As the name would suggest, a pet screening is simply a form of background check and assessment you perform on a prospective tenant’s pet. It helps you ensure that the pet isn’t going to cause any problems or damages to the property or the neighborhood.
During a pet screening, the landlord, property manager, or a third party collects information about the pet, like its breed, size, age, and behavior history. This helps determine if the pet meets specific requirements, such as being well-behaved, vaccinated, and not aggressive. As a result, you’ll have a much better understanding of whether or not this is a good match for your rental property.
Why should you perform a pet screening?
You want to make sure that everyone who inhabits your rental property is a good tenant, and this applies to furry friends as well as humans. The number of Americans who own a pet is steadily growing; in 2023, 66% of all American households had a pet, which is 10% more than in 1988. It's becoming increasingly important for landlords to accommodate pets in order to avoid narrowing the potential tenant pool too much.
A thorough pet screening can help prevent issues such as property damage, disturbances to other tenants, or conflicts between other pets that already live in the vicinity. Pet screenings are performed on all types of animals, but are more common for dogs. If the new tenant is bringing a goldfish, a pet screening probably wouldn’t be necessary, but you could ask about the size of the tank just to make sure it’s not too heavy.
There are circumstances where a pet screening would be especially important, such as:
- Neighbor concerns: if the rental property is part of a multifamily unit, or is otherwise located in close proximity to neighbors, you want to make sure that the pet won’t be a nuisance or cause problems in the neighborhood.
- Building rules and regulations: if the rental is part of a condo association or similar, be sure to check whether there are any specific regulations for pets and if the potential tenant's pet meets the requirements
- Consideration for other pets: if there are already other pets in the near vicinity of the rental property, make sure this isn’t going to pose a problem. If there are already 5 cats living in the building and your prospective tenant is brining a dog, you want to make sure this isn't going to be a big issue.
Additionally, there are more practical reasons in terms of property concerns. If the rental unit has hardwood floors for example, you might want to make sure the pet regularly gets it’s claws trimmed as these types of floors are particularly prone to scratching. In any case, it’s wise to make sure that damages caused by pets will be covered by the tenant as part of the rental agreement. You can also consider charging a pet fee to compensate for the likely additional wear and tear, but remember that you cannot charge a pet fee for a service animal
How to conduct a pet-screening
Before conducting a pet screening, make sure you know what you want to get out of it, and what rules you want to establish. This could include factors like size restrictions, breed restrictions, or the number of pets allowed.
Remember that many landlord insurance policies exclude certain animals and dog breeds, so make sure to go over your insurance policy to see what the exclusions regarding pets are. Several states have also banned certain types of pets, usually wild animals, so if your tenant has a very exotic furry friend, you’d want to check the local laws and regulations regarding the species.
If you want to conduct your own pet screening rather than using a third-party service, set up a process according to the following steps:
- Application form: This information about what kind of pet, breed, age, size, behavior history, and vaccination records. Also, include contact information for the pet owner's veterinarian.
- Verify Assistance Animals: If a tenant's pet is an assistance animal (e.g., service animal or emotional support animal), request proper documentation from a qualified healthcare professional to verify its legitimacy.
- Interview with owner and pet: Schedule an interview with both the pet owner and pet to discuss their pet in more detail. Ask questions about the pet's behavior, training, exercise routine, and how they handle any potential issues or challenges. While you obviously won’t be able to interview the pet itself, you can try communicating with it by giving it some simple commands and seeing how it responds to strangers in general. Look at for signs such as excessive barking, bared teeth, and hissing if you fear the animal might be aggressive.
- Ask for and check references: When applicable, ask for references from previous landlords, neighbors, or others to verify the information you have gathered so far.
After completing these steps, you can make an informed decision as to whether the pet is a good match for the rental property or not. In any case, it’s wise to add a pet amendment to the lease agreement where everything in relation to the pet is laid out in a clear and concise manner.
Are you allowed to do a pet screening on a service animal or an emotional support animal?
Both emotional support animals (ESA’s) and service animals serve a completely different purpose than traditional pets, and are strictly speaking not even considered pets thus pet laws do not apply to them in the same way as they would for other furry friends. Service animals are "dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities" according to the ADA, while ESA’s can be any type of animal that serves as a companion to individuals with emotional or psychological conditions.
As a landlord, you are allowed to ask for proof in terms of a medical license stating that the tenant needs the animal, but you cannot ask for proof as to why or what disability the tenant has. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords are generally required to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, which includes allowing emotional support animals as well as service animals.
In plain terms, you could only refuse an ESA or a service animal in very limited circumstances where it poses an undue burden or fundamentally alters the nature of the housing provider's services. In these cases, it’s always best to consult with an attorney before taking any action.
As for pet screening ESA’s and service animals, you could still perform a lighter version of the just to get to know the animal. Remember that service animals in particular has undergone extensive training in terms of obedience and manners, so chances are these dogs will be particularly well-behaved. ESA’s on the other do not have to undergo any form of training and comes in all shapes and sizes.
Performing a pet screening is a crucial step for landlords to assess prospective tenants' pets, gather information about their behavior and characteristics, and ensure they won't cause issues or damages to the property or neighborhood. While there are plenty of pet screening services that can take care of this process, landlords can also perform their own pet screening by asking the prospective tenant to give a detailed list with information about the pet concerning behaviour, training and vaccinations, and also by meeting the pet and the owner. Service animals and ESA's though serve distinct purposes from traditional pets and are not considered pets under the law, and are generally exempt from pet screenings. And remember that as more and more people are ge