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Dear David,

We are reminding you that your dog, Basenji, may visit you at the Autumn West Apartments. With this letter we would like to define your visitation rights.

  1. The pet may not be left alone in the rental unit.
  2. No dog noises, i.e. barking or howling allowed.
  3. Proper pick up around the grounds must be practiced.
  4. The dog may not remain in the rental unit overnight.

This is the gist of a letter I found on a property manager's desk last week. I was surprised, because we don't allow pets at most of our properties, not even to visit. But since I have a dog, I thought I would do some research to get a handle on this pet issue before I discussed it with my property manager.

In 1999-2000 there were approximately 62,400,000 people who owned dogs in the United States and 64,250,000 who owned cats. In households were there are no children under the age of 18, more dogs are owned on average. Most households that own cats, own on average two cats, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association.

As a nation we are suffering from pet overpopulation. Huge numbers of cats and dogs enter shelters every year, and millions of animals are euthanized annually.

My property manager told me that this visitation was an exception to the rule. There are many tenants that have pets that they want to move in to our apartments, but that has only been allowed in hard-to-rent properties, and then only cats. Our condominium properties have a higher percentage of pets living with their adult humans. What we discovered is that at those properties we don't have thorough property rules to keep in check the animals.

Our biggest concerns were public safety, animal disease, filth, damage to the commons and the units (i.e. carpets, fleas, ticks), noise, lack of rules, and methods of enforcement. So I looked to the Humane Society Web for help. Their ideas were as follows:

  • Limit the number of pets in a unit to two (pets are often happier if they live in pairs).
  • Allow only traditional pets in a community (no iguanas, boas, etc.).
  • Require that resident dogs, cats, and rabbits be neutered before they reach six months of age to control over population.
  • Require that cats and dogs be licensed and up to date on rabies and other vaccinations.
  • Require that pets wear collars with identification at all times.
  • Require that pets be kept under control at all times (i.e. on a leash or harness -- yes cats too).
  • Require that the pet owners follow a written set of pet rules governing responsible keeping of animals in a community.
  • Evaluate prospective residents and pets on an individual basis.
  • Require a pet owner supply a pet photo for the lease file.
  • Require a supplemental security deposit.
  • Require a pet application, such as the one found at Rental Housing OnLine.

After accepting a pet what kind of policies/rules might work? Here are several ideas:

  1. All pets must be registered with management.
  2. Pets shall not be used for any commercial purposes.
  3. All pets must be spayed or neutered.
  4. No pets that are endangered, poisonous, or dangerous can be accepted.
  5. Pet must be confined to the owner's unit and only walked on a leash.
  6. All pet debris must be picked up and disposed of according to the rules.
  7. Pet owners are financially responsible for any and all damages their pets create.
  8. No pet shall become a nuisance or create any unreasonable disturbance. This means pets cannot be accepted when they cause personal injury or property damage; make noise continuously; are not leased in common areas; relieve themselves on walls or floors of common areas or spray on neighbor's doors; pets that exhibit aggressive behavior; pets who are not clean; and pets who may be parasite infested.
  9. When leaving town owners must notify the management and have a pet sitter lined up.
  10. Owners and tenants are responsible for visiting pets
  11. Pet owners shall indemnify the property owners and hold them harmless against any claim, loss or liability -- including legal fees.
  12. These rules shall be interpreted according to the best judgment of the property owner and the owner's agents and such interpretations shall be final.

In the final analysis we are very nervous about renting to pet owners. Just look at all of the issues that need to be policed and enforced for pet policies to work. On the other hand, there's a growing demand for apartments and condominiums that cater to pets. Maybe visitation policies are a good starting point to review pet policies today and how they might evolve.

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