Did you know that 67% of households in the United States own a pet? Of that number, the majority of families own dogs and cats. With statistics like that, it's no wonder how allowing pets in your rental home can seriously open up your potential pool of renters! Not only do you have more prospects to market to and attract, but you even have the opportunity to charge additional pet rent to let Fido live in your rental home!
That said, it's important to screen potential "pet tenants" with the same care that you use to screen your human residents. The rigor of this process is designed to protect the condition of your rental property while still affording you the benefits of marketing your property to a wider range of potential residents.
As a Leesburg property management company, this often leads to the following questions that we get asked most often by landlords interested in allowing pets into their Florida rental home:
- What is pet screening? Does it matter?
- As a landlord, do I have to screen potential pets?
- How do I screen my applicants' pets legally?
In today's blog post, we aim to answer these questions and provide some additional insight into why the pet screening process is crucial for the health and safety of your investment property.
Please note: This blog is not intended to act as legal advice. When in doubt, reach out to your skilled attorney or your trusted Leesburg property management partner!
What Is Pet Screening?
Pet screening is, at its core, a background check for the animals that might call your rental property home. Just as you screen your resident applicants, you should be screening their pet (within reason) to the same standard and level of care. Of course, if the pet in question is a goldfish, you likely won't need to worry as much about the condition of your property.
However, it helps to have a standardized practice in place for every pet screening you'll need to do. It allows you to understand more about the animal and protect you from liabilities, such as aggressive behavior.
While there’s a lot of factors that play into the vetting process of a pet, some of the main ones we recommend screening for as a Leesburg property management company:
- A history of aggression
- Records of vaccinations
- An active veterinarian on file
- Confirmation of house training
- Records about spaying or neutering
- Information about breed, age, and gender
- Information about behavior from past landlords.
It's important to create a pet screening system that prevents crucial details from falling through the cracks. The last thing you want is a pet with a history of aggression or one that isn’t house trained to live in your rental unit. For this reason, it can be helpful for landlords to impose age or breed restrictions on pets. Keep in mind that these restrictions must operate within the rules and regulations of Florida and the Leesburg area.
For example, according to the City of Leesburg:
"Every owner of a dog, cat or ferret four (4) months old or older shall have such animal vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian or a licensed veterinarian assistant acting as authorized agent of the veterinarian, and obtain evidence of such vaccination in the form of a certificate signed by the person administering the vaccine and containing pertinent data for the identification of the animal.
The owner shall also obtain the license and metal tag required by the ordinances of Lake County, and comply fully with the licensing requirements of Lake County. Failure to obtain the required vaccination and the Lake County license and metal tag shall be a violation..."
Given that this is a requirement of the city itself (with the exception of service animals), it shouldn't be hard to enforce as an element of your lease. This also provides peace of mind to you as the landlord that these animals are up to code when living in your rental home.
How Do Service Animal Laws Affect Your Screening Process?
As we mentioned before, service animals are the exception when it comes to your pet screening procedure. As a Leesburg property management company, we warn the owners we work with not to get on the wrong side of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) with how they approach service animals and disabled tenants. A service animal is not considered a “pet” in the eyes of the law: they’re trained to assist their disabled partner with everyday living.
Even if you choose not to allow pets in your rental home, service animals (currently dogs and miniature horses) are allowed and protected by law. If the dog’s service is not obvious, the only questions you’re allowed to ask are:
- Is the animal a service animal required due to a disability?
- What work or task has the service animal been trained to perform?
As a property owner, it’s against the law to inquire about the specific disability of a tenant. Do NOT make the mistake of asking them about it. Just as service animals are exempt from a "no pets" policy, they are also exempt from any fees you may choose to charge as part of the rent if you decide to allow pets.
What About Emotional Support Animals?
The Fair Housing Act also allows certain protections for emotional support animals similar to those listed above. The main difference between a landlord’s rights with an emotional support animal versus a full-fledged service animal is that the landlord, in this case, is allowed to request documentation from the tenant to prove their eligibility for emotional support animals. The documentation must be signed by a medical professional.
Given how tricky managing these types of situations can be to manage as a solo landlord, we recommend that owners who are struggling to navigate FHA requirements reach out to a Leesburg property management company or a skilled attorney.
Let Your Leesburg Property Management Ally Take Over!
If you're like many of the property owners we work with, managing your Leesburg rental home was never intended to be a full-time job! However, simply trying to manage the legalities concerning your tenants and their four-legged (or finned) companions can quickly turn landlords into make-shift lawyers. Don't let this be you: there's no reason that the income from your property can't be passive! When you need support, you need an ally in property management.
Gunn Property Services is here for you! We support landlords with properties of every shape and size. As a family-owned and operated business, we know how important it is for landlords to be able to take their time—and their financial freedom—back from their investment home. Leave the care of your property to the professionals in Leesburg property management!