There are few downsides to having a dog (or any other pet for that matter). However, moving with a pet can prove difficult, especially if you have multiple or a larger-than-average breed. But don’t let that discourage you from searching for the perfect place to live.
Whether you’ve had a life-long family pet or you have recently adopted a new pet to keep you company as you move into your first solo dwelling, you have rights as a tenant that you should be mindful of when trying to find somewhere to live—especially if you have an emotional support animal (ESA).
You might see a lot of listings that say “no pets allowed” or have a lot of stipulations when it comes to having pets on the property. Before you read too much into these restrictions, make sure you have a working knowledge of your tenant rights for you and your pet. You might find that a landlord has unenforceable policies or your situation is an exception to the general rule.
In this guide to tenant’s rights for you and your pet, we’ll cover several areas that may help you navigate this tricky obstacle when it comes to renting:
- Emotional Support Animals
- Pet Rent and Deposits
- Limitations on Breeds and Size
- Maximum Number of Pets
- Required Documentation
Emotional Support Animals & Service Animals
Emotional support animals are legally recognized as an accommodation for individuals with physical or mental impairments and are considered companions for their owners. On the other hand, service animals are trained to perform specific tasks for their owners who have a physical, emotional, or intellectual disability and are considered a necessity.
Although emotional support animals and service animals are distinctly different—seen as such under the law—emotional support animals are protected under the Fair Housing Amendment Act (FHAA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). This means that ESAs and service animals are not classified as pets.
As such, restrictions that landlords apply to pets may not be applied to assistance animals. This also applies to airline carries when traveling with your ESA or service animal.
Pet Rent and Deposits
One of the main concerns that cause landlords to implement pet policies is property damage. After all, they have invested a lot of money into their rental property. In order to protect that investment, you may find that landlords that do allow pets have fees you must pay.
From a single up-front deposit to monthly pet rent, these fees can range in cost depending on the type of pet you have, the average cost of pet rent in your area, and the value of the property. That said, pet fees and deposits generally range from $100 to $300 (according to SmartMove).
In some states, there are limits to how much landlords can charge for pet deposits and rent. Before you sign your lease or pay any money for your pet, make sure to do some research into the limitations of pet fees in your state. Renting is already expensive enough, don’t pay extra money if you don’t have to.
How This Policy Applies to ESA: If you have an ESA, these fees do not apply to you because ESAs and service animals are not technically pets. However, you must present the proper documentation to the property manager before signing your lease (or when you adopt your ESA).
Limitations on Breeds and Sizes
Many landlords have limitations on breeds and size of animals that are allowed to live on the property. According to a research study by FIREPAW Inc., only 9% of housing allowed companion animals without any significant limitations on size or breed and only 11% of housing allowed large dogs.
But why is that? The general reason that landlords have guidelines about which breeds are and are not allowed in the community is that they are trying to keep breeds that are perceived as “aggressive” out.
Some landlords may ban certain breeds because they want to lower the risk of an incident occurring with another resident or their pet. In fact, certain insurance companies refuse to cover certain breeds in insurance policies. Without liability coverage, this can leave you and your landlord open to lawsuits, which makes it easier in many cases for them to simply ban certain breeds.
Some of the most commonly excluded dog breeds are:
- German Shepards
- Great Danes
How strict are these rules? While some landlords might be able to make an exception for a pound or two over the weight limit, many are likely to stand their ground, especially if there is a specific breed they are trying to avoid having on the property.
How This Policy Applies to ESA: If you have an ESA, restrictions regarding breed and size do not apply to you. Your emotional support dog (or other animal) can be any breed or size.
Maximum Number of Pets
Can a property manager limit how many pets you can have in your residence? In some cases, yes. Many landlords limit the number of pets to 1 or 2 per household in order to minimize damage (this is especially true for apartments). You may also find that separate pet fees are required for each animal, so keep that in mind.
Of course no one is encouraging you to get rid of your family pets, if you have more animals than the pet policy limit allows, you may simply just have to continue looking. However, if you’re waiting to get a pet until finding a rental that allows them, just keep in mind the limit before adopting.
How This Policy Applies to ESA: There are some instances where more than one service animal or ESA may be considered necessary for an individual. Since ESA and service animals are not considered pets, the maximum pet policies typically do not apply.
It might seem like it’s enough just to agree to your landlord’s or property manager’s pet policies, but you may also have to provide some documentation to show you’re in compliance. In many cases, a landlord is within their rights to require:
This information is usually provided via official vet records.
How This Policy Applies to ESA: Landlords have the right to ask you for documentation that your animal is properly certified before signing your lease, even if your pet is an ESA or service animal. However, they cannot ask you about your disability or require diagnostic documents.
Tips for Working with Your Landlord
To make finding a home for you and your pet as easy as possible, here are some tips to follow:
- Collect all the documentation you need ahead of time
- Make sure they’re up to date on all vaccinations before you start hunting for rentals
- Show proof of obedience training (this could be helpful if you’re looking for them to make an exception)
- If the landlord does make an allowance for your pet, get it in writing
Know Your Rights (and Your Landlord’s)
Even if you don’t have a service animal or ESA, there are certain limits that protect your rights as a tenant and pet owner. For example, there are laws in California that prohibit landlords from requiring that tenants declaw or devocalize their pets. The best thing you can do to both ensure that your rights aren’t being violated and that you know the rights landlords have to pet policies, is to research the laws that apply to the city and state you’re looking to rent in. That way, you and your pet can live peacefully (and in compliance) as long as you want to call your place home. Additionally, providing effective training for your pet can be a way to make renting with an animal easier. It can also help to decrease potential expenses for wear and tear if you eventually move. Well-trained dogs have better temperaments, have a better quality of life and are more effective at managing stress so you owe it to you and your pet.