Dogs make great roommates. They’re wonderful company, never hog the television remote control, and rarely throw parties. But renters across the country know that finding pet-friendly housing can be a formidable challenge in some markets. While some towns and small cities have a relative wealth of options to choose from, others, such as San Francisco, seem to be experiencing a housing crisis of sorts when it comes to pet-friendly options. Anywhere that the housing market is tight — New York, Houston, Chicago — likely is seeing a growing problem.
“At the SF SPCA, we are seeing an increasing number of teary-eyed pet owners being forced to surrender their cats and dogs to us because of housing issues,” says media relations specialist Krista Maloney. “This disturbing trend is due to the fact that pet-friendly housing is becoming scarce in San Francisco. Despite being one of the most pet-friendly cities in America, with 1.7 dogs to every one child, landlords have a different idea of what constitutes a good renter.”
In the past 12 months, the SF SPCA has managed 216 surrender cases because of housing issues, half of which were because pet owners couldn’t obtain a suitable lease. In some cases, a formerly pet-friendly agreement changed to no longer allow animals.
So, how can you prevent you and your four-legged roommates from being rendered homeless?
When you’re starting to apply for housing, draft a pet resume and have it ready for when you submit your credit report. “Be proactive about making yourself a good candidate to show your pet has been a great tenant in the past,” Maloney says. “Include your dog’s great qualities, such as being sociable, friendly, quiet, great with children, and non-destructive.” Also include a list of past buildings your pet has lived in and a photo of your furry friend. Plus, a vet can vouch for the dog’s mannerisms and behavior. This kind of personal touch will prove that you’re a responsible pet owner who plays an active role in his or her animal’s life. Take this part of the application process less than seriously and risk being turned down as an applicant — just ask Oakland A’s pitcher Sean Doolittle and his partner Eireann Dolan.
“When you move out of a building, if your pet has been a great tenant, ask your landlord to write a referral. That can go a long way to make your pet a great candidate when you’re applying for housing,” Maloney says. It’s the same theory as applied to humans. If someone can vouch for you, you’re more likely to be trusted by the next proprietor.
If and when you do secure pet-friendly housing, make sure you have all the details written on paper. “A verbal agreement is one thing, but if you don’t have it written into your lease that you’re allowed to have pets, a new landlord can put you in a tough spot,” Maloney warns.
This sounds simple enough, but it probably requires your daily attention. And it goes beyond being respectful of others to actively trying to create a safe and pleasant atmosphere for your neighbors. “Train your pets, and make sure they aren’t barking or whining when you’re gone,” Maloney recommends. “Common behavior problems can be addressed through training or talking with your veterinarian.”
No matter how prepared you are to apply for pet-friendly housing, however, sometimes it’s difficult to come by. Certain buildings are lenient and allow all types of dogs. Others have breed restrictions on Pit Bulls or larger dogs. “We’re having a harder time adopting those animals out as a result,” Maloney says. “They tend to be the types of dogs that don’t kennel well. They need exercise and mental stimulation.”
Kiersten Anderson recently moved to the Bay Area with her boyfriend and their dogs to work as dog volunteer coordinator at the city’s SPCA. Through a friend, she found a short-term, month-to-month rental that welcomed her rescue pooches. “It’s very small but allows all five of our dogs to be with us,” she says. Anderson doesn’t know how long the temporary housing will last, but she’s found nothing else that’s even close to fitting her budget. She must look outside of San Francisco, where the legal limit is three dogs per home. Of course, with five dogs, she’s looking for a house with a fenced-in backyard, but most homes are quickly scooped up by people without pets.
“The average landlord isn’t going to choose someone with one dog, let alone five dogs, to rent from them,” Anderson says. Despite being responsible and taking care of her living space, she’s encountered huge restrictions and unforeseen financial costs. “I have friends and colleagues who have to either live with parents or have four or five other roommates, literally sharing rooms, to make ends meet,” she adds.
Anderson just hopes to “find that gem of a landlord who will empathize” so she can settle into a home that’s safe, secure, and welcoming for her dogs. Her advice for other pet owners who might face similar obstacles? “Give yourself enough time to find a place. Take into consideration other options and be open-minded about where you’re going to live,” she says. “Don’t give up hope.”
But what’s a renter to do if she’s been living in a dog-friendly house and the landlord changes the rental agreement upon renewal to not include pets? Unfortunately, there is no easy recourse. There’s evidence that after an extended period of time, a landlord may have effectively forfeited his right to a no-pets clause if the renter was previously allowed to have a pet. Still, laws vary by city and state, so you should always check with local ordinances to find out your rights. You can take the landlord to court and battle it out, but that may not be worth your time or money. You might be better off searching for new housing.
To prevent your landlord from wanting to change the agreement, you should constantly try to proactively address his or her animal-related concerns. Understandably, property managers are worried about potential property damage, so it’s your job to communicate what type of training or obedience classes your pet has taken and to provide proof of spay/neuter.
If you’re currently in search of dog-friendly housing, rental sites like Zumper.com are a great place to start the hunt. There’s a pet-friendly filter so you can narrow down the results to only dog-friendly options. Growth analyst at Zumper Ina Herlihy recommends searching by neighborhood description as well, so you can choose housing based on proximity to parks and outdoor spaces to bring your pet. You may also want to focus on ground-floor units if you have a puppy or a pet who needs to go outside frequently. Easy access to grass is a huge bonus for you and your four-legged friends.
“Renters should set up alerts so they’ll be notified when there are new apartment listings that match their interests,” Herlihy recommends, noting that pet-friendly options can be more competitive because they’re simply not as common.
For more info, check out the SF SPCA’s tips for tenants who have pets. If you have tips for finding pet-friendly housing based on your personal experience, please share in the comments.
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About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox, and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).