What to Expect in the Pet Screening Process

Pet screenings are vital for landlords to assess the suitability of pets for rental properties, focusing on behavior, health, and compatibility with community living. These screenings benefit tenants by ensuring a pet-friendly environment, minimizing potential conflicts, and promoting transparency in pet ownership.

By
Noemie Peou
|
Last Updated
November 27, 2023
What to Expect in the Pet Screening Process

In a world where people treat their pets like their children, finding a pet-friendly apartment is make or break for tenants. In allowing pets, landlords broaden their prospective tenant pool and increase their chances of filling a vacancy quickly. On the flip side, though, pets can bring noise and potential property damage.

With pet screenings, landlords can ensure they find the right match for their apartment. Knowing what to look for when screening a pet allows landlords to get the complete picture of what they're signing for when agreeing to house a tenant and their pet.

Tenants and their pets want to put their best foot (or paw) forward during a pet screening, so knowing what to expect can help them prepare for the screening.

So, whether you're a landlord seeking a broader tenant pool or a renter searching for a pet-friendly home, let this guide be your go-to.

Understanding the pet screening process

Pet screenings help landlords and tenants determine whether a prospective apartment is the right place for a tenant and their pet, leaving everyone involved with something to gain from the process.

What is a pet screening for rentals?

Pet screening is essentially a background check for a pet. Just like landlords want to know about a tenant's rental history and credit score before deciding whether they're a good fit for the rental property, they want to ensure a tenant's dog or cat is compatible with their expectations.

Pet screening assesses the potential risk and suitability of pets for a rental property, checking for any red flags in a pet's behavior, such as a history of aggression or excessive barking. It's like giving pets a little "interview" to ensure they're the perfect houseguests for their new home.

Whether a tenant is moving to a new place with an old pet or bringing a new pet to their current rental, they'll want to inform the property manager or owner and will most likely receive a pet screening application at that time.

What is the importance of pet screening, and what does it entail?

Pet screenings offer advantages for both landlords and tenants. Landlords can ensure that pets meet specific behavioral and health standards, essential for maintaining the rental property's condition, ensuring neighborly peace, and upholding property integrity. 

On the other hand, tenants benefit from the transparency and honesty this process encourages. By openly sharing information about their pets, tenants can secure a living situation where they and their pets are welcome, minimizing the risk of potential issues or complaints. This clarity sets a foundation for a lease agreement with mutually understood and agreed-upon expectations.

In general, the pet screening process will entail completing an application that asks questions about your animal's behavioral and medical history, an evaluation of the application by the property manager or owner, an in-person "pet interview," and a yes or no decision, followed by the payment of any required fees.

How tenants can prepare their pets for a screening

Landlords generally look for fundamental qualities during pet screenings, such as proper grooming, sufficient house training, and low noise levels — the traits any responsible pet owner would aspire to instill in their animal companion. 

However, grooming your furry friend for such evaluations is not a last-minute task. Cultivating these desirable traits requires consistent training from the time of adoption. Early and dedicated training efforts are key to ensuring your animal companion meets screening criteria, facilitating a smoother approval process for a pet-friendly residence.

What property managers should look for when screening pets

Property managers must prioritize a few key factors to conduct a proper pet screening process. Firstly, evaluating the pet's behavior and training is crucial to gauge its suitability for communal living. 

Secondly, verifying vaccination records and adherence to local regulations ensures compliance and safety for all residents. Lastly, fostering open communication with prospective tenants about their pet's needs and habits establishes transparency, laying the foundation for a cooperative and inclusive environment within the property. This screening process mitigates potential issues and cultivates a welcoming atmosphere for pets and residents alike.

How to conduct a pet screening

Knowing what steps to take and what questions to ask when initiating pet screening work is incredibly important. The guide below can help you nail down the process.

1. Clearly define rules and guidelines

Once a tenant or applicant has expressed their desire to bring a pet onto the rental property, the landlord should plainly explain the rules surrounding animals. They should highlight any applicable lease terms, request reasonable accommodations such as acceptable noise levels, and share pet-specific documentation with the tenant, such as a pet addendum.

Landlords should also inform tenants of any associated fees at this time. Whether a pet deposit, a non-refundable one-time fee, or pet rent is required, making a tenant aware of the financial weight of bringing their animal onto the property can help them determine whether to carry on with the next steps in the pet screening process.

2. Complete the pet screening application

Next, the tenant will provided a pet screening application to fill out. The application might come in paper form, or a landlord might ask a tenant to complete an application through an online pet screening service first. Either way, both parties need to have physical proof of the application they can refer to at any time.

Rental property owners will request basic information about the applicant, including contact information, references, and a pet photograph. Additionally, applicants should expect to answer the following:

  • What type of pet do you own?
  • How long have you owned this pet?
  • Can you provide veterinary records showing proof of vaccinations?
  • Does your pet have a history of aggressive behavior?
  • Has your pet ever hurt a person or another animal?
  • Is your pet housetrained?
  • How many hours a day is your pet left alone?
  • What are your pet's living arrangements?
  • Are you okay with paying a pet security deposit?*

*Before including this question, ensure that your state allows you to request more than one security deposit per rental unit.

3. Assessing the application

The landlord will review the responses once prospective tenants have submitted their applications. If the applicant seems responsible and is requesting to bring home a low-stakes pet, such as a hamster, approval might happen at this point. If a landlord still has uncertainties about the pet's behavior or wants to take further measures to ensure it is a good fit, they might pursue extra steps in the screening process.

4. The pet interview

When a property manager seeks to evaluate a pet further before deciding, they'll ask for an in-person interview with the prospective tenant and their pet. It's always a good idea for landlords to request to meet the pet in person to smooth out any fuzzy details on the application. 

