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4 Tips for Finding Cat-Friendly Housing in Competitive Markets

Renting a house or apartment with four-legged roommates can be extremely difficult -- read our tips to help increase your chances.

Whitney C. Harris  |  Mar 24th 2015


Cats can make for great roommates. They’re wonderful company, never hog the television remote control, and they rarely throw parties. But renters across the country know that finding pet-friendly housing can be a formidable challenge in some markets. While some towns and small cities have a relative wealth of options to choose from, others, such as San Francisco, seem to be experiencing a housing crisis of sorts when it comes to pet-friendly options. Anywhere that the housing market is tight — New York, Houston, Chicago — can expect to find a growing problem.

“At the San Francisco SPCA, we are seeing an increasing number of teary-eyed pet owners being forced to surrender their cats and dogs to us because of housing issues,” says Media Relations Specialist Krista Maloney. “This disturbing trend is due to the fact that pet-friendly housing is becoming scarce in San Francisco. Despite being one of the most pet-friendly cities in America, landlords have a different idea of what constitutes a good renter.”

In the past 12 months, the SF SPCA has managed 216 surrender cases because of housing issues, half of which were because the pet owners couldn’t obtain a suitable lease. In some cases, a formerly pet-friendly agreement changed to no longer allow animals.

After living in a home for 12 years, Catsy Cline was surrendered to the SF SPCA because her owner was evicted.

After living in a home for 12 years, Catsy Cline was surrendered to the SF SPCA because her owner was evicted.

So how can you prevent you and your four-legged roommates from being rendered homeless?

1. Prepare a pet resume

When you’re starting to apply for housing, draft a pet resume and have it ready for when you submit your credit report. “Be proactive about making yourself a good candidate to show your pet has been a great tenant in the past,” Maloney says. “Include your cat’s great qualities, such as being sociable, friendly, quiet, great with children, and non-destructive.” Also include a list of past buildings your pet has lived in and a photo of your furry friend. Plus, a vet can vouch for the cat’s mannerisms and behavior. This kind of personal touch will prove that you’re a responsible pet owner who plays an active role in his or her animal’s life.

2. Get referrals from past landlords

“When you move out of a building, if your pet has been a great tenant ask your landlord to write a referral. That can go a long way to make your pet a great candidate when you’re applying for housing,” Maloney says. It’s the same theory as applied to humans. If someone can vouch for you, you’re more likely to be trusted by the next proprietor.

3. Make sure “pet friendly” is written into the lease

If and when you do secure pet-friendly housing, make sure you have all the details written on paper. “A verbal agreement is one thing, but if you don’t have it written into your lease that you’re allowed to have pets, a new landlord can put you in a tough spot,” Maloney warns.

Make sure any pet-friendly language is written into the lease agreement.

Make sure any pet-friendly language is written into the lease agreement.

4. Be a great tenant

This sounds simple enough but it probably requires your daily attention. And it goes beyond being respectful of others to actively trying to create a safe and pleasant atmosphere for your neighbors. “Train your pets, and make sure they aren’t whining when you’re gone,” Maloney recommends. “Common behavior problems can be addressed through training or talking with your veterinarian.”

No matter how prepared you are to apply for pet-friendly housing, however, sometimes it’s difficult to come by. Certain buildings are lenient and allow all types of pets. Interestingly, a lot of buildings will allow one cat, but no more. There’s apparently no distinction between two and 20 cats roaming around your apartment. So there are different levels of pet friendliness to be sure.

San Francisco State University student Erika Pizano had to surrender her cat in November after she moved from a pet-friendly house into one that doesn’t allow pets. Before moving in, the landlord asked if Pizano and her four roommates had pets. She said yes and he made clear that they were not allowed. She insisted that her cat was well behaved and didn’t scratch or destroy property. “The house is carpeted and he was thinking the cat would cause problems like fleas,” Pizano says. “He didn’t want to deal with it.”

Cats like Max are often surrendered to animal welfare organizations when their owners can't secure pet-friendly housing.

Cats like Max are often surrendered to animal welfare organizations when their owners can’t secure pet-friendly housing.

Despite the warning, she kept her pet, Max, a secret from her landlord for a few months but ultimately didn’t want to be the reason for getting her and her four roommates kicked out. “My mom used to be an apartment manager. She was saying it could get ugly. She said we wouldn’t get our security deposit back,” Pizano says. “It’s not fair to either party.”

She tried to give the cat to friends but nothing proved to be a good fit. “I surrendered him back to the SPCA. I didn’t want him to be euthanized,” she says. It will likely remain difficult for Pizano and her roommates to find a house in their budget in a decent neighborhood and close to school. “We found a great place that allowed small pets, but in the end they wanted a family to live there rather than college students,” she says.

And what’s a renter to do if she’s been living in a cat-friendly house and the landlord suddenly changes the rental agreement upon renewal to not include pets? Unfortunately, there is no easy recourse. There’s evidence that after an extended period of time, a landlord may have effectively forfeited his or her right to a no-pets clause if the renter was previously allowed to have a pet. Still, laws vary by city and state, so you should always check with local ordinances to find out your rights. You can take the landlord to court and battle it out, but that may not be worth your time or money. You might be better off searching for new housing.

Tenants frequently have to make tough choices between surrendering a cat or searching for new housing.

Tenants frequently have to make tough choices between surrendering a cat or searching for new housing.

To prevent your landlord from wanting to change the agreement, you should constantly try to proactively address the landlord’s animal-related concerns. Understandably, property managers are worried about potential property damage, so it’s your job to communicate what type of obedience classes your pet has taken and proof of spay/neuter.

If you’re currently in search of cat-friendly housing, rental sites like Zumper.com are a great place to start the hunt. There’s a pet-friendly filter so you can narrow down the results to only cat-friendly options. Growth analyst at Zumper Ina Herlihy recommends searching by neighborhood description as well, so you can choose housing based on proximity to parks and such. You may also want to focus on ground-floor units if you have a pet who likes to go outside. Easy access to grass is a huge bonus for you and your four-legged friends