You may consider Fido part of the family, but that doesn’t mean your landlord will feel the same. According to the apartment search site Lovely, less than half of their listings for rentals in Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A. specified that dogs were permitted.
But pet ownership rates in the U.S. show no signs of slowing. Sixty-two percent of Americans own at least one pet, including 65 percent of all Millennials. Whether your roommate is canine or feline (or some other variety of nonhuman) there are steps you can take to help your apartment hunt go smoothly.
1. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ONLINE TOOLS.
Online tools make it easy to narrow down your apartment search, and this same technology can be used to find pet-friendly places in your area. Craigslist, Trulia, and Apartments.com all give users the option to weed out listings that don’t explicitly accept pets. This way you won’t fall in love with a place only to learn later that your furry companion isn’t welcome. Some websites, like PeopleWithPets.com, even go so far as to list pet-friendly rentals exclusively.
2. LOOK FOR PRIVATE LANDLORDS.
In the cases of properties that don’t advertise themselves as pet-friendly, private landlords are usually easier to wear down. Individual owners can be negotiated with, but when a professionally-managed building has a strict no-pet policy, there’s little hope of talking your way into it.
3. SEE IF YOU QUALIFY FOR A SUPPORT ANIMAL.
Seeing eye dogs provide assistance to their owners in obvious ways, but service pets can also help with disabilities that are less apparent. If you suffer from debilitating emotional issues and rely on your pet for comfort, you may be protected under the Fair Housing Act without even knowing it.
According to Hal Eisenstein, the founder of Pet Friendly Realty in New York City, public knowledge of this provision is "an infinitesimal percentage of one percent." He tells mental_floss, "Right now there’s absolutely no education. It’s not like any of these [real estate] agencies have a disabilities desk—it’s not even on their forms. It’s just not on their radar."
Eisenstein's company seeks to fill this need by connecting clients with therapists to see if their pets qualify as emotional support animals. If renters are diagnosed with an emotional disability, landlords who forbid their pets from moving in with them then risk discrimination charges. "If you need a pet, that would be like someone telling you that you can’t have an oxygen tank," Eisenstein says. "What happens is that it no longer becomes a pet … It’s a medical necessity."
Pet Friendly Realty further helps its clients by showing them listings in the city, regardless of the building’s pet policies. It goes without saying that this route isn’t for every pet owner, but if it sounds relevant to you, the law may be worth taking advantage of.
4. SIZE MATTERS.
If you don’t own a pet yet but are planning to down the road, choose one that will be easy for your landlord to love. It’s not uncommon for a building’s pet policy to single out dogs who exceed a maximum weight limit. For many places this falls between 20 and 50 pounds, so renters with a preference towards pint-sized breeds are already in the clear. These policies are probably for the best: a Saint Bernard might not feel at home in your 300-square foot apartment.
5. BRUSH UP YOUR PET’S RESUME.
Applying for apartments in a competitive market can sometimes feel like you’re trying to land a job. And for pet owners, it’s important to not only sell themselves, but their pets as well. Look into reaching out to dog walkers, obedience trainers, and former landlords for letters of recommendation to show your prospective leaser. It's also worth writing up a resume for your pet detailing its age, size, breed, certifications, and medical information. And if the landlord is still on the fence, suggest setting up a pet interview so they can get a feel for your cat or pooch in person.
6. OFFER TO PAY A PET DEPOSIT.
Some buildings only accept pets on the condition that pet owners put down a separate security deposit up front. If your potential landlord is hesitant about opening their door to pets, consider offering this as an option. Not only will it make them feel better about any scratched floors or mysterious stains they may find in the future, but it also shows that you’re confident in your pet’s behavior. And if you do expect your pet to wreck the place at some point, maybe rethink renting from an uptight landlord.
7. CHOOSE THE RIGHT LOCATION.
Somehow you’ve done the impossible: You found a nice apartment with affordable rent that’s just a short commute away from your office—and they allow pets! But don’t be so quick to sign that lease just yet. Just because a place is animal-friendly and perfect for you doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best spot for your pet. Take the time to do a little research into the area. Are there parks within walking distance, or doggy day cares where you can drop off your pet while you're away? Some apartment buildings are even beginning to offer pet-friendly services like on-site grooming, training, "dogcare," and events for pet owners. For tenants who can afford to live there, there's no doubt their pets will feel welcome.
8. KNOW THE LAW.
If your landlord waits months after you move in to tell you Fluffy's not allowed, you may be legally protected. A New York City law passed in 1983 states that most renters can keep their pets as long as they've been living unconcealed in the apartment for more than three months and no lawsuits have been filed in that time. When a lease doesn’t make any specific mentions of pet policy it defaults to local law, so take the time to learn your rights as a tenant.