VOLUME 1RThe Renter’s Guide To Getting a PetBy Melanie GreenFor pet-owning renters, there are legalities, landlords, lease terms and condo boards to contend with. In addition to that, tenants without pets may live in a multi-unit building that is pet friendly.

In this guide, learn about:
  • How to get a landlord’s permission to have a pet
  • Condo renters’ rights
  • Pet-specific lease terms
  • Tips on how to negotiate with an anti-pet landlord
  • Illegal pets and restricted breeds
  • Service animals
  • Emotional support animals

Keep in mind that every residence may have different policies when it comes to pets.

Permission From LandlordWhen people apply to live in a rental property, they often check if the property is pet friendly. Some rentals do not allow pets at all. Others might have restrictions on pet breeds and the number of animals a tenant can own.

However, not all renters own pets at the time they sign their leases. Before renters acquire animals at any time during the lease term, it is important to get permission from the landlord. This permission should be in writing so that in the event that a conflict occurs about the pets, the tenant and the landlord are protected.

It is a bad idea to try to hide pets or fail to disclose pet ownership status to landlords. There are legitimate reasons why landlords or property managers may enter a rental unit, such as for routine inspection or emergency repairs. If a landlord finds an animal that isn’t allowed or that hasn’t been disclosed through the lease, this could violate the lease terms and put the tenant at risk of eviction. For aggressive pets, this may also put the pet and the property owner at risk of each other.

Condo Owner vs. Renter RightsFor renters living in a condo community, the process of owning a pet can be a more complex process. Some condo boards don’t allow owners nor tenants to have any pets at all, per the association’s bylaws. Other bylaws may permit pets for association members (i.e. landlords and other association members) but not tenants. There could even be stipulations that the board must approve pets in accordance with its Rules and Regulations.

So even if a tenant sees pets on the property, it is highly advisable to revisit the pet ban with the landlord instead of assuming pets are allowed. Regardless of what the condo bylaws and Rules and Regulations may state for owners, landlords have the right to ban pets on their properties. This includes dog boarding, pet fostering or even visitors’ pets.

While there is very little wiggle room for a condominium with a universal pet ban—unless and until the condo board meets to allow an addendum to their own bylaws, which the tenants would not be privy to unless the landlord chooses to share this update—landlords do have the option of having a change of heart if the bylaws and Rules and Regulations allow pets as an option later on.

Reading Through the LeaseBefore approaching the landlord, tenants should read through their leases to see what is stated about pet ownership. If the lease doesn’t mention pets at all or only has vague information about animals, the landlord might be more flexible about allowing pets. If the lease explicitly forbids pets, the tenant might have to move to own a pet or have an incredibly convincing argument to stay.

Convincing Landlords To Accept PetsIt is possible to convince some landlords to accept pets. For landlords that do not have firm policies or reservations against pets, putting together a pet resume and a plan for how to accommodate the pet could go a long way. Tenants can include information about the breed’s agreeable nature and testimonials about the tenant’s reliability to encourage approval from the landlord. It’s also smart for tenants to offer landlords an additional pet security deposit during the negotiation process to cover any potential damages.

For anti-pet landlords, tenants should try a different tactic. Brainstorm on how a pet could benefit the landlord. If the residence has a rodent problem, a cat is a free exterminator. If the rental community has security concerns, dogs can help deter burglars.

Illegal Pets and Restricted BreedsIn Florida, exotic pets are classified into Class I animals that are illegal to possess. Class II animals require a permit to own. However, other exotic animals don’t require a permit.

Class I animals that the state prohibits include:

  • Chimpanzees
  • Leopards
  • Bears
  • Lions
  • Crocodiles
  • Komodo dragons

Class II animals that require a permit include:

  • Langurs
  • Servals
  • Howler monkeys
  • Wolves
  • African hunting dogs
  • Honey badgers
  • Alligators

Some exotic animals that can be owned as a pet without a permit in Florida include sugar gliders, gerbils, hedgehogs and non-venomous reptiles.

Laws vary widely by state and, in some cases, by municipality. For instance, in Texas, pet owners need a special license to own tigers, chimpanzees and bears. But Texans can own monkeys, ferrets, lemurs and wolves without a license or breaking the law.

Even if these animals are permitted by law, condo boards, landlords and insurance companies can choose to restrict certain breeds of animals for tenants to have on their property. In the case of dogs, this includes large breeds such as Pit Bulls, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers and Cane Corsos.

In addition to dog breed restrictions, some landlords might have weight and size restrictions in place. Renters that choose larger pets such as Mastiffs or Great Danes may later experience difficulty finding another pet-friendly rental to accommodate dogs of this size.

Service Animals and Emotional Support AnimalsService animals are working animals specifically trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. These animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In Florida and Texas, individually trained service dogs and miniature horses can serve as service animals.

Because the Fair Housing Act does not regard service animals as pets, renters should not have to pay a pet fee. However, tenants may need to pay a pet security deposit to cover any damages the animals cause to the property.

Similarly, emotional support animals (ESAs) provide support to those with psychiatric conditions. Dogs can be ESAs, along with other animals. While the state of Texas recognizes psychiatric service dogs, ESAs are not specifically trained to do work for owners and do not have the same access and protections as service animals.

By contrast, the Florida SB 1084 legislation passed in 2020 to clarify recognition of ESAs in the state. To be protected by housing accommodations, tenants must be able to prove their ESAs are legitimate. A healthcare practitioner must be able to certify that they have personal knowledge of the person’s disability and that they provided in-person care. The pet must also address a disability-related need.

In the event that tenants receive pushback from landlords about having a service animal or ESA, it is possible to escalate these concerns. First, tenants should speak to their doctor to get any paperwork necessary to prove their need for an ESA or service animal. They can give this documentation to landlords to provide third-party evidence. If this doesn’t work, there are service animal advocacy groups and disability lawyers that can help.

The Likelihood of Creating a Pet-Friendly HomeWhile moving to a pet-friendly home may initially seem like the only right answer, the tips above could help renters who have already made up their mind to start collecting moving boxes again. In some cases, it’s a simple matter of negotiation with the landlord. In other cases, it’s a matter of state laws. Either way, not hiding the pet, being familiar with the lease and local laws, and choosing an animal that is ideal in case of a necessary move should be considered long before a pet enters the home.