When Allie Hagan, 25, went apartment-hunting, she was looking for the usual stuff: the right neighborhood and the right price. That’s not as easy as you might think when your roommate is a 50-pound German shepherd-Labrador mix named Freckles.
Owning a pet in the city is no easy task, but finding a landlord who is willing to rent to you and your four-legged friend can be even more challenging. Pets can scratch, rip and tear walls and furniture, and to put it politely, they “have accidents.” All of this can mean costly repairs for landlords.
As a result, only about half of nation-wide rentals are pet-friendly, and most of those include significant restrictions on the size and breed of the animal, says Josh Franks, executive director of the Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research and Education Promoting Animal Welfare, a Houston-based nonprofit that educates the public on animal welfare issues.
Of the pet-friendly housing available, more buildings allow cats than dogs. It’s especially difficult to find a home if you own a dog that weighs more than 40 pounds. But it’s not impossible.
Hagan found a building in Capitol Hill owned by a small management company, with a yard out back and a dog park for Freckles right down the street.
Franks says renters with pets may have better luck leasing from small companies or private owners. “Independent landlords might have more ability to talk and negotiate than large complexes, which tend to have a pet policy set in place. So if you have a very large dog, you might be better off negotiating with a private owner,” says Franks.
Even in larger buildings, more landlords are starting to figure out how to turn pets into a financial boon: They charge pet rent.
“There has definitely been a big increase in rentals that allow pets. [Landlords] just see that it’s good revenue for them,” says Alex Dobrow, president of People With Pets, a website dedicated to easing the housing search for pet owners across the country.
Pet owners in the D.C. area can expect to pay between $10 and $50 in pet rent each month, says Dobrow. Most animal-friendly rentals also charge a nonrefundable pet deposit, which can range anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars. That’s typically in addition to your refundable security deposit.
Foundry Lofts (301 Tingey St. SE, 866-205-5860), an upscale industrial apartment building in Southeast D.C., is one of the few large complexes in the city that doesn’t restrict the size of your pet. They charge a one-time, $500 nonrefundable pet fee and $50 a month in pet rent for cats or dogs.
“We’ve decided to allow large dogs here because we have the Yards Park behind us and there is a little doggy park there as well,” says assistant manager Sarah Swart. “People like to walk dogs around here, so offering the larger breed is definitely something that is appealing.”
Pet owners need to think about more than dog parks when renting in the city. In tight urban quarters, a pet’s indoor behavior can affect neighbors.
Getting to know your neighbors is critical to preventing future conflicts, says Nicola Whiteman, vice president of government affairs in the D.C. Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington.
That’s a lesson Allie Hagan learned quickly. Even exercise in the nearby dog park didn’t stop Freckles from getting restless while Hagan was at work. “My neighbor downstairs told me my dog was being loud during the day sometimes,” she says. It turned out there was a simple fix. “I found out she just needed more toys during the work day.”
Another easy fix for noisy pets: Consider area rugs or carpeted apartments to absorb the sound of your pet scampering over the floor, Whiteman says.
For energetic pups, walking services are another option to help them get rid of that extra energy, particularly if you work long days, says Whiteman.
If you’re planning to adopt a pet, think ahead about its needs. Before Alyssa Montchal, 24, brought home a cat, she checked with her landlord to make sure she was abiding by her building’s pet policy. She also bought scratching posts to prevent scratches on the walls or furniture.
“Be proactive and think about what your animal might get in to,” she says.
Montchal grew up with pets and missed having them when she moved to D.C. Still, she thought long and hard about whether she was ready for a pet before adopting her Calico/Tabby mix.
“I lived in my previous place about three months before I went ahead and got an animal to make sure I was secure in my own life and able to handle it,” she says.