The majority of Americans view their pets as members of their family and, as a result, Best Friends Animal Society receives hundreds of inquiries about pet-friendly housing each year. Given the huge demand, one might think there would be enough pet-friendly housing for renters.
However, a 2005 study entitled “Companion Animal Renters and Pet-Friendly Housing in the U.S.” indicates something quite different. Only about 9 percent of landlords have no restrictions on the type of pets tenants may own. A further look at the study’s statistics shows that landlords with pet restrictions are only hurting themselves, because when they offer pet-friendly rentals, their bottom-line profits increase.
A 2011 analysis of the condominium market in the “Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics” found that pet-friendly landlords who place no restrictions on pet ownership currently enjoy an 11.6 percent rental premium over landlords who do not allow pets (after controlling for waterfront rentals, vacancies, age, number of bedrooms and other factors). In addition to increased profits, the earlier study showed a variety of reasons why landlords should not restrict dog or cat ownership. Despite the more expensive rent, tenants with pets were found to stay significantly longer in their rentals — by an average of 23 to 46 months — than tenants without pets. The vacancy rate for pet-friendly housing and the amount of money landlords had to spend on advertising was also significantly lower than “no pets allowed” rentals. Additionally, landlords spent less than half the usual amount of time marketing pet-friendly housing and received twice as many applications for a vacant unit, allowing them to pick the cream of the crop in tenants.
So why are the majority of landlords and property management companies missing out on this chance for increased profitability? Possibly it’s because of risk aversion. But such caution is unwarranted: The majority of states have strict liability statutes that make dog owners, not their landlords, liable for the behavior of their dogs.
Appearance doesn’t matter
When it comes to whether or not a dog is likely to be aggressive, the dog’s appearance is irrelevant. There’s a strong breed stigma against pit-bull-terrier-like dogs, but controlled studies have not identified this breed group as being disproportionately dangerous.
Some companies (such as Stonesfair Properties, which has rental units in Arizona, Montana and California) welcome all responsible dog owners and do not place any restrictions on size or breed. In 2011 Karisa Simmons, a Stonesfair Properties assistant manager, stated, “Not allowing pit bulls or other ‘restricted breeds’ is purely discriminatory and does not reflect any real reasoning. More damage to apartments, bite incidents and noise complaints come to us through the breeds that most landlords welcome with open arms.”
In addition, many dogs are mistakenly identified as pit bulls when they are not. DNA testing shows that it is extremely hard to correctly identify the heritage of a mixed-breed dog simply by looking at the dog. So, while a mutt may look like a pit bull (which, by the way, isn’t one specific breed), the dog might really be a mix of Labrador retriever, whippet and other breeds. The bottom line is that consideration of a dog’s behavior, not his size or breed, makes the most sense when applying rental restrictions.
Problems and solutions
While some issues do arise for landlords offering pet-friendly rental housing, there are solutions, and the economic benefits of renting to people with pets usually outweigh any problems. Here are a few of the common concerns landlords have regarding pets and some solutions:
- Damage. Solution: Have tenants pay a pet deposit.
- Noise. Solution: Use the strategies for resolving noise issues involving children or stereos.
- Insurance coverage. Solution: Many insurance companies, including Farmers Insurance and State Farm, do not discriminate against dogs because of their breed.
Landlords who rent to pet owners for the first time might consider requiring the following:
- Pet sterilization (studies show that the majority of bite cases involve unsterilized dogs)
- Obedience training certificates
- Health or rabies vaccination certificates
- Pet references
Becoming pet-friendly: The right thing to do
A 1998 study found that 29 percent of pet relinquishments to animal shelters were because of housing issues, primarily having to move. And the most common specific reason given for relinquishment was “landlord refused to allow pets.” Tragically, this percentage has probably increased with the foreclosure crisis.
Every day, more than 1,700 cats and dogs are unnecessarily killed in America’s shelters, simply because they don’t have a home. Each one of these pets is an individual and a valued life worth saving.
That number should be zero, and it can be, if landlords and property management companies do their part to make more pet-friendly housing available. Lead by example. Together, we can Save Them All.
For more about the benefits of providing pet-friendly housing, read this story from Best Friends magazine: "Landlords, Take Note."