Updated January 2, 2023.
Pets can certainly reduce the value of an unprepared Wilmington rental property. With scratching on the woodwork, walls, and doors, tearing up carpets, and even urine damage, you may have sworn off pets from living in your investment property long ago.
A pet might be a renter’s best friend—but when it comes to your long-term income, they can be your worst enemy. So, what do you do when you find an unexpected pet in your Wilmington, DE homes for rent? Read on for useful tips from a seasoned Wilmington property management firm that knows how to handle pet policies.
The Big Bad Legal Notice: Of course, this article is not an attorney—so while we're sharing useful information, we always recommend working with your attorney or an experienced local team like Rentwell to ensure you stay on the right side of the law. Being on the wrong side can be worse than a terrible pet!
When the 'Cat's Out of the Bag'
First things first, you should have a clear pet policy; this will most likely present itself as a clause that’s part of your lease. That way, you’ll have a leg to stand on once it’s clear that your renter has been dishonest. Signing a contract and then not following through on it says something about a person’s character, so be sure to proceed with caution and seek expert guidance or full-service property management.
You have a few options at your disposal here:
- You could add an addendum to the lease, allowing the renter to stay while covering any potential future damage to the property with a non-refundable fee, damage deposit, monthly pet fee, or combination thereof.
- You could treat this as a violation of your lease agreement and proceed straight to your attorney or Wilmington property management partner to address the issue by removing the animal.
- You could ignore the issue entirely and hope that your property isn't absolutely destroyed by the time lease renewal rolls around—and you choose not to renew.
Since pets are like family to some people, they probably won’t mind parting with a little money in exchange for the ability to continue living with their furry, feathery, or scaly friends.
The great thing about pet owners is that they’re usually long-term renters: pet-friendly accommodations are hard to come by. Make it clear how many pets are allowed and put it in writing. Then, have them sign it, so you don’t have issues in the future.
Should You Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?
- As long as the pet isn’t a service animal (currently, only dogs and miniature horses qualify for this category), you’re well within your rights to ask your renter to permanently remove the pet from your rental properties.
- It's worth noting that Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) do require a doctor's note: if your renter tries to pass off an unauthorized pet as an ESA, this is information you need to contest it.
- If you aren’t planning on renovating the property when the renter leaves, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by having them get rid of the animal: the costs of repairing all that damage will come back to bite you in the pocket.
Any experienced Wilmington property management companies will tell you that replacements and repairs can cost thousands of dollars—and this kind of renter can end up costing you more money than they make you.
'Playing nice' (in the form of looking the other way) won’t get you anywhere with this kind of scenario. Regardless of how good the relationship with your renter is, you have the right to secure and protect your most valuable assets in the Wilmington rental market. If a renter violates the terms of the lease once, they're more likely to do it again.
It’s important that you stand your ground when it comes to your (no-pet) policies: the more lenient you are, the more your renter will be comfortable bending the rules. Before you know it, you’ve got a whole zoo you didn’t know about, and the rent you collected won't cover the expense of all the repairs you now find yourself on the hook for.
- Let's say your renter happens to claim they’re just 'watching someone’s pet for a little while.'
- Give them a week or so to 'return' the pet to its rightful owner, and let them know this is a one-time-only exception. While it may be nearly impossible to know how many pets your renter is caring for at a particular time, you can still have someone pass by to check for you.
- If you suspect the renter is running a pet sitting business, you can check for the address on pet care service platforms before doing anything decisive.
Think Carefully About Evicting Your Renter
Pets keep their owners happy, and almost half of all renters have a pet. Excluding pet owners from your property means you’re missing out on a huge segment of the population that you could be tapping into with the help of Wilmington property management services.
That said, your renter still lied to you and put your long-term income in jeopardy with potentially-costly repairs. If you want to play hardball, get together with your attorney or property manager, and consider pushing forward with a Notice to Quit for reasons beyond nonpayment of rent.
Before you can even think of turning a house that’s had pets live in it, you’ll need to spend a lot of money doing repairs and getting rid of every trace that these unwanted guests have left behind. The way you handle this situation will affect your business in the future—so keep it as professional as possible.
Don't Bark up the Wrong Tree!
Make sure you’re clear when it comes to understanding rental law in Wilmington, DE. You don’t want to evict someone for having 'secret pets' when the law only allows you to kick someone out for unpaid rent or disorderly conduct.
Ask your attorney or Wilmington property management team for information regarding what property owners can do in the Wilmington area. These experts tackle everything from rent collection to maintenance and repairs on a daily basis and are better equipped to help you handle the complexities of such a situation.
If you feel like you're ready to charge ahead with an eviction, take a look at your free copy of our Eviction Checklist first to get a head start on what you need to know (and do)!