Today is another Ask Me Anything episode.

Mike asks,

I love the podcast. Quick and packed with good info.

I have around 75 single family rental houses and recently it seems that people are applying more and more with emotional support animals. Apparently I can’t say that I do not allow pets in my rental if they have an emotional support animal. Also, it’s my understanding that they don’t even have to tell me they have a pet, and they can just bring an animal into the house when they wish and claim that it is an emotional support animal. I have done quite a bit of research on this and am concerned with my lack of rights as the property owner. It seems as if I can’t charge any pet fees or pet deposits as well. I can’t really even ask any questions related to the animal at all once its in the house. I know its been a problem for airlines and college campuses and seems its increasingly become one for us.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Thanks again for a great podcast!

Mike this is a great question.

There are multiple sources of tenant damage that can happen. Pets for sure can be a source of damage. But they’re only one of several possible sources. Some of the literature I’ve read on the topic suggests that pets are nowhere near the top of the list in terms of sources of damage to a property.

The number one cause of property damage in terms of cost is children. There’s no way you would tell a tenant that they can’t have children on the property. That would violate every landlord tenant rule anywhere in existence.

The second highest cost in terms of damage is smoke damage from smokers. The reason is that a coat of paint won’t solve the problem. In the case of chain smokers, I’ve experienced having to put multiple barrier coats of sealing primer, and then finally two coats of finish paint. The smell infiltrates the carpets, and I’ve had to replace carpets. I’ve also had to replace laminate flooring that had absorbed a smell.

Pet damage usually falls into one of three categories:

  1. Pet waste. If a cat or a dog urinates on a carpet, carpet cleaner is often not enough to solve the problem. It can soak into the subfloor and can often require cutting out the subfloor and replacement of the boards. While the scope of that kind of fix can seem large, the actual cost is not really that high.
  2. Scratches on doorways and hardwood floors. Here too, the cost of these repairs is not usually that high. While the damage is very visible, the damage is usually confined to a few small areas. In my experience these repairs are much less than the spills that children can cause repeatedly.
  3. Landscaping. Some pet owners have a bad habit of letting their pet out into a fenced back yard to do their business. After a couple of years these yards look like a mine field of dead grass and craters where pets have been digging. The effort to repair a yard and re-do a lawn can be considerable.

As part of your lease negotiation, you should definitely detail a schedule of costs for damage repairs, regardless of the cause. Some tenants with pets will simply choose to go elsewhere.

Make sure you’ve taken thorough photos and send copies of the photos of the property condition as part of your move-in inspection with the tenant. These photos must include details of windows, doors, doorframes, screens on windows, kitchen appliances, blinds, carpet condition and so on. These photos will be your best defence when it comes time for the tenant to vacate. You can make an argument that they were delivered an apartment in pristine condition and that the damage experienced represents more than normal wear and tear.

My personal opinion is that pets have earned an unfair reputation for property damage compared with some of the other leading causes. They usually don’t do as much damage to a property as the urban legends would have you believe.