Pets and Landlords

August 2, 2011

Day in and day out, the number one reason we hear from people who surrender their dogs is, “My landlord doesn’t allow pets.”

As the head of a nonprofit organization, Forte Animal Rescue, and a former Commissioner of the Board of Los Angeles Animal Services, I was invited to a meeting of The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA), which consists of 14,000 members who own apartment buildings, to speak about the importance of allowing the tenants to have pets in their apartments.

I began by asking the audience, “How many of you allow pets in your apartments?”

Few hands were raised.

“How many of you have your own pets?”

The majority raised their hands.

I found this rather odd, but felt encouraged because this response indicated they don’t hate companion animals even though most of them do not allow their tenants to have pets.

I asked why.  While their reasons varied from keeping their properties clean to being apprehensive about excessive barking, what it really boils down to is “liability” (welcome to Los Angeles, the Mecca of lawsuits!).  However, an AAGLA member articulated that the apartment owners are legally protected against such liabilities, as long as appropriate lease agreements have been signed.

That said, anyone can sue anybody for anything.  Even if they know a case is frivolous, people still sue.  Landlords should not consider this a hindrance in allowing tenants to have pets.  In fact, landlord liability is actually much higher if a child or a senior citizen walking through an apartment complex is injured, regardless of whether that child or senior lives in the complex.

An AAGLA Board Member who did not raise his hand to either of my earlier questions voiced, “Animals are filthy, and in my opinion, it’s insane for anybody to have an animal in their home.”

OK, so some landlords are not open to negotiation—I get it.  But this same landlord also told us about his fellow landlord who would not lease her apartments unless the tenant has a pet.  Then, guess what he revealed:  While there are many apartment buildings with vacancies, her building has a waiting list.  Voila!

Another landlord said he allows tenants to have pets if they post additional deposits, pursuant to legal California State deposit limits.  There you go; you can recover damages caused by pets.  Some pet-friendly landlords said they would not allow Pit Bulls.  Did you know that the Pit Bull is not one of the top two breeds of biters?  Believe it or not, the top two are the Chihuahua and the Cocker Spaniel.  Pit Bulls rank way down on the list because bad people train them to fight other dogs, not humans.

The Pit Bull became the choice of breed by criminals, like Michael Vick, for their illegal dog-fighting business because the Pit Bull’s intrinsic nature is not to turn on humans, and can be trained to be aggressive toward other dogs while keeping the handlers safe.  That is why in the 17th century, the Pit Bull was called the “nanny dog,” and in the 1950s, the breed was regarded as America’s best family dog.

The media specifies the breed if a Pit Bull bites, but if a Beagle bites, they report that “a dog” bit someone.  When a Retriever rescues a child, they publicize the breed, but when a Pit Bull saved a toddler’s life from a lake, the paper wrote “a dog” saved the kid.  This type of reporting fosters “breedism” in the collective mind of the general public.  The concept of breedism is no different from the basis of racism.

One landlord who allows pets clarified that she and many others impose weight restrictions.  I’ve recently heard that some landlords are even lowering what used to be norm, which was “under 25 lbs.,” to now under 18 lbs.  Did you know that Great Danes make the best apartment dogs?

Small dogs can be hyper and run through their apartment barking with high-pitched shrieks when left alone (if the dog’s guardian does not give the dog enough exercise—not the dog’s fault).  Meanwhile, Great Danes or Rottweilers just curl up in a ball and sleep through the afternoon while their guardians are at work.

With or without pets, any tenant can be a nuisance.  One could be a late-night partier, or a pack rat who makes the property smell like a garbage dumpster.  The most important criterion for a landlord to consider is if a potential tenant is a responsible pet guardian.  Landlords can request a reference from the tenants’ veterinarians, groomers, dog walkers or pet sitters.  If someone is responsible for his/her pet’s behavior, health and hygiene, he/she is likely to be a responsible and clean person; i.e., the very type of tenant landlords desire.

More than 50,000 dogs and cats are killed by animal control annually in the greater Los Angeles area alone.  There are 14,000 AAGLA members.  The number of units owned by each member ranges from three to 4,600.  Even IF each landlord owned only ten units, allowing their tenants to have a pet would collectively save the lives of all animals currently being killed in the pounds, and also help lessen the city’s budget crisis by eliminating the costs of housing those animals in its impounding facilities and killing them with lethal injections.

A 2005 study compiled by Firepaw, Inc. “Companion Animal Renters and Pet-Friendly Housing in the U.S.” statistically demonstrated that for the majority of landlords, offering pet-friendly rentals is not only economically viable, but can actually increase their bottom-line profits.

My hope is that more landlords will consider being part of the solution to stop the killing, and help our city become truly the City of Angels.  In return, pet-friendly landlords will receive the added bonus of having long-term tenants who are happy, loyal and grateful.

Marie Atake is Founder & President of Forte Animal Rescue and a former Commissioner on the Board of L.A. Animal Services.