Your landlord's pet policy is one area where you should be sure to make things crystal clear in the rental agreement.

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A rental agreement pet policy states whether or not pets are allowed to be kept in your property, and if so, what limitations or rules there are regarding the keeping of pets.

What kind of pet rules can a landlord enforce in a rental agreement pet policy?

As a landlord, you are totally within your rights to ban people from keeping animals, specific types of animals that might be excluded from a landlord insurance policy, animals above a certain weight, or pets that are not pre-approved by you.

For instance, you might decide to permit cats but not dogs or to allow only small dogs up to a certain weight. Although controversial, you might also choose to ban certain breeds of dogs that are perceived as dangerous, such as pit bulls.

You might also opt to “screen” prospective tenants’ pets by asking the applicants certain questions about their animals, such as how long they’ve had them, whether they’ve damaged any rental property in the past, and whether they have had any other issues.

Then, you can decide whether or not to approve tenants with pets on a pet-by-pet basis. Likewise, if a current tenant tells you they want to get a pet, you can ask them questions to help you determine if it’s a good idea or not.

Are there any states that have specific laws about landlord pet agreements?

If there is a pet clause in a lease agreement, states permit landlords to terminate the lease for any violations of the clause. So, if you put a no-pet clause in your rental agreement, and you find out a tenant is keeping a pet, you can deal with it just like any other lease violation according to your state’s laws.

What to include in a rental agreement pet policy

Rules about vaccinations and licenses 

If you do decide to allow the keeping of pets in your property, you should make sure to include rules regarding vaccination and licenses in your landlord-tenant pet agreement.

For instance, you could require that tenants show you proof that their pets’ vaccinations are up to date before you approve them to move in and that they show you proof again whenever their rental contract extends.

Guidelines for tenants to take responsibility for their pets

Your landlord pet policy should outline all the reasonable ways you expect tenants to be responsible for their animals. 

These guidelines might include keeping pets under control at all times (e.g., on a leash in public areas), not leaving pets unsupervised in their units for extended periods of time, and keeping noise down (e.g., no excessive barking or other disturbing sounds).

Rental agreement pet fees

Some landlords choose to charge a “pet fee” in the rental agreement, which is essentially just an additional security deposit to cover any damage caused by pets.

Though you can consider doing this if you are really concerned about pet damage, there are a few reasons it might not be a good idea:

  • It can be hard to distinguish between damage caused by tenants and damage caused by pets
  • Some states put a limit on how much you can charge in total for deposits
  • A fee might not be reasonable for prospective tenants with well-behaved pets

Right to change landlord-tenant pet policy

Whatever your pet policy is now, you may change your mind sometime in the future. So, you should clearly state that you have this right in your rental lease agreement. 

If you decide to no longer permit dogs for some reason, you can simply notify all your building tenants of the change within a reasonable timeframe (usually 30 days).

If you do decide to change your pet policy, you may want to consider a grandfather clause that exempts tenants who already have pets in your building from complying with the new rule. That way, you don’t damage the landlord-tenant relationships you’ve worked so hard to build.

emotional support animal rental agreement
Support animals are always permitted in rental units, regardless of whether or not you have a no-pet policy in place. 

Do pet rules apply to support animals?

There are two main types of support animals that you should know about as a landlord: service animals and emotional support animals (ESAs).

Support animals are always permitted in rental units, regardless of whether or not you have a no-pet policy in place. 

Service animals, usually dogs, are those that are trained to perform certain duties that people with specific disabilities cannot. For example, there are guide dogs, hearing dogs, and seizure response dogs.

ESAs are not trained to provide specific services to help those with disabilities, but some people need them for emotional support, comfort, and companionship. For instance, someone who has PTSA or a very elderly person might have an ESA for support.

If a tenant has a service animal or an emotional support animal, they must disclose it to you, but they do not have to tell you what their disability is or how the animal assists them. 

As long as they can provide legitimate documentation regarding the animal, you usually have to make reasonable accommodations for them as a landlord (and you cannot deny someone a rental unit because they have a support animal).

Bottom line

As a landlord, being wary of tenants with pets is perfectly reasonable. But so many possible tenants have pets that you might not want to limit your tenant pool so much by having a no-pets clause in your lease agreement.

Instead, you may want to consider a pet policy that allows only certain types of pets and clearly outlines rules regarding pets to make having them in your property more comfortable for everyone.

Remember that, no matter what your landlord pet policy is, you may still need to accommodate a tenant who has a service animal or an emotional support animal.