What Is A Pet Screening For Rentals? 6 Practical Easy Steps

With 70% of U.S. households owning pets, permitting animals in your rentals can significantly expand your pool of potential tenants, attracting a wider range of qualified applicants. If pets are allowed, property managers must then consider whether to use a pet screening process.

What is a pet screening for rentals? Pet screening allows property managers to assess animals before approving them to live on the property. By evaluating the pet’s behavior, health, and compatibility with the rental community, managers can make decisions about their accommodation.

While some managers choose to forbid pets altogether, others are open to allowing well-behaved pets. You may wonder if screening pets is legal. The answer is yes, property managers can legally screen pets. However, they must follow certain rules to stay in compliance with fair housing laws and avoid discrimination.

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of pet screening and practical tips to create your own pet policy and process. Overall, pet screening can help you make smart choices to keep your properties safe while also accommodating pet owners.

Understanding pet screenings

Pet screening is doing a background check for an animal. Just as you check out possible tenants to see if they fit with your standardized rental criteria, pet screening helps you look at a pet’s behavior and health to see if they’re a good match for your rental property.

This usually means gathering information about the pet with an application and sometimes even meeting them in person or seeing how they behave.

Pet screenings include criteria, pet behavior, pet health and background check

Why is pet screening important?

When you are managing rental properties, one of your goals is to keep rental places safe, comfortable, and in good shape for your tenants. Pets can affect this, so here’s why you’ll want to use a screening process:

Protecting your rental property

Even though we adore our pets, they can sometimes accidentally damage rental units. Dogs might scratch wood floors or chew on furniture, while cats could scratch carpets or tear up curtains.

By screening pets, you can see how they act, how big they are, and if they might cause any problems. This can lower the chances of your owner having to pay for expensive repairs beyond the security deposit. Taking a bit of your time now can stop potential problems and save money later on.

Maintaining a peaceful living environment

Imagine having to deal with neighbors complaining about excessive barking, aggressive behavior towards other pets or residents, or even bad smells from pets that aren’t trained or looked after well.

These issues can quickly turn a once-peaceful rental property into one that’s full of annoyance and conflicts. Checking pets in advance allows you to find out about any possible issues before they become problems. That way, your pet parent tenants can live in peace without unexpected problems.

Depending on where your properties are, certain dog breeds or types of pets might not be allowed or even against the law. Some local jurisdictions have breed-specific legislation restricting dogs such as Pitt Bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, and Chow Chows. Homeowners’ associations may also have their own special rules and regulations about pets 

It’s also important to note that homeowners’ insurance policies may include breed restrictions or other limitations concerning pets, which could affect coverage. 

Failing to comply with these laws and regulations can cause legal consequences. A proper pet screening process can help you avoid potential pitfalls and confirm that you’re doing everything within the boundaries of the law.

Fostering responsible pet ownership

Not all pet owners are the same. Some take care of their pets well by training them, making sure they’re socialized, and looking after them properly. But others might not pay as much attention or take care of their pets in the same way.

When you do pet screenings, you convey to applicants your expectations around pet ownership. When property managers check prospective tenants’ pets and make sure that they meet the screening criteria, tenants are more likely to take care of their pets.

How to do a pet screening?

Letting pets in your rental space can have good and bad sides. Pets can indeed bring joy to renters, offering companionship and emotional support. They also come with potential risks, which is why it’s a good idea to screen them. Here are the steps in a typical pet screening process:

1. Setting clear rules and guidelines

The first step is to establish clear rules and guidelines about pets on your rental property. This includes breed, weight, age restrictions,  required vaccinations, and acceptable behaviors. Don’t assume your tenants will know these rules – write them down clearly and tell them upfront. This helps everyone know what’s expected right from the very beginning.

It’s also a good idea to periodically review and update your pet policy to make sure that it still follows the laws and regulations. You definitely don’t want to break the law just because your rules are outdated.

2. Creating the pet screening application

The pet screening application is the foundation of your entire process. This document should include details about the pet, such as its name, breed, age, sex, and weight. Be sure to also request proof of vaccinations and licenses from the tenant.

When creating your application, consider the language you use and the types of questions you ask. Don’t use any discriminatory language, and ask questions about the pet’s behavior to confirm a good fit for your rental property.

Here are a few examples of questions you could ask when screening a potential tenant’s pet:

  • What is your pet’s name, age, breed, and approximate weight?

  • Is your pet spayed or neutered?

  • Is your pet up-to-date on all required vaccinations? Please provide proof of current vaccinations from your veterinarian.

  • Has your pet ever caused damage to a home or had any complaints from neighbors about noise or other disruptive behaviors? Please provide details.

  • Please provide contact information for a previous landlord or property manager who can serve as a reference regarding your pet’s behavior as a tenant.

  • Please attach a recent photo of your pet.

The key is to ask objective questions focused on confirming the pet is a good fit – well-behaved, healthy, and able to live safely and peacefully in your rental without risk to the property or neighbors. Avoid any discriminatory phrasing. Allow space for open-ended responses so the pet owner can share relevant details.

3. Reviewing the application

Once you receive a completed application, carefully review the information provided. Look for any red flags, such as a history of aggression, excessive barking, or destructive behaviors.

