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Pet Policies: Pleading Your Case Successfully
I was spending the evening with friends, a married couple who had just moved into an immaculate, upscale apartment community in North Dallas. Their two "children" were a good-natured cat and a very large, yet friendly dog who claimed the apartment's second bedroom for herself. "How did you get the leasing staff to agree to let you keep her here?" I asked, motioning to the dog. The couple exchanged a knowing look as one of them said, "Well ... I showed them a picture of her when she was a puppy."
That's certainly a creative solution to a common dilemma. Most apartment complexes who do allow pets have weight and size limits. But for some of us apartment-hunters, it seems to be Murphy's Law. You find the apartment of your dreams: spacious, great layout, all amenities included, reasonable rent, easy commute to work and local resources. There's one catch, however. You can't have pets. That includes not only dogs and cats, but also hamsters, gerbils, birds, anything that has wings or more than two legs. While such policies are probably fewer in number these days, landlords and leasing companies reserve the right to establish no-pet policies. Another friend who resides in a no-pet building in New York decided that she and her large dog would have their cake and eat it, too. Every time he needed to be walked, she smuggled him out through the freight elevator, out of the doorman's sight. Clever. Risky, but clever.
Must of us pet-owners have enough common sense to take Fido out on a regular basis or keep a clean litter box for Sylvester, but that doesn't stop pets from acting out when they're lonely or bored. And many of them exhibit a remarkable regression in good training habits in the event of a move, which can be a very stressful event for them. A new home means that your pet is being introduced to a completely different environment. The layout is different, the scents are different, even the water is different. So it's understandable both that a pet might react negatively under such stress, and why a savvy landlord might opt to forbid pets on his or her property. If you're moving into an apartment, surely you feel better knowing that a dog with bad habits didn't live there before you arrived.
But for those of us who do have well-behaved pets, are these policies fair? Sure, we can look elsewhere, but today more than ever, people realize the positive impact that pets have on our lives. They reduce stress and lower blood pressure, provide companionship, teach responsibility, cheer us up and can even help us meet other people. Rather than throw a towel over Fido and attempt to smuggle him into a no-pet property, you might want to consider pleading your case to your prospective landlord.
Most local branches of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals maintain a list of landlords and Realtors who help prospective renters and homeowners who own pets. The SPCA can help you locate specific properties that rent to pet-owners, and some branches even list specific apartments for rent (and whether they'll accept dogs and cats or just cats), along with a contact phone number for your convenience.
The Massachusetts Chapter of the SPCA recommends that prospective renters "market" themselves as responsible pet owners while they're apartment-hunting. What does that mean? For starters, it means avoiding any property that clearly states a "no-pet" policy. You're not going to change the policy or twist anyone's arm to make an exception. Your best bet is to open your local newspaper or apartment guide, or online apartment guide, all of which will tell you whether or not pets are accepted on premises.
When you start making phone calls, call smaller properties -- those that probably have a landlord as opposed to a management company -- before the large ones. Your chances of success are better at smaller properties. Mention your pet only when asked. In other words, you don't want to start the conversation by asking, "Do you accept pets?" rather than stating "I'm calling to find out about the apartment for rent." It's not being dishonest; it's just knowing when to introduce the subject. And don't make your pet the focus of your conversation with your prospective landlord; you don't want to give the landlord the impression that he or she should be wary about you and your pet. If the landlord never asks you if you own a pet during your phone conversation, bring it up when you go see the unit and meet the landlord in person. Be completely honest (no puppy pictures allowed). The landlord will appreciate your honesty. Waiting until moving day to spring Fido on your landlord will get your relationship off to a very bad start, and it could end your relationship with Fido in a big hurry.
When you meet your prospective landlord in person, bring along "letters of reference" from your former landlord or apartment management company, as well as your veteranarian and fellow neigbhors, which state that you're a responsible pet owner. The San Francisco SPCA offers a "pet resume" service, a clever way of showing off your pet's attributes and good behavior. You may consider creating your own while you're on the hunt for a new apartment. You can even offer to have your prospective landlord meet your faithful pet at your current residence, so that he or she can see in person how well-behaved your pet is, and how well you maintain your current property. And you may consider offering to put down a "pet deposit" if the landlord hasn't already established one. Last but not least, tell your landlord that you will pay for any damage incurred by your pet during your lease -- no questions asked, and put your promise in writing to assure your landlord of your word (make sure you also state in writing how such damages would be assessed, so that you're not overcharged).
So before your landlord questions you about the moving beach towel with four legs who accompanied you outdoors this morning, state your case clearly to every prospective landlord with whom you communicate during your apartment search. Honesty now can save you innumerable headaches later.
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