice.)

hoodedfalcon

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #29 on: July 27, 2016, 12:04:07 PM »
Suppose you have other tenants in this complex that are alergic to animals and rented from you thinking they're safe.

I would be doing my best to get rid of this tenant wanting a pet asap.

You have to attempt to accommodate both disabilities per the ADA (if we are taking a true service animal and not ESA).  ESA's are protected under a different housing law and I don't know how that law deals with conflicting disabilities.  Haven't researched it yet.  It's unlikely that a service dog in one apartment would cause an allergy for someone in a different apartment.  In a workplace situation people try things like using separate entrances, offices as far apart as possible, etc.  In the end, service dog trumps allergy in the ADA but I don't know about the ESA fed legislation.  (Also, this is not my area of law and not legal advice.)

The Fair Housing Act covers ESAs as well as service animals. So, for housing, the first question would be does the allergy to animals rise to the level of disability (substantially limits one or more major life activities), and if so, is there a reasonable accommodation or multiple reasonable accommodations the LL could provide to allow both tenants to maintain their tenancy? If the allergy does not rise to the level of disability as defined under the FHA, then the FHA does not protect them.

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #30 on: July 27, 2016, 12:28:30 PM »
I had a prospective tenant inquire about the same thing a few months ago.  It was fortuitous that they ended up not putting in an application for the property. 
You want to think the best of people but unfortunately people can be terrible, and try to take advantage of things like ADA to fit their own narrative. 

I did my diligence looking online for a solution and came up with similar responses as mentioned here - that there really wasn't any recourse for a LL. 

We do accept pets but charge an additional security deposit for each. 
No dog owner (I have 3) should be naive enough to believe that their pets will not cause additional wear/tear or damage to a property. 
The "service animal" should be treated as a minor child - you can't discriminate against those and they cause additional wear/tear as well.  All responsibility for meeting lease obligations lies with the person who is signing the lease. 

Had this come to pass, we would have just charged the tenant for any and all damage to the property after move-out.  Sure we would have liked to have the additional security deposit to help compensate for this - but they'll owe the money whether the security deposit covers it or not.

bacchi

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #31 on: July 27, 2016, 12:35:14 PM »
I had a prospective tenant inquire about the same thing a few months ago.  It was fortuitous that they ended up not putting in an application for the property. 
You want to think the best of people but unfortunately people can be terrible, and try to take advantage of things like ADA to fit their own narrative. 

I did my diligence looking online for a solution and came up with similar responses as mentioned here - that there really wasn't any recourse for a LL. 

The only legal recourse is a small, owner-occupied, structure; again, depending on state.

fishnfool

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #32 on: July 27, 2016, 12:35:44 PM »
I'm thinking us landlords might need "child deposits" since your comparing a pet to a child... ugh!

supomglol

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #33 on: July 27, 2016, 12:43:20 PM »
I'm thinking us landlords might need "child deposits" since your comparing a pet to a child... ugh!
From a legal standpoint a minor child and service animal are treated similarly. 
In both situation the "parent" or "owner" is responsible for the actions for themselves as well as that in which they own
There are also non-discriminatory statues for both family status and ADA. 

From a property owner standpoint it is logical to charge more (deposits in our case). 
More things moving around in a dwelling = more potential damage. 

Always follow the law though!

adamcollin

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #34 on: July 28, 2016, 03:09:00 AM »
The policies for each state are different. I think you should learn about the laws of your state and take action accordingly.

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #35 on: July 28, 2016, 07:05:41 AM »
Really interested in this thread and not sure folks will come back. We also have a small 8 unit apartment complex (2 buildings). We have never allowed pets but see a trend of people responding to ads both with dogs (asking for exceptions) and those with support animals (not service animals). From the reading I have done in NY (not NY City), we will likely have to take support animals (even things like pigs - no kidding - nothing against pigs, this is just not a dog/cat issue though). We haven't (yet) had someone move in and then announce an animal though. And this is what we think could very well happen.

So - we are starting to re-think the whole pet policy. We have a huge (think football field) yard and we are in a small village where limiting pets (and smoking) really limits the number of renters we have access to.  Maybe we're crazy for even thinking about it - but we've had some great folks (I know them) who want to rent and we've refused because of pets.

I was going to start another thread (since I did the search box and couldn't get it to work) - asking what others thought.

Honestly, I would be interested to hear from landlords with concrete evidence why their no pet policy makes monetary sense. I mean, sure there is some increased likelihood of damage, but you can generally increase the security deposit and/or rent, and it seems unlikely a pet would cause THAT much damage, especially if it belonged to a tenant that had plenty of clear indicators of responsibility (high credit score, good references, etc.). Frankly, children are at least as likely (if not more so) to damage a property, but it's pretty uncommon to forbid them!

I say this as a dog owner who has frequently had to ask for exceptions when responding to postings. I have had good success with that approach, and I am certainly a responsible tenant, but it's pretty annoying having to go through the process. I think a landlord willing to take pets might legitimately be able to raise their standards for tenants (regarding credit scores and so forth), since they would have so much less competition. Seems like an opportunity to me.

I will grant multi-unit properties are trickier than SFHs, especially apartment buildings with thin walls.

When a dog chews up molding or scratches doors in a home more than 100 years old, and you can't repair/replace said pieces, you either have to do a sub par repair or replace all of it to match.

Cat pee can get under your floors to subfloor. I've lost potential tenants because of prior owner cat urine odor that I had attempted to remediate without replacing the sub floor.

FYI, my postings say no pets, but I do allow them with a refundable deposit and non refundable monthly fee.


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fishnfool

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #36 on: July 28, 2016, 10:04:52 AM »
What about the property owners anxiety caused by a tenant having a pet living in your rental when you specify "no pets"?
A pet deposit won't get rid of animal smell once it gets into your subfloor.

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #37 on: July 28, 2016, 11:19:21 AM »
+1 for the property owner anxiety :)   That's me today - when we just found out we will have another apartment empty.... and we'll be searching for more tenants.

Evie

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Re: tenant wants emotional support animal--help please!
« Reply #38 on: July 28, 2016, 01:01:15 PM »
Yeah, I need an emotional support animal with a FICO of 650+ and income three times the monthly rent :)