During the review process, pay attention to what’s written in the application and any documented incidents or behavioral issues.

4. Conducting a pet interview

If possible and as a last resort,  meeting the pet in person in a public place can help you understand how it acts in a way that you can’t get from just an application. During this meeting, observe how the pet interacts with its owner and responds to commands.

Look for any concerning behaviors, such as aggression towards strangers, excessive barking, or not listening to the pet owner.

5. Including pet rules in the lease agreement

If you approve a tenant’s pet, include specific pet rules and regulations in the lease agreement. Use this to outline your expectations for responsible pet ownership, such as cleaning up after the pet, not making too much noise, and preventing damage to the property.

Be clear and concise in your pet policies and align with any local laws or regulations. Be sure to outline the consequences of policy violations, such as fines or potential eviction.

6. Make a decision

Once you’ve reviewed the application, conducted interviews or assessments, and confirmed legal compliance, it’s time to decide whether to approve or deny the tenant’s pet. Your decision must be equitable and apply equally to all applicants.

If you deny a tenant’s pet, be prepared to provide a fair and legally compliant explanation. Document the rationale for the denial, including any specific incidents or behaviors, to address potential inquiries or complaints from the tenant in the future.

Understanding service animal policies

Service animal policies

Be aware of the different regulations and laws when it comes to service animals and emotional support animals.

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), tenants with disabilities have the right to request reasonable accommodations, like having a service animal or an emotional support animal. This supersedes any existing pet policies.

What inquiries are permissible and impermissible?

Declining a tenant’s request for a service animal or emotional support animal outright is not permissible under the law. However, you can request specific documentation to substantiate the need for accommodation. It’s key to understand the parameters of what documentation you can legally require and what constitutes reasonable verification.

You can request papers demonstrating that the animal has undergone training and certification to assist with the tenant’s disability for service animals. This documentation helps show that it’s a legitimate service animal.

For emotional support animals, you can ask for a letter from a therapist or psychologist saying the tenant has a mental or emotional problem and that the animal provides this assistance.

You cannot ask about the tenant’s disabilities or emotional conditions. Asking intrusive questions regarding their health status or personal challenges is not permitted and may be viewed as discriminatory under the FHA. You can’t also charge any additional pet fees, deposits, or monthly rent for these animals because that would probably break the law against unfair treatment under the FHA.


There are instances where you may legally deny a request for a service animal or emotional support animal, even if the tenant has provided documentation. These exemptions are:

  • Undue financial burden: If letting that animal stay and helping it would cost more or be hard for your business, more than what’s normal for pets, you might have a reason to decline the animal.

  • Threat to others: If the animal is dangerous and could hurt someone on the property, and you can’t make it safer with small changes, you might be able to deny the request.

  • Fundamental alteration: You can say no if letting this animal stay would need such big changes that it would change how your housing works.

You may implement different pet-related fees to help cover any costs or challenges they may cause. Be sure to check with your local laws and regulations to confirm options. Typical fees include:

Application fees

To set your application fee, consider the costs associated with reviewing and processing pet applications, including staff expenses or fees for third-party screening services.

Avoid setting the fee too high, as it could appear discriminatory or deter pet owners from applying.

Disclose the pet application fee and include it in your written pet policy to maintain transparency and prevent confusion or allegations of unfair treatment.

application fees

Pet deposit charges

Pet deposits can cover potential damage caused by a tenant’s pet. While it is legal in most areas, there could be regulations governing the permissible amount for pet deposits.

Consider factors such as the size of the pet, the condition of floors and walls, and the potential for damage based on the type of animal and its behavior to help determine the pet deposit.

Follow all the legal requirements regarding the handling and refunding of pet deposits. In many areas, you may need to keep funds in a different account that earns interest and provide documentation of any deductions when the tenant moves out.

Monthly pet rent

Some property managers charge extra pet rent to cover the damage pets might cause and the costs to repair. Disclose the pet rent fee upfront and include it in your written pet policy.

Wrapping up on pet screening

Pet screening is a key process for property managers who decide to allow pets in their rental properties while minimizing potential risks. The process should help property managers make fair decisions based on the information gathered during the screening.

Be aware of the laws and regulations surrounding service and emotional support animals under the Fair Housing Act. For pets that do not fall under the FHA, property managers may implement reasonable pet-related fees to cover potential costs. These fees can include application fees, pet deposit charges, and monthly pet rent, and should be transparent and comply with local laws.

Creating a comprehensive pet screening process that follows legal requirements can help property managers accommodate pet owners. This approach helps protect investments for property owners while creating a well-managed and agreeable living space for all.

FAQ on pet screening for rentals

What is a pet interview for apartments?

A pet interview for apartments is a process where landlords or property managers assess potential tenants’ pets to make sure they meet certain criteria and are suitable for the property.

What happens during a pet screening?

During a pet screening, property management evaluates factors such as the pet’s size, breed, behavior, and vaccination status to determine if they are suitable for the property.

How do landlords verify dog breed?

Property management typically verifies dog breeds by requesting documentation such as breed certifications, veterinary records, or visual confirmation during a pet interview.

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