7 Questions Every Pet Owner Should Ask Before Signing a Lease

updated Jun 4, 2019
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You see “pet-friendly” in a rental listing. But, that’s just scratching the surface. If you’re a pet parent (or a prospective one), finding the perfect place requires doing some reconnaissance.

Want to make sure your furry/fluffy/scaly friend is really welcome? Experts say to ask these seven questions before signing a lease:

1. What types of pet restrictions are in place?

Many buildings will restrict pets based on size intervals (i.e. dogs under 20 pounds), says Eric Mendelsohn, a real estate agent with Warburg Realty in New York City.

Have a large pet? Be prepared to pay or take concessions in amenities:

“Typically, the bigger your dog’s size, the less rental inventory you’ll find within your budget,” Mendelsohn cautions.

Like it or not, some property management companies will ban certain breeds to limit liability. Rowena Dasgupta of Warburg Realty says breeds seen as “aggressive” (like pit bulls, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds) are commonly not allowed.

Note: There’s a new resource to help pit bull parents find rentals, as pits tend to be the most commonly banned breed in apartments.

Beyond dogs, oftentimes buildings will restrict large aquariums due to the possibility of water damage if the aquarium breaks or malfunctions, says Ericka Rios, the co-founder and director of leasing for Downtown Apartment Company, a full-service real estate brokerage that works with more than 170 buildings in the Chicago area.

You should also ask if there is a limit to the number of pets you can have in your rental.

2. What costs will I need to pay for my pet?

Violating your lease’s pet policy can have expensive consequences and could even result in termination of your lease, cautions Ann Kanz, regional marketing manager at Morgan Properties, an apartment management firm based in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

Prospective residents should also ask if there is a pet deposit, monthly pet rental fee, or fees to cover damages, Kanz says.

Want to get your full deposit back when you move out? Make sure you effectively remove all traces of your furry friend. Shawn Handrahan, president of Valet Living, a Tampa, Florida-based residential living service company, says pet owners should stay on top of pet clean-up. Try using a window squeegee on your carpet to help pick up pet hair. As for stains, tackle them while they are still wet, if you can, with baking soda and a drop of vinegar, he says. It helps lift the stain and scent from carpet. Here’s a go-to strategy for cleaning cat urine.

3. Is the space a good fit for my pet?

Once you’ve determined your lease allows pets, you need to find out whether the rental is a good fit for your pet, says Christopher Linsell, a real estate analyst with TheClose.com. How will your dog do on an elevator? Is there a space for your cat’s litter box anywhere but the kitchen?

“Just because a pet is allowed in a space doesn’t mean it is going to be the best living situation,” Linsell says.

4. What kind of pest control is used?

Pest control companies often use chemicals that can harm pets, cautions Hyunmin Kim, DVM, veterinary staff manager for community medicine with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).  Rat poisons, for example, can pose severe problems for dogs and cats, including internal bleeding, brain swelling, and kidney failure.

To prevent any harm towards your pets, ask the property management team if they notify residents of pest control appointments and which chemicals will be used.

Also, if you have a dog, find out what products property managers use outdoors during the winter, Kim says. Rock salt is jagged and can irritate a dog’s paws.

5. What type of rules are in place?

Also, rules vary across buildings, says New York City real estate agent Noemi Bitterman of Warburg Realty.

“Some buildings don’t allow pets to enter or exit through the main lobby and they must use the service entrance,” she says.

Not only do you want to know about the rental’s rules when it comes to pets, but it’s also important to research the municipal rules, points out Rios.  

“Ask about leash laws and licensing requirements,” she says. You should also ask your vet what types of vaccinations your pet should be getting.

6. What types of resources are available for pets?

Before moving in, make sure there are enough pet resources on site or nearby, suggests Ashley Peeling, regional marketing manager at CLV Group, a property management group.

Some follow-up questions worth asking: Is there a designated off-leash area on the property? If not, where is the nearest pet-friendly park located? Are there dog waste disposal bins on site? Where is the nearest pet supply store? Veterinarian?

Also, Rios points out that more buildings are catering to pet owners. Some even offer luxe amenities like pet washing and grooming stations, walker and sitter concierge services, and “yappy hours” with cocktails for owners and treats for pets.

7. Can I paint the walls?

Apartments are notorious for stark white walls. And while the lack of a color palette may be a minor annoyance for you, it might upset your pets.

It’s a common misperception that dogs and cats are colorblind, says Kurt Venator, doctor of veterinary medicine and chief veterinary officer with Purina. Dogs are dichromatic and cats are trichromatic, he says, and both can see in the UVB spectrum.

“That means bright white colors can sometimes be visually off-putting to our pets,” he says. Rather, your pets favor yellow to violet hues, Venator explains.

Also, be sure to ask if you can make adjustments to the space to make it more conducive for your pet. For example, Venator suggests installing a perch for your cat to climb on to look out the window.

If your rental has hardwood floors, put down some rugs or mats so your pet has a place to lay and rest, he says. Rugs can also prevent pets from slipping and falling when they’re trying to get up.

A final note about moving day

When you move into a new rental, establish a “home base” for your pets. Keep their favorite toys, treats, water, food bowl, and litter box (for cats) all in one room, says Kim.

“When they seem comfortable, gradually introduce them to other rooms in the house, while keeping some doors shut,” Kim says.

You can also help adjust your cats to their new surroundings by rubbing their toys and bedding onto the walls to transfer their scent, she says. Sure, that may sound a little weird, but you want your new place to feel like home sweet home for your pets, too, right?