The Pet Interview
September 4, 2015
by Robert L. Cain
They’ll do about anything to keep their family together. To the majority of people who own pets, their pets are family. Of course, renting to people with pets can be fraught with peril to the property. But we can allay the risk by making pets qualify just as tenants do. After all, they may live in the property more hours in the day than the people whom we rent to.
What we’ll look at here is how to qualify a pet. You most likely already know the basics such as size and breed limits, but let’s go one step further and look at how to qualify each dog that wants to move into your property with his or her family.
I read an article in Multifamily Executive where it discussed what landlords need to know about being “pet friendly.” One thing it mentioned briefly was the “pet interview.” The vast majority of dogs can’t talk, so how might we go about interviewing one? After I did some research, two ways came to mind.
I called several apartment complexes and asked if they did pet interviews, but none of them did. In fact, they had never heard of such a thing. So I went further and found specific information about the pet interview.
The important thing about the pet interview is that the pet be interviewed. The judgment is about the pet rather than the owners interpretation of the pet’s behavior. That means the dog must be there.
An article in The Vancouver Sun, “New Your boards test pets for apartment residency” (May 3, 2007) mentioned the telephone, doorbell and buzzer test. How many dogs go absolutely bonkers when they hear a doorbell? If the dog is asking to move into a single-family home that is separated by 100 ft. on each side by empty space, he or she coming unglued when the doorbell rings is no problem. But if that dog wants to move into an apartment with neighbors on the other side of the wall, it is a huge problem. Likewise with the telephone and buzzer.
It is also important to see how the dog interacts with other dogs. One New York coop board puts the dog in a room with other dogs that already live in the building to see how it behaves with a bowl of food in front of it. Fighting and growling will be an immediate disqualifier, no matter how much the dog protests.
If the dog passes those tests, it can be time to move on to the actual interview. I don’t know what someone could ask a dog and get a straight answer, but we can ask the owners. Of course, Fifi and Fido are the “friendliest, calmest, sweetest” dogs anyone could ask for. Just ask the owners, people eager to keep their family together. So I went looking for questions that we might ask a pet owner. I found them with the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPA). Here are the questions they suggest:
They start out easy and non-threatening.
- What type pet(s) do you have?
- How long have you had your pet?
- Is your pet spayed or neutered? If not, why?
- Does your pet have a regular veterinarian? How often does your pet visit the vet?
- Do you have liability insurance or a medical plan for your pet?
Now come the harder questions:
- Does your pet have any medical or behavioral problems? What steps did you take to resolve them?
- Can I contact your previous landlord?
- Would you object to my inspecting your home after you and your pet move in?
- Who will care for your pet when you go away on vacation?
- Does your pet have a license and wear an up-to-date ID collar?
- Does your pet have permanent identification such as a tattoo or microchip?
Now questions specifically for dogs:
- Has your dog ever bitten anyone?
- Is your dog housetrained?
- Has your dog had obedience training?
- How often is your dog exercised; how do you exercise him/her?
- What happens to your dog if you are required to work late, or are delayed getting home? How does your dog react to being left alone for extended periods? (Define “extended periods.”)
- What steps have you taken to address your pet’s separation anxiety (if applicable)?
The BCSPCA has additional questions for cat owners on its website www.spca.bc.ca.
Some of the questions, such as those about licensing and permanent ID, are of little direct consequence, and unlikely to make the difference between accepting and rejecting a pet, but the way the prospective tenant answers them may say something about that person’s mindset.
Multifamily Executive’s article points out that “Pets are like family, and when it comes to keeping them happy and healthy, most owners will do just about anything for them, regardless of cost.” I suppose that includes answering what some people might call impertinent questions.
No matter what, though, collecting a pet deposit and/or fee is essential no matter how well the dog does in the interview. As far a disturbing neighbors, the pet interview and test is essential in apartments. But even for single-family homes, a calm, friendly dog is essential. Landlords can be held liable if the dog is aggressive or bites someone or end up with huge repair bills from dog damage. This is how to keep families together.