Tips for Finding Pet-Friendly Rentals

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Cindy A. Adams

Rentals with Heart

Relocating with animal companions is tough and stressful.
Relief is finding a landlord who lays out the welcome mat for all of you.

Is America’s rental market slowly coming around to pets? Have responsible pet guardians finally begun to convince landlords that they are an asset, not a liability? Perhaps, but far too often, animal shelters are the repository for family pets whose owners say they have no choice but to move into a no-pet zone. According to research released in 1999 by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, moving is identified as the most common of 71 reasons for relinquishing dogs and the third most common reason for relinquishing cats to shelters. In addition, when citing moving as the reason for giving up their pets, 38.8 percent of dog owners and 38.1 percent of cat owners cited the refusal of a landlord to allow the animal in an apartment or house.

Prospecting, 21st-Century Style

Tips for Finding Pet-Friendly Rentals

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Alex Dobrow had plenty of trouble finding rental housing for his family in Atlanta several years ago, largely because the family included a 120-pound dog. Frustrated and at a dead end in the rental market, the Dobrows became homeowners instead. That’s not an option for everyone, however, and the experience left Dobrow with a particular mission: To help people with pets—especially large dogs—find rentals.

The result was a nationwide apartment search firm that has helped more than 1,000 customers over the last five years, and that went online last year as PeopleWithPets.com. The service lists properties in 58 cities and counting. “Renting with pets is most difficult in the Northeast and California,” Dobrow says. “It’s especially difficult in New Jersey and New York, and I’ve had a lot of inquiries for Long Island recently. In California, an exceptionally high occupancy rate means that spaces usually go to people without pets before ‘pet people’ have a chance. The Southeast is the most accessible area for people living with pets.”

Even there, however, there are problems. “In Atlanta, with 2,000 to 3,000 apartment complexes in the metro area, only about 10 percent will take dogs larger than 35 pounds,” he continues. “In breed-restricted categories such as Rottweilers and [pit] bull terriers, it’s down to one percent—literally about three complexes.” Dobrow estimates that 50 percent to 60 percent of complexes allow cats, and dogs less than 20 pounds. All told, pet-owning Atlanta renters make up about 56 percent of all renters in the city.

Romancing a Landlord

When it comes to pitching yourself and your pets with a potential landlord, the best method for success is a face-to-face meeting. While experts don’t advise trying to sway an owner with a firm no-pets policy, other landlords may be reluctant but receptive to discussion. For pointers on negotiations, the Washington, DC-based Humane Society of the United States offers a “Renting with Pets” section at www.hsus.org for both rental managers and pet guardians. There you can also access “13 Steps to Finding Pet-Friendly Rental Housing.”

Cathy Barrett is a San Franciscan who patiently took a year to convince her landlord to accept a dog in her rented apartment. “When I first brought it up,” says Barrett, “I got a definite ‘no.’ The owner was afraid of damage and concerned that a dog would urinate in the wrong places. But finally, when I renegotiated my lease last year, the landlord agreed.” With a pet deposit and a simple but binding agreement signed by both parties, Barrett adopted a three-month-old black Labrador mix, Sadie, from the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SF/SPCA). She immediately enrolled Sadie in puppy obedience classes, and is now able to take her canine to work with some regularity. She also has roommates who can take the dog for walks on other days, and perhaps most important, “the landlord has taken a definite liking to her.”

Around the time that Barrett adopted Sadie, she became programs coordinator for the SF/SPCA’s Open Door Program. A forerunner in the pets-in-housing field, this program’s 10-year-old community-based approach seeks common ground between tenant and owner. At www.sfspca.org, one can find a landlord’s guide, a tenant’s guide and a six-page referral list. “We also have a pet resume guide,” says Barrett. “One prospective tenant in a dog-friendly but cat-shy building attached a resume for her two cats to her application and convinced the property management to accept them on the spot.”

Common factors in a successful pet-friendly contract include a fixed number of animals; requirements to spay or neuter, obtain a license (as required by local statute) and vaccinate all animals; leashing or confinement (no free roaming allowed); a supplemental security deposit and/or refundable pet deposit; and establishment of pet committees to oversee the program.

LeaseWithPets.com, a Frisco, CO-based firm launched in July 2000, aims to revolutionize companion animal cohabitation by offering landlords the assurance that they won’t be left holding the bag for damage to their property. LeaseWithPets.com sells pet deposit warranties that cover up to $5,000 worth of damage per unit. Tenants pay a refundable $275 fee for protection, plus $200 per year, and can use a free temporary warranty to convince landlords to accept them with their pets.

“Offer to go on a month-to-month basis until your landlord is convinced you are a model tenant,” suggests Linda Varon, an apartment manager in Everett, WA [see “Responsible Is as Responsible Does,” at left]. “Speak out on behalf of your four-legged friends. Make them welcome in more places by showing people how well-mannered they really are. It is you, the renter, who is holding the cards. You just don’t know it.”

Other points to present include the following: (1) Accepting pets into a rental, cooperative or condominium increases a building’s market share considerably, and tends to lengthen the stay of responsible tenants; (2) landlords can rely on the structured pet guidelines for acceptable legal means of addressing noncompliant tenants; and (3) it’s a fallacy that if a landlord accepts one pet he/she must accept all pets—that’s what formal guidelines are for.

The Public Housing Landscape

A sound pet-friendly policy isn’t just for the private housing market. Residents of federal housing who had long wanted to live with companion animals were relieved in late 1998 when the federal government finally lifted its ban on pets in federal housing, with passage of Section 526 of the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (P.L. 105-276). The new regulation is being instituted in stages across the country, and all states should be in compliance by the end of this year.

