How to keep a dog without losing your security deposit



Myles Ma

Myles Ma

Senior Managing Editor

Myles Ma is a health care expert & personal finance writer for Policygenius. He edits the Easy Money newsletter.

Published March 5, 2018|5 min read

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Dogs are good. We have a dog-friendly office here at Policygenius and it is an excellent perk. The positives of having a furry fun friend wandering around the office vastly outweighs the occasional poop under my desk.

But that's easy for me to say. Living with a dog full-time is more complicated and costly than enjoying an office visit of someone else's pup. This is especially true for renters, who could risk their security deposit if their pet gets a taste for the carpet. Here's some advice on how to make sure your dog and your landlord coexist.

Pick the right one

The dog, I mean. Some dogs are better-suited for apartment life than others, said Dr. Jen Summerfield, a veterinarian whose book "Train Your Dog Now!" hits stores this month. An ideal apartment dog is less active and noisy than other dogs. And because most apartments are in crowded, dense areas, dogs who live there have to be comfortable around other people and other dogs.

Pugs, French bulldogs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Greyhounds and Bassett Hounds are some of the breeds that fit the mold, Summerfield said. Mixed-breed rescues also work if they have the right personality.

Lucas Hall has been a landlord for more than 11 years, with five properties in three states. Landlords can and will discriminate based on tenants' pets, said Hall, who helps educate landlords as chief "landlordologist" at Cozy, a property management software company. Some landlords choose not to rent to tenants with certain breeds, but they should say so up front, Hall said.

Hall usually meets prospective tenants' dogs to make sure the pets match the descriptions given by their owners. One of his tenants claimed to have a beagle.

"I did not meet the dog beforehand and when he showed up it was a pit bull," Hall said.

Hall could have terminated the tenant's lease, but the tenant and the dog ended up being fine.

When meeting a dog, Hall also makes sure it's friendly. He considers this part of the rental application. If the dog is sweet and not scared of him, that's a sign it won't be a problem, he said.

In addition to restricting breeds, many apartment buildings set weight limits for dogs. Hall disagrees with these, as small dogs are just as likely to cause problems, but it's something for prospective tenants to be aware of. Some buildings also ban breeds with a reputation for being "aggressive," like pit bulls, Rottweilers and German Shepherds. Smaller rentals are less likely to have formal breed or weight bans, Hall said.

How to prepare your dog for apartment life

Hall always asks tenants with pets for their medical records to show they're up to date on their shots, especially the rabies vaccine.

"If they don't have those shots, that just means the owner of the pet is not responsible," Hall said.

Some landlords may require tenants crate train their dogs, Hall said. He's found that dogs do the most damage while their owners aren't home. Crate training prevents that.

Young dogs like to chew everything, so make sure they have options other than furniture, like bully sticks, Summerfield said. This may be obvious, but make sure the dog is house trained as well. Enough pee can ruin carpet or a floor.

Obedience training can help not only with your dog's behavior, but to show your landlord you're making an effort. Dog owners can go through the American Kennel Club's "Canine Good Citizen" program to get a certificate affirming their dog's good behavior, which they can show to their landlord, Summerfield said. To get a certificate, dogs must pass a 10-part test that includes how they act around strangers, walking through a crowd and sitting on command.

It's a good idea to conduct some diplomacy with neighbors, Summerfield said. Let them know you're getting a dog and that they should let you know if the dog causes any problems, like if it barks all day. Being proactive can ease future conflicts.

How can a dog damage an apartment?

Some of the most common damage dogs cause is to hardwood floors with their nails. Others dig up the yard. Hall often has to replace carpets and chewed-up moldings and doors when he rents to dog owners.

Puppies do extra damage, he said. They're still learning how to go to the bathroom outside, which means they'll sometimes go to the bathroom inside. To make sure he can repair any damage to molding or carpeting, Hall typically asks tenants with dogs for a bigger security deposit; a month and a half or two months of rent instead of one month.

Leases should say tenants are responsible for "any and all damages," Hall said, so landlords can ask them to pay for any damage above the value of the security deposit.

Hall also requires dog owners get renters insurance in case of dog bites.

"The renters insurance will cover the medical cost and liability if the tenant gets sued because of it," Hall said.

How to keep your dog healthy in an apartment

Apartments don't usually offer the stimulation or room you'd get with a good backyard. Owners have to be proactive about getting their dogs used to stairs, elevators and crowds, Summerfield said. Owners need to plan for a leash walk outside at least once a day, even for "low-energy" breeds. They should look into puzzle toys to provide mental stimulation inside the apartment as well.

"You'd be surprised how much that seems to help dogs relax," Summerfield said.

Don't get a dog if you won't have time to spend with it, Hall said.

"If tenants are thinking about getting a dog and living in an apartment, they need to remember that that dog is a living creature and needs a lot of attention," he said. "Make sure you've got what it takes to take care of a dog."

Image: Michael Krinke