ST. GEORGE — Finding pet-friendly housing is not always easy in St. George but it is doable for some. Property managers say there are landlords who allow pets and certainly many people with pets who are looking to rent homes, but some would-be tenants say they have had to make difficult decisions because they couldn’t find a place that would allow them to have their creatures.
One would-be renter moved to St. George in 2014-15 to live temporarily with a relative while searching for a rental home for herself and her two medium-size bull dogs. Boo and Dozer were well-trained, Denise said, and they were her family. She could not find any rental in the St. George area that would consider renting to her with her two dogs on any terms, she said. After over six months of searching, she left St. George and moved back to her former home state in the Pacific Northwest.
Other would-be renters have relinquished their pets to shelters when their need for housing was paramount.
Over 60 percent of Americans consider their pets family members, according to the American Veterinarian Medical Foundation, and many need rental housing for their entire family, furry family members included.
In Washington County, over 25 percent, or nearly 39,000 residents, are renters according to U.S. Census Bureau Statistics taken in July 2015. Additionally, a 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey shows that 65 percent of all U.S. households own a dog.
If these numbers are correct then that means that approximately 25,000 renters in Washington County own, or may own if housing is available to them, at least one pet.
With so many pet owners seeking housing that accepts their furry family members, St. George News set out to determine if pet-friendly housing is available in St. George and the surrounding areas.
A 2016 article in “Best Friends News,” a magazine distributed by Best Friends Animal Society, says there is mounting evidence that shows saying no to pets (or no to larger breeds) does not reduce property damage but can reduce a property owner’s revenue.
“The Landlord’s Guide to Tenant Screening,” an e-book resource for landlords and tenants through Landlordology, says there is a national shift taking place making pet-friendly housing and even lodging easier, largely due to the fact that many property owners are alienating an entire segment of society by choosing not to open their properties to pets.
Despite this shift, the Humane Society of the United States cites the inability to find pet-friendly housing as the No. 1 reason dogs and cats wind up in shelters across the nation.
The local numbers possibly reflect this, with nearly 50 percent of all dogs and cats voluntarily surrendered to the shelter being because of housing issues, St. George Animal Shelter supervisor April McManus said.
Part of the discrepancy stems from breed and weight restrictions that exclude many dogs, so sometimes renters think they are applying for pet-friendly housing when the reality is they’re not.
Another woman, who requested not to be identified, said that after more than a month of looking she finally secured a rental in the Washington Fields area of St. George that accepted her medium-size border collie.
Then, nearly two weeks before her move-in date the homeowner called and said he would be unable to rent the property to her, as a family member had an emergency housing need that took priority. The owner also assured her, the woman said, that it had nothing to do with her dog but had everything to do with family issues.
This woman spent the next week frantically looking for another rental that would accept pets but her search was in vain, she said. She was unable to find anything suitable for herself and her dog, and after unsuccessfully using social media and other networking tools to find the animal a home she ended up surrendering her dog to a shelter in St. George before moving into an apartment alone.
“I was absolutely heartbroken,” she said, “and even now months later I still can’t really talk about it without crying.”
The research shows that many people are willing to pay more for a pet-friendly property, are more likely to stay in their rental longer and pet-friendly rentals generally rent faster. Yet, many landlords choose not to promote their properties as pet-friendly.
Trent Collins with BMG Rentals Property Management in St. George said over half of the rental properties his company manages allow pets, and there are significant advantages for property owners who allow pets.
The first advantage is a larger pool of applicants, Collins said, and the number of applicants can even double, which is compelling.
In the current market that has more applicants than rentals, he said, it makes a huge difference in the number and quality of applicants.
Collins added that the number of times a property becomes vacant and the time that it remains vacant is reduced for property owners who allow pets, mainly because pet-friendly housing is in such great demand.
Best Friends Animal Society’s studies have similar findings. As a matter of fact, a 2011 analysis in the “Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics” found that “pet-friendly landlords who place no restrictions on pet ownership currently enjoy an 11.6 percent rental premium over landlords who do not allow pets.”
There are restrictions as well, Collins said, such as the breed and weight restrictions. Generally, property owners allow dogs who weigh 25 pounds or less, which can disqualify larger breeds.
The size of the property and layout is also a concern, Collins said, because many pet owners prefer a fenced-in backyard if they own a dog who primarily remains outside.
Another consideration for property owners is credit and past rental history, both of which weigh in heavily when deciding whether to rent or not to rent to a particular applicant.
“Generally, applicants with pets that have good credit and a clean rental history are more likely to leave the property undamaged,” Collins said.
In his experience, Collins said, renters with poor credit and negative rental history are a higher risk when it comes to pets. In many cases those renters who move often and leave the property damaged or unclean are less likely to care about the condition they leave the present property in, or the damage that is caused by their pet.
“If they don’t care about their credit or rental history,” Collins said, “then they are less likely to care about the damage their pet can cause – there are exceptions of course.”
On the flip side, the property manager said, there are property owners that do not allow pets at all and consider the risk too high – particularly if their property was severely damaged, in which case repair costs can run into the thousands of dollars. Many times those property owners no longer accept pets on their property, Collins said. For them, the first time is the last time.
“It only takes one time,” Collins said of a pet owner leaving a rental unclean, damaged or both. “And then it ruins it for everyone else.”
Tom Wood, owner of Real Property Management of Southern Utah, agrees. Many property owners have either heard pet horror stories or have experienced the damage and expense brought about by allowing animals on their property.
In his experience, Wood said, roughly 30 percent of his company’s clients allow applicants with pets, but sometimes those clients with a “no pets” policy have a change of heart.
“Some of them will allow us to do it,” he said, “based on the fact that we have actually interviewed the pet.”
This entails requesting the applicants bring their pet along with them to the showing of the property, which enables Collins to see how they react in the home, the animal’s disposition and any destructive habits the pet might have that can cause damage. Bad habits include door scratching, urinating on the carpet, and other behaviors that can cause damage to the property.
It’s beneficial to the owner to open it up to pets,” Collins said, “we can get it rented very quickly, usually within days.”
The type of animal is also a significant consideration, he said.
“Cats are even harder than dogs.”
The requirements for landlords to make allowances for a service animal to live in a rental unit are clearly addressed by the federal Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act as a reasonable accommodation for tenants with disabilities. Information is available at Service Dog Central:Utah.
For those seeking housing in St. George who are pet owners, it is possible to find pet-friendly housing, with a little perseverance, and a lot of work. Many property owners and management firms require a pet deposit, and some a monthly pet charge, a portion of which is refundable at the end of the tenancy as long as the property is vacated undamaged, Wood said.
The Humane Society offers tips for finding pet-friendly housing:
- Allow as much time as possible to search.
- Research animal-friendly listings and realtors using online classified ads.
- Reach out to friends and family, using networking sites and social media to uncover connections and opportunities.
- Obtain a letter of reference from a current or most recent landlord.
- Written proof that your dog has completed a training class.
- A letter from the vet showing your pet is up-to-date on vaccines and spayed/neutered.
- Prepare a “Pet Resume,” including the animal’s name, age, breed, any training completed, personality traits, or anything else that will “sell the pet” to a potential landlord.
Landlordology offers way in which landlords can mitigate risks of renting to pet owners:
- Get References and screen the tenant.
- Charge a higher rent
- Collect a larger security deposit
- Evaluate personality over breed
- Require a pet be spayed or neutered; animals that have been spayed or neutered are often more well-behaved and have a calming personality.
- Require written proof that the animal has completed obedience or training class.
St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this report.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.