Tips For Negotiating a Lease with Exotic Pets

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I am an exotic pet person. This came as quite a surprise to me when I moved to a new city and called a vet specializing in small animals to see if they could fit in one of my guinea pigs who had developed a sneeze during our move, but was told that the vet did not treat "exotic pets". Surprise! Both of my guinea pigs and my little mouse are exotic pets. I assure you they all felt quite fancy when I informed them of their status. (I also have enjoyed the upgrade to exotic pet person from crazy rodent lady.) As it turns out, rabbits, chinchillas, hamsters, turtles, frogs, snakes, are all exotic pets. And as un-exotic as your exotic pets may be, they can still pose a lot of difficulty when it comes to signing a lease.

There's not a lot of knowledge or understanding of exotic pets, and when you couple that with the common fear or distaste for rodents and reptiles it gets even harder to find a place to live with your pets. I've certainly faced my share of trouble trying to convince potential landlords to rent to me with my mini-menagerie, but I've learned several valuable lessons that can help you get through your hunt for an exotic pet friendly apartment.

Here are a few tips I've gathered along my crazy rodent-lady apartment rental journey:

  • Be up front. It can be tempting to try to sneak your exotic pet into a rental situation, but lying to your landlord about your pet can cause serious problems down the road. An unauthorized pet can cost you a lot of money, get you handed an ultimatum (get rid of your pet or get out), and even land you in court facing eviction. Be sure to disclose all of your pets up front to a potential landlord, and absolutely, definitely make certain that your pets are authorized in either your lease itself or in an attached rider. Do not leave yourself open to future difficulties by failing to get your pet agreement in writing.
  • Educate your potential landlord about your pet. Bring printouts from online resources or photocopies of pages from a book to give to your landlord that discuss the housing, feeding, and habits of your pet, and be prepared to demonstrate how you will be meeting these needs in your rental property. Exotic pets are uncommon, and since most people haven't had the opportunity to learn about the intricacies of living with one of these pets, they may have concerns that will be eased simply by learning a bit more about your pet. I once had a landlord express fear over my guinea pigs escaping their enclosure and rifling through the trash. Now, the idea of my lazy, elderly guinea pigs leaping out of their cage to wreak havoc on the garbage was humorously implausible to me, but a source of genuine concern for my landlord. We were able to work it out once we discussed what guinea pigs do eat (hay and fresh produce, not trash), plus I shared a few pictures of how they would be housed and a couple of Christmas pictures of my duo looking a bit disgruntled while wearing gift bows as hats. Do not underestimate the power of adorable animal photos.
  • Bring documentation. If your pet is registered with the city you live in, bring that information along, as well as any information on shots and veterinary care. Most vets are happy to write you a letter saying that your pet is under their care and does not present a danger to anyone. It's a safe bet to collect any documentation that would be required of a non-exotic pet and have that available for your new landlord. This demonstrates that you're a responsible pet owner, and that you're prepared for any issues that might arise while you live in this rental property.
  • Be prepared to pay a deposit. If there's a $500 deposit for dogs, you might have to pay that deposit for your mouse or turtle, but you should never have to pay more than the dog/cat deposit. It might seem ridiculous to you — it certainly has to me in the past — but if there's a non-negotiable pet deposit for your apartment then that's the price you pay for living in that apartment with your pet. My mouse and guinea pigs may not be destructive, and your turtle might just hang out in his aquarium all day, but somewhere along the line the landlord may have had a tenant with a rabbit who chewed up the baseboards or a snake that escaped to terrorize the neighbors. Not everyone is responsible with their pets, and unfortunately for those of us who are responsible, there is no real way for a landlord to identify the irresponsible in advance. That being said, hopefully the documentation and information you share with your landlord will help mitigate the deposit.
  • Be prepared to walk away. Apartment hunting is a stressful experience, and it's easy to get caught up in a cycle of desperation-fueled capitulations to less than desirable situations, which leads to having to repeat the experience once again when your lease expires. Sometimes you have to take a deep breath, remind yourself that there are other apartments out there (even if it feels like there aren't), and walk away. There will be landlords out there that are not willing to lease to you with exotic pets, or will demand an exorbitant deposit, or even rent for your pets. It's okay to say no to these places and look for something else. An apartment might seem perfect — maybe it has a beautiful kitchen or gets great light — but if the landlord cannot or will not accommodate your pets, it is not the perfect apartment for you.

Have you rented an apartment with exotic pets? Do you have any tips or stories to share?

(Image credits: Carolyn Purnell)

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