If anyone knows how tough it is for pet owners to find rental housing,
surely it's Dianne Bleacher. A rental specialist and property manager
with NT Callaway, she is "down to two dogs, three cats, three horses,
and three cows."
Bleacher now lives on a West Amwell farm that she owns, but back in
the late-1970s, when she was building up her pet census, she was a
renter. "I had a dog," she says, "and a horse and a cow." And, she
found rentals - five of them in just one year. No, she was not booted
out of successive lodgings because of the pets, quite the opposite. So
good was she at keeping her rentals ship-shaped that each, in turn,
was sold. "It got to be comical," she recalls. "We said we gave them
good luck and they sold."
After each house was sold out from under her, Bleacher found another,
but she was well aware not all sectors of the rental market were open
to her. "I had to rent on the outskirts of town," she says. No cows or
horses find a welcome in downtown Princeton, and it's not easy for
dogs to find a place to curl up either.
Bleacher, who is thinking about writing a book titled "Just When I
Thought I'd Seen It All," frequently runs into the pet issue when
trying to find rentals for her clients. Often the existence of Fido
and Fluffy comes up in an oh-by-the-way manner. "You're out on a
showing," she says, "and they never tell you they have a dog or cat."
When, under practiced questioning, the news comes out, Bleacher finds
that pet owners tend to try to soft-pedal the issue.
"I'll say `How big a dog,'" she says, "and they'll show with their
hands." The spread between left hand and right tends to indicate
something along the lines of Yorkie, but further questioning
invariably reveals that the canine in question is "something huge,"
often a Siberian Huskie or a Great Dane. Bleacher finds that said dog
rarely has a food dish all to itself. "People don't have just one dog,
they have many dogs," she says. "They don't just have one cat, they
have many cats."
This is not news that many landlords in and around Princeton want to
hear. "With a dog in a multi-family building, the issue is barking,"
says Bleacher. Cats have an easier time getting in, but even there,
many landlords balk, particularly if they do not have pets of their
own. There is fear of the odor that can result if cats miss the mark
when aiming for their kitty litter. There is also the question of
allergies. If there are carpets, will dander linger and affect
subsequent tenants? The question is on landlords' minds. Another worry
is litigation. "If a dog bites someone, the owner gets sued, and so
does the landlord," says Bleacher.
That said, it is not impossible to find rentals that accept pets.
Little cats can find a welcome relatively easily, and some landlords,
imposing weight limits, will accept small dogs. Bleacher finds that
it's tough to get any pet into some downtown buildings, but that it's
easier in single family homes. "It's 50/50 whether they'll accept
pets," she says.
Yvonne Harris, rental specialist and property manager with Sotheby's
Henderson, is herself a renter - and a pet owner. Scanning her rental
listings she finds that within the past year 41 of the 145 units in
her rental roster allowed pets. "Sometimes it's only cats," she says,
giving Princeton's Waxwood House as an example. Often there is an
additional deposit required, and there may be a pet fee, as is the
case in some large Plainsboro rental developments.
"Big dogs are the toughest," she says. "It truly depends on the owner
and the facilities. It's easier with a yard." The largest number of
pets she has placed together - with their owners, of course - was two
dogs, two big dogs.
It's not always easy to judge what kind of pet will be a model tenant.
Big dogs, the pets landlords most fear, can be laid-back and gentle,
emitting only the occasional rumbling bark. Trouble can come from far
more innocent-looking pets. "I had a rental situation where a door was
destroyed by a bird," says Harris. "It was just pecked away."
Harris is living happily with her dog, Happy, in a downtown Princeton
apartment, but finding it was not easy. "I had to be right in
Princeton because of my work," she says. "I had trouble finding a
place to live. With a dog, it can take two or three months."
Happy is a cute little dog with a Benji-like face, says Harris,
proclaiming him "the cutest dog in the world." This is helpful in
softening up landlords, but Harris did not always have it this easy.
Her previous pet, Scully, was "the ugliest, most intimidating dog
you'd ever see." A 90-pound Doberman, he was nevertheless a softy at
his core, and did manage to win over landlords.
So hard is the hunt for a good pet-friendly apartment that Harris has
at times been tempted to take an apartment and part with a pet. But
she has always persevered, and has always found an excellent apartment
where her pet was welcome.
While she doesn't do this, Harris finds that one thing that can tip
the balance is "a huge deposit." But she uses something else.
"I offer references for my pets," she says. "It's tremendously
helpful." If those who know the animal well, especially former
landlords, are willing to proclaim it a quiet, well-trained, obedient,
completely non-destructive pet, the keys to a rental unit are far more
easy to obtain.
It is also easier to get in when the rental market is soft and
landlords are especially eager to fill their apartments. That was the
case for the past two years, but both Bleacher and Harris see the
rental market firming up. New inventory has been filled, and tenants
are staying put. At Witherspoon House, the rental complex right next
to the library, for example, Bleacher says that all but two of the 24
apartments are full. Both rental specialists see that some people who
have sold houses, in some cases in downsizings, are renting while
waiting to see in which direction the housing market is moving. Higher
interest rates also make renting more attractive.
For the first time in a long, long while, prospective tenants had an
upper hand as many people rushed to buy into a soaring housing market
fueled by super-low interest rates. In that climate, a tenant with a
poodle or a pair of kittens had an easier time finding a home. It's
more difficult now, but not impossible.
Still, Bleacher says that once the number of pets begins to climb it
is probably time to consider buying. That's what she did.