We often get asked how to create an animal policy. While there is not a one-size-fits-all answer, here are a few tips to help you consider the goals and unique needs of your property. We recommend keeping forward-facing policies concise, communicating only the key points to prospective tenants. More detailed rules and procedures can be added to your lease or animal addendum. Below are some common elements of an effective animal policy that you may want to consider.
Breed Restrictions - While most communities have some dog breed restrictions, other communities have found that they want to reduce or remove dog breed restrictions to help increase the rental prospects and increase pet revenue. Consult your insurance carrier about what dog breeds may pose a heightened risk. If you would prefer to not have breed restrictions, there are carriers that do not require breed restrictions.
Exotic Animals - Consider whether birds, snakes, monkeys, or any type of wild animal are allowed on the premises. A property may specify the types of pets allowed (e.g. only dogs, cats, birds, fish).
Number of Animals - Consider whether to limit the number of animals allowed. Many communities limit each unit to two animals.
Weight Limits - Consider whether there is a maximum weight you want to allow for pets at the property. While many communities are removing weight limits, some maintain weight restrictions on upper floors due to noise concerns for downstairs neighbors. If fish are allowed, a size limit on aquariums is important since a filled 75-gallon tank can weigh up to 1000 lbs.
Age Limit - Some properties have excluded puppies less than one-year-old due to increased risk of damage from chewing and not being housebroken.
Pet Rent, Deposits, and Fees - Consider whether to list any additional pet-specific rent, deposits, or non-refundable fees. Pet rents typically range from $20-$100 per month per pet. A pet deposit is refundable while a pet fee is a fixed, up-front, and non-refundable fee that does not require an itemized list of expenses. Note that pet deposits are earmarked for pet damages only, and consider whether an ordinary damage deposit would provide more flexibility. For example, you could withhold a security deposit for a tenant that removed all-copper pipes and wiring from a unit. However, as long as the pet didn’t cause the damage, the entire pet deposit would have to be refunded.
Assistance Animals - Pet rent, deposits, and other rules such as breed and weight restrictions do not apply to assistance animals. Consider noting in your policy that reasonable accommodations will be made for disabled persons with assistance animals, consistent with the Fair Housing Act. The most recent HUD guidance can be found here.
A pet policy can be stated in plain language and does not have to cover every rule you might want on your property. To draft your own pet policy, the bullets above can be a useful checklist to get you started. If you want to restrict certain breeds, you might simply say “The following breeds are restricted: …” As you work through your list of rules, remember to keep things simple. For example, “Two animals allowed per unit.” Clarifying details about rules, exceptions, and enforcement procedures can be left to the lease. A final step will be to compare your desired pet policy to the terms of your lease. Your pet policy and lease should be consistent to avoid any confusion. If your lease is silent on some issues, consider consulting with an attorney licensed in your state to help draft additional lease terms.
An attorney will also be able to help ensure your pet policy and lease terms are compliant with all state and local laws. For example, California Civil Code §1950.5 limits the amount that can be charged for a deposit, including pet deposits. Seattle ordinance limits both deposits and nonrefundable move-in fees. Your attorney will have insight into what fees and conditions you can enforce and can fine-tune a policy after you decide what conditions are desired.