When pet owners search for a place to rent, their furry friends play a major role in the decision-making process. Unfortunately, finding units that allow pets is a common struggle for renters. As such, when pet owners do find a place to call home, they tend to stay put for quite some time. Allowing pets at your multifamily property can expand your pool of potential renters and help you keep units filled. However, you might be concerned about the damage animals could cause. Here are four tips to make your property more pet-friendly while protecting your investment.
To appeal to renters with dogs, create dedicated spaces for their pets to enjoy.
“Put in a dog park or two, if possible,” suggests Wesley Williams, a real estate investor in Kentucky who owns several buildings and works with syndicators of multifamily properties. If you’re renting out ground-level units, “add in a small, private fenced-in area where the dog can hang out and use the bathroom.”
If you’re considering adding a dog park to your property, Williams suggests consulting with a lawyer to learn about potential liabilities. Property owners also should include addendums in their leases that indicate that the owner of the pet is responsible for that pet’s actions and that pets need to be up to date on their immunizations, according to Williams.
“At minimum, you’d need signs saying ‘for residents only’ and outlining rules of the dog park similar to a swimming pool rules sign,” Williams says. “For example, leashes should be required entering and exiting the park.”
Ideally, your dog park should have auto-lock gates, with access given only to residents.
As you begin planning what your dog park might look like, consider installing synthetic turf to protect the grounds.
“The dogs can’t dig it up, it has great permeability for waste, and it won’t die,” says Josh Steppling, a real estate broker and owner based in Stuart, Florida, who’s been involved in hundreds of multifamily deals over the past 11 years.
You also can set up pet waste stations with bag dispensers around your property, making it easy for residents to clean up after their pets.
Multifamily owners also can protect their investments while appealing to renters with pets by pet-proofing their properties. Flooring is a good starting point.
“None of my properties have carpet,” says Tomas Satas, founder and CEO of Windy City HomeBuyer, a real estate investment company in Chicago whose portfolio includes several multifamily buildings. “It’s much cleaner in general, and a whole lot cleaner if there are animals in the home.”
What kind of flooring is best for pets?
“It all depends,” Satas says. While hardwood floors can be a good option, some dogs might scratch them. He also recommends high-quality luxury vinyl planks, which last a “really long time” when installed correctly.
“I’ve seen quite a few homes with pets where the luxury vinyl plank flooring looks like new years later,” Satas says.
Other durable flooring options include tile and polished concrete.
Additionally, Gunner Davis, a real estate agent based in Tampa who’s bought and sold several multifamily properties over the last two decades, suggests that property owners consider hiding or securing any utility cables and cords. Pets can trip over them or sometimes chew on them out of curiosity, potentially leading to injury or even death.
“Keep all the cables out of the pet’s reach,” Davis says. “It can be a smart idea to buy cable boxes to store electric cords and accessories. You might also want to clip the cables onto the wall to prevent them from dangling.”
When advertising your property, don’t just state in the listings that you allow pets. Make it clear that pets are absolutely welcome there. To do this, be sure to include mentions of pet-friendly amenities, nearby parks and trails, and pet stores and kennels in the area.
Providing a pet-focused resources list to potential renters also can go a long way. Whether he’s consulting clients or managing his own properties, Steppling creates handy lists filled with pet resources that serve as helpful tools in persuading potential renters to lease properties.
“The first thing I do is work on getting a list of pet vendors in the area that we can share with the renter,” Steppling says. This list includes “groomers, dog walkers, dog parks and any other service or product that can help keep the animal clean, well-tempered and healthy.”
Setting a fair, thorough pet policy for renters that’s outlined in the lease is a benefit to both the property owner and renter. Such a policy should include what types of pets are allowed, how many pets a renter can have and any fees a prospective renter should know about, among other things.
“The first thing you should do is see which breeds and sizes your insurance policy will allow,” Williams says.
You’ll also need to consider how to cover the cost of any damage a pet may cause.
“No matter how good the pet is, there’s always unforeseen damage that occurs — whether it’s excess hair in the furnace, accidents on the floor or something else,” Williams says.
When it’s time to determine what fees you should charge for pets, you’ll have to choose between pet fees, which are nonrefundable; pet deposits, which can be refunded if the animal doesn’t cause damage; and pet rent, a monthly fee that’s tacked on to rent each month. (Under the Fair Housing Act, none of these fees can be applied to renters who have service or assistance animals.)
As you begin figuring out the best path forward for your properties, it’s important to remember that charging a pet fee or pet deposit may prevent you from using the security deposit to cover pet-related damage. Make sure your fees are high enough to cover any potential damage. It’s also a good idea to research the laws governing allowable fees and deposits, which may vary by state.
The key to renting to pet owners is in doing your due diligence and setting crystal-clear guidelines, Satas explains. You should also be flexible and update those rules as you learn what works — or doesn’t work — at your property. For instance, Satas allows renters to have no more than two pets, and he requires a security deposit for each one, but he generally doesn’t limit the pet’s size.
“I’ve found that limiting the weight of a pet doesn’t do a landlord any favors,” Satas says. “Small dogs can be 10 times more destructive than large ones.”