For example, a pet parent might view their animal's bad behavior as endearing, whereas neighbors would not. Seeing the pet's behavior with your own eyes can clear up any inherent biases.

In-person interviews benefit certain dog breeds with historically bad reputations that typically get rejected in a pet screening, allowing landlords to handle applications on a case-by-case basis.

When meeting in person, the landlord will assess several aspects of your pet:

  • Compatibility with other pets and tenants on the rental property.
  • Whether the pet has behavioral issues, such as excessive barking or aggression.
  • Ability to respond to basic commands from its owner.
  • Whether the pet in front of them matches the pet from the application.

Because pets tend to get nervous and excited when in a new place, interpret the behavioral assessment with a grain of salt. They might just need to settle in to reveal their true, well-behaved self.

5. Make an informed decision

Landlords should consult their local and federal laws to ensure the pet is legal on the premises if approved or that the basis for the denial is legal if rejected.

Service animal policies

Service and emotional support animals have protections under the Fair Housing Act that landlords must honor. If a tenant has a pet covered by this law, landlords cannot deny them the ability to live in the rental property, and landlords must make reasonable accommodations for the pet. Thus, do not ask the owner to complete a pet screening application.

What landlords can and can't request

Landlords need to tread carefully when it comes to accommodating pet owners with service animals — it's of the utmost importance that they respect the rights of the pet and its owner. However, this doesn't mean that landlords have no say in the matter. Here's what landlords should know when asking an owner about their service animal:

Do's

  • Requesting the pet's vaccination records.
  • Asking for a letter from a mental health professional confirming that the tenant requires an emotional support animal.

Don't's

  • Demanding proof of certification of the animal's service animal status.
  • Requiring a pet deposit.
  • Asking for proof of the tenant's health condition that necessitates a service animal.

Exemptions

Per the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, landlords can deny a request for reasonable accommodations for a service animal in the following circumstances:

  • Granting the request would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider.
  • The request would fundamentally alter the essential nature of the housing provider’s operations.
  • The specific assistance animal in question would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others despite any other reasonable accommodations that could eliminate or reduce the threat.
  • The request would result in significant physical damage to the property of others despite any other reasonable accommodations that could eliminate or reduce the physical damage.

Pet-related fees

Housing a pet comes with the inherent risk of damage to the property. To help offset the cost of repairs for pet-related damage, many property managers charge tenants fees in exchange for welcoming their pets into the rental unit.

There are several different pet-related fees, which we'll define and differentiate below. Each state has regulations surrounding these fees, so be sure to brush up on your state's laws before charging or paying a pet fee.

It's important to note that service animals are exempt from pet-related fees, and attempting to charge a tenant a pet fee for their service animal would be illegal.

Application fee

Pet application fees are charges associated with applying for a pet in a rental property. These fees cover the administrative costs linked to reviewing the online pet screening application, assessing the pet's suitability for the property, and potentially conducting additional checks through a third-party service. Application fees tend to be non-refundable.

Pet deposit fee

Pet deposit fees for renters act as a kind of insurance policy, similar to how a security deposit safeguards against property damage. While the security deposit covers general wear and tear, the pet deposit specifically accounts for potential damages caused by the animal during the tenancy. Both deposits aim to protect the landlord's property, with the pet deposit focusing on any pet-related issues beyond the normal use of the rental space.

Pet rent

Pet rent for renters is an additional monthly fee, typically ranging from $25 to $75, charged by landlords to accommodate pets in rental properties. Legally considered a discretionary charge, landlords have the right to implement pet rent as compensation for potential pet-related wear and tear or added property maintenance costs associated with having a pet on the premises.

Taking size, breed, and temperament into account

During the pet screening process, landlords carefully assess the pet's size, breed, and behavior in alignment with their pet policy. This comprehensive evaluation allows landlords to gauge how well the pet's size and breed align with their property guidelines and to understand the pet's behavioral traits that may impact communal living. For instance, some landlords may prohibit dogs over 75 pounds or dogs of a particular breed.

For landlords: It's essential to be flexible with your pet's breed restrictions — sometimes, a 100-pound rottweiler will be quieter and more docile than a 6-pound chihuahua. Every pet has the opportunity to be well-behaved under good ownership and with proper training, so evaluate pets on a case-by-case basis.

Can landlords legally forbid pets or certain dog breeds?

Landlords can legally prohibit certain pets or dog breeds in many parts of the country. Breed restrictions are usually based on insurance considerations, liability concerns, or perceived risk associated with certain breeds.

However, many states have deemed breed-specific legislation discriminatory. If you live in one of these 17 states, breed-specific legislation is illegal: Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Massachusetts, Nevada, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Utah and South Dakota.

Additionally, some animals are illegal to own on a state or federal level, so always double-check your local laws before housing an exotic pet.

Pet screening for apartments

Understanding pet screenings is crucial for landlords and tenants alike. These screenings help landlords decide if a tenant's pet fits their rental property well. They ensure pets won't cause problems like making too much noise or damaging the place.

For tenants, pet screenings mean finding a home where they and their pets are welcome without worrying about being asked to leave or facing complaints about them later. But it's important to remember that having pets can sometimes bring challenges like noise or damage, which landlords must consider. Ultimately, pet screenings aim to create a peaceful and happy living environment for everyone involved.

Noemie Peou

Noémie, a Penn State English graduate, is an editor, writer, and social media expert. With experience at a literacy nonprofit and credit-building startup before Azibo, she has French-Cambodian heritage and is based in Philadelphia. Outside of work, she enjoys sewing, curating niche Spotify playlists, and feng shui-ing her apartment.

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