By Jenn Danko
Allowing renters to have pets can bolster the vitality of multifamily rental units, as long as property managers establish guidelines for owners and pets. For managers who oversee canine- and feline-friendly units, a pet policy with rules related to ownership, noise levels and waste control can determine whether allowing pets can be a positive or negative for a building and its residents.
We’ll look at some of the pros and cons of pet-friendly buildings and outline the rules property managers should have in place for pets and their owners.
Instituting a pro-pet policy can help property managers attract respectful tenants who otherwise may not consider renting in the building, says Donna Miller, assistant property manager with Midwest Property Management in Edmonton, Alta., and a member of the Real Estate Institute of Canada. Her tenants can have a maximum of two cats per household, and the owners must spay or neuter the cats and keep them indoors.
"Allowing pets helps with our vacancy rates," Miller says. "And allowing small dogs would only aid to further reduce the vacancy rate."
To ensure property managers realize the benefits of allowing pets, they first must implement a strict set of rules. Ground rules for pets should include the following:
At the properties of Montgomery Ross & Associates in Calgary, Alta., attractive condominium living is all about the "three Ps"—people, parking and pets, says president Vicci O’Brien. To regulate pets, O’Brien’s property managers issue a pet application owners complete and sign upon move-in. About 80 percent of O’Brien’s sites allow pets.
"Residents agree to rules that differ from site to site," she says. Most importantly, they state that occupants would have to remove a pet at the board’s request. In these cases, the pet would have to act unruly or threaten the safety of others in the building. Many boards have bylaws that define a maximum weight for pets, often less than 25 pounds (11.3 kilograms). The bylaws may also state that pets may not defecate on or befoul common property.
To prevent such incidents, prospective tenants receive a pet application that outlines the rules specific to the property. For example, rules for an apartment might state that owners must carry pets when in hallways or on elevators. In townhouses, rules might dictate that the owner leash and control the pet at all times.
Despite a clear set of rules, even the most dutiful pet owners will encounter mishaps with their pets, and property managers must be ready to handle the fallout when these owners slip up.
"One of the biggest problems we see in our [apartment] units is pets urinating in the hallways and on elevators," O’Brien says. "Unfortunately, some owners do not clean up after their pets."
Dogs barking at a level that disturbs neighbors is another major issue, O’Brien adds. When it comes to townhouses, the biggest issue is owners not cleaning up after their pets immediately in yards.
When owners don’t take responsibility, managers and tenants can incur higher cleaning costs in common areas and within private units. "Obviously, there can be some costs involved even when allowing just cats," Miller says. "They can damage the carpet with their claws and also soil them."
Her company requires tenants to hire professional carpet cleaners and asks for proof of cleaning upon move-out. A black-light inspection can determine the extent of carpet damage urine and feces have caused. Although the tenant is billed for in-unit cleaning costs, cleaning up after pets takes time away from other issues managers need to tackle.
While Midwest Property Management charges a non-refundable pet fee for each pet, security deposits are for the rental unit only and are governed by provincial legislation, Miller says.
Enforcing a pet policy also requires property managers to be well-versed in local bylaws related to animals, says Deborah Filice, president of the Institute of Housing Management in Toronto and Director of Housing for the city of Brantford, Ont.
"There are often restrictions related to the type of animal and the number of animals permitted per household," she says. Allowing tenants to violate such rules could result in costly consequences or fines for property managers.
Property managers also should look for information related to animal hoarding, which can be an added challenge. "These situations require extensive and exhaustive efforts to resolve," Filice says.