Lisa Weisberg, senior vice president of ASPCA government affairs, explains the process behind this hard-fought victory. In 1983, a federal law was passed that allowed all people living in federally assisted housing designated for seniors and the disabled to have pets. “This was never an outright guarantee,” Weisberg ex-plains, “but no one could be discriminated against for housing on the basis of having a pet.” While anyone there could live with a companion animal, seniors and the disabled were given preference as pet-owning tenants.

“The law was great,” Weisberg continues, “but the senior population was getting larger and [federal] housing for seniors was stagnant. So a lot of seniors were living in nondesignated federal housing and couldn’t have pets.” Groups such as the ASPCA lobbied tirelessly, and finally, in 1996, the law was extended to allow seniors in any federal housing to own pets. It was hoped that this would pave the way for broader ownership rules, and sure enough, it spawned an equal protection issue: “If my senior neighbor can have a pet, why can’t I?” Finally, with the passage of P.L. 105-276 three years ago, the law now covers everyone in federally assisted housing. The next step? The ASPCA would like pet policy guidelines posted in public spaces in individual federal housing units so that tenants are aware of their rights.

Weisberg points out, however, that in state-subsidized housing, it is still up to individual housing authorities whether to allow pets—and not all states allow certain resident populations, such as seniors, to have animal companions.

Just as in private buildings, Weisberg urges tenants to get involved and work with management to create a pet committee if none exists in their building. “Try to form the most democratic committee possible,” she says, “so all members of the community are represented and there is no bias.” Include pet guardians and nonowners, veterinarians, the local humane society and community board members. With involvement from all members of the community, landlords, building managers and other housing authorities will increasingly come to understand what tens of millions of Americans already know—that the love and care that’s at the heart of living with companion animals is what makes any abode home, sweet home.

Cindy A. Adams, the former editor in chief of Animal Watch and senior director of ASPCA Communications, is a freelance writer based in Houston, TX.

Responsible Is as Responsible Does

When Linda Varon, property manager at pet-friendly Emerald Apartments in Everett, WA, assumed her post at the 216-unit complex in 1994, it was run down and poorly managed. Many of the problems were pet-related, including dogs who were destructive indoors and/or chained outside, frightening children. Animal waste was everywhere.

Varon knew that a structured pet policy would remedy the situation and fill the many vacancies. With the cooperation of the building owners, she instituted guidelines that call for indoor-only cats, no dogs chained outside and spayed or neutered animals only. Owners of “constant yappers” must use pet sitters or take their animals to work to cut down on the noise. In about a year, Emerald Apartments was back in shape and pet-owning tenants were toeing the line; only one was asked to leave due to non-compliance.

Alex Dobrow, founder of PeoplewithPets.com, says, “I’ve met plenty of landlords who have reversed pet-friendly policies because of tenants who wouldn’t clean up after their pets or leash their dogs.” Responsible guardians ensure that their animals are well cared for and content. If you promise a landlord that your dog is a model tenant, follow through. Before you move in, hire a trainer if necessary to squelch such problems as excessive barking or separation anxiety.

Although nuisance barkers, property damage and feces-laden common spaces are a pet-shy landlord’s top three fears, Varon notes that in general, cats create 50 percent more damage dollar-wise than dogs, in terms of screens, carpets and miniblinds. Emerald Apartments collects a nonrefundable $100 pet fee to cover minor repair costs (the fee is waived if a tenant’s animal is adopted from a humane society or shelter). With this in mind, respect others’ property by trimming your cat’s nails regularly and providing scratching posts and climbing options to prevent damage to rugs and drapes.

“Whenever I’m given the opportunity, I advise my property owners that pet people make good long-term residents,” states Varon. Today, Emerald Apartments is listed with the Seattle-based Progressive Animal Welfare Society as pet-friendly, and its tenants include a ferret, house rabbits and a rescued prairie dog.

 

If you’re in an apartment and your landlord is trying to evict you on the grounds of pet ownership, consult an attorney. In the five boroughs of New York City, for example, a squeeze on the housing market has increased inquiries to the ASPCA about landlords attempting to enforce no-pet policies after years of “looking the other way.” However, a 1983 city law prohibits eviction of any tenant who has owned an animal for at least 90 days with the knowledge of management.Laws vary in every state, but the lifetime commitment you’ve made to your animal deserves an investigation of your local situation. To find an attorney, contact your local bar association and ask for a referral. Because the law in this field is evolving, make sure the attorney has expertise in animal law, particularly in landlord-tenant law.

 

Renters’ Resources

www.aspca.org—Go to the ASPCA website for its Model Pet Ownership Policy.

www.hsus.org—The Humane Society of the United States’ website features an in-depth “Renting With Pets” section for rental managers and pet owners.

www.mspca.org—Go here to order the Massachusetts SPCA’s booklet for designing a workable pet policy.

PeopleWithPets.com—Free to apartment hunters. Landlords pay a flat fee for Web listing, or per referral if they prefer not to list on the Web. To contact by telephone, call (888) 293-PETS.

Apartments.com, Springstreet.com and gracehill.com—These non pet-specific sites include pets as a search criteria.

© 2001 ASPCA
ASPCA Animal Watch – Winter 2001

Courtesy of
ASPCA
424 East 92nd St.
New York, NY 10128-6804
(212) 876-7700
www.aspca.org

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