Negotiating a Fair Lease When You Have a Dog: A Checklist

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Some landlords prefer to rent to dog owners, finding them a more responsible class of tenants. Some allow small dogs. And some will make an exception to their usual no dogs rule if they become convinced that they're dealing with a responsible owner—which means that an official no dogs policy isn't always the final word.

If you want to negotiate something with a property owner or manager, be realistic. It's obvious why many landlords are reluctant to rent to dog owners: dogs can cause serious damage to apartments and yards, they can be a nuisance if they bark and a menace if they bite or frighten people. Landlords' concerns are reasonable; they risk losing time and money and, in some instances, may even face legal liability if the dog injures someone. 

Deal with these concerns up front. Before agreeing to rent to you and your dog, a landlord has a reasonable right to expect both convincing evidence that the dog won't cause problems, and provisions in the lease or rental agreement that spell out your responsibilities.

Convincing a Skeptical Landlord to Let You Have a Dog

  • Get references from previous landlords or neighbors—brief letters saying what a nice, well-mannered dog you have.
  • Show the landlord anything else that indicates the dog will be a good tenant: obedience school certificates, proof of spaying or neutering, vaccination and licensing records.
  • Bring the dog along on a second visit to the new place, if the landlord agrees.
  • Have the dog spayed or neutered, if you haven't already. Many problems are caused by female dogs in heat, which attract noisy and persistent suitors. And having the dog altered shows that you're a responsible owner.
  • Offer to put down a substantial damage deposit, over and above what the landlord usually charges, to show your confidence in the dog's good behavior. (State or local law may limit the amount of the deposit; California, for example, limits security deposits to twice the amount of the monthly rent, or three times the rent for a furnished apartment.)

Getting Your Landlord's Approval of a Dog in Writing

Whatever agreement you work out, it should always be clearly set out in writing—no exceptions. If you have a dog, never sign a lease that contains a standard "no pets" clause, even if the owner or manager has offered oral assurances that it's all right to have the dog. If the landlord later reconsiders, or sells the property to a new owner, you could land in the middle of a legal battle. (See "Enforcing a No Pets Clause After Allowing a Dog.")

You can modify a rental agreement or add a separate addendum to cover pets. Here are some clauses you can modify to fit your situation and add to a standard rental agreement or lease.

  • "Tenant may have one dog, his Miniature Schnauzer named Pepper, on the premises."
  • "Tenant may have one dog, which weighs less than 50 pounds, on the premises."
  • "Tenant will remove dog droppings from the yard daily [or, if the yard is private, weekly]."
  • "Tenant will repair, or pay for repair of, any damage done to yard or house by dog."
  • "Tenant will keep the dog inside between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m."
  • "Tenant will pay a $300 refundable security deposit, in addition to the standard security deposit of $500, to cover any damage that may be caused by the dog."
  • "In lieu of paying an increased security deposit, tenant will pay for steam cleaning of the carpets when she moves out."
  • "Tenant will keep $100,000 of liability insurance to cover injuries or damage caused by the dog." This clause is necessary only if there's some reason to fear the dog might injure someone.

Opening Landlords' Doors to Dogs

Several organizations concerned about animals and people have programs to help landlords and dog-owning tenants get along. Project Open Door, an ambitious program of the San Francisco SPCA, seeks to show landlords how to make renting to pet-owning tenants a satisfying and profitable experience. The SPCA offers:

  • checklists to help landlords screen pet-owning tenants
  • model policies for tenants with dogs
  • model agreements to add to standard leases and rental agreements, and
  • free mediation if landlords and tenants have problems.

Tenants can get good materials, too, on how to negotiate with a landlord.

Other animal welfare organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States and the Massachusetts SPCA, also publish guidelines for tenants and property managers.

Understanding the Legal Rights of Elderly and Disabled Tenants to Have a Dog

Several states, including Arizona, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, and New Jersey give elderly or disabled tenants the right ts to keep pets in either public or private housing. The federal Fair Housing Acts (42 U.S. Code sections 3601-3619, 3631) allow tenants who have a mental or physical disability to keep a properly trained service animal. For more on this subject, see Renting a Place to Live With a Service or Support Dog and Elderly or Disabled Tenants: The Right to Have Pets. If you're unclear about who is considered disabled, see Disabled Renters' Housing Rights.

Mobile Home Parks

Special laws may apply to tenants in mobile home parks. For example, in California a mobile home park cannot prohibit pets, and cannot charge a fee for keeping pets unless it actually provides special facilities or services for pets. (Cal. Civ. Code section 798.33.) In Oregon, a tenant may keep a pet that's legally living there, if the landlord adds a no-pets clause to the rules. (Or. Rev. Stat. section 90.350.)

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