Sometimes watching the news is a bad idea for landlords. There always seems to be some kind of crazy story about tenants who do strange things and cause intense damage to their rental unit.
While the following worst-case scenarios are a possibility, they’re highly unlikely. However, tenants are unpredictable so you should be prepared to deal with some of them.
- A tenant keeping exotic animals as pets and/or hoarding animals
A New York man was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment for keeping an alligator and a tiger in his apartment. The man had checked into the hospital for what he said was a dog bite. It turns out, his tiger bit him and had a history of biting other tenants in the apartment building.
When police went to the man’s apartment, he wasn’t home, so they cut a small hole in the door to check things out. They saw the tiger and decided to shoot it with a tranquilizer to remove it from the building. A couple officers rappelled from the top of the building to deliver the tranquilizer. Once the tiger was verifiably sedated, they spotted an alligator. Both animals were taken to shelters.
Police think the man got the tiger as a cub and had it for a couple of years.
How to handle tenants with exotic animals
While you probably don’t need to worry about your tenants keeping a tiger in their house, you might encounter tenants who keep smaller, less dangerous exotic pets. For example, you might encounter a tenant with a hedgehog or a sugar glider. Neither of these pets are particularly harmful to humans, but hedgehogs can carry foot-and-mouth disease and salmonella. Sugar gliders aren’t dangerous, but can cause damage when allowed to free roam.
Both hedgehogs and sugar gliders are legal to keep as pets in Texas, but that doesn’t mean you should allow them in your property. A big problem with allowing small, caged animals is that tenants can collect them in large quantities rather quickly. Furthermore, it’s been argued by animal rights activists that sugar gliders aren’t pets and should remain in the wild.
To discourage tenants from collecting a menagerie of small pets, create a strict pet policy specifically prohibiting popular small animals and explicitly allowing only the animals you want to allow.
For example, word your pet policy to state that “dogs and cats are the only species allowed” and then specify breeds and weight limits if needed. Additionally, specify that “under no circumstances are any other animals allowed to be kept on the premises (in cages or not), including fish, birds, amphibians, turtles, lizards, rabbits, rats, mice, gerbils, ferrets, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, or any other animal that isn’t a cat or dog.”
If a tenant breaks the pet policy, you’ll have legal grounds to evict them, and the specificity of your lease agreement will support your case.
Collect a pet deposit
With the exception of service animals and companion animals, always collect a pet deposit on a per-pet basis.
Say you collect a $400 pet deposit from your tenant for their dog. If your lease allows tenants to have up to two dogs, but fails to specify that the $400 deposit is per pet, your tenant can get another dog without paying you an additional deposit. Having two dogs in your rental property doubles the chance of damage.
Charge pet rent
If it’s reasonable in your neighborhood, charge monthly pet rent. You don’t need to charge an exorbitant rate for pets. Don’t use pet rent as a way to get rich – use it as insurance against potential future damage.
Set aside all pet rent in a savings account just in case you need the extra funds to cover damages that go beyond what the tenant’s security deposit will cover.
- A tenant trashing your property
Discovering a trashed property after a tenant moves out is every landlord’s worst nightmare. For example, this tenant left the water running for more than a week when they moved out. Another tenant left a rental property looking like a garbage dump.
It’s unfathomable that anyone could damage a rental property like the above walk throughs show, but it does happen.
How to mitigate the potential for severe damage
The only way to protect yourself against the potential for severe damage is to collect a significant security deposit. Texas doesn’t cap the amount a landlord can collect from a tenant for a security deposit, but local ordinances might. Before setting your security deposit amount, check with a lawyer to make sure you’re in line with local ordinances.
Generally, it’s wise to collect a security deposit equal to at least one month’s rent. Not every applicant will be able to afford a deposit that equals the rent (or more), but you shouldn’t compromise on the deposit.
You should also collect a separate non-refundable cleaning fee (or moving fee) up front. Collecting a non-refundable cleaning fee in addition to a security deposit will give you a financial advantage if a tenant destroys your property. Since a cleaning fee isn’t refundable, you can use it to cover the cost of cleaning the vacant unit and save the deposit to cover damage. If you don’t collect a cleaning fee, you’ll have to use part of the tenant’s security deposit to cover cleaning costs.
Your cleaning fee might only be $100, but the first time a tenant leaves a mess behind, you’ll be grateful you collected that additional fee.
Do you worry every time you walk into a vacant unit?
It’s understandable if you worry each time you walk into a vacant unit to do a walkthrough. You never know what you’re going to find. You might walk into a house that just needs to be vacuumed or you could walk into your worst nightmare.
At Green Residential, we can take that anxiety off your shoulders with our expert property management services. In addition to screening tenants to high standards, we’ll handle all your move-out procedures including walkthroughs, security deposit reconciliation, repairs, and cleaning up vacant units.
If you’re ready to let go of the stress of being a landlord, contact us today for a free analysis and find out how we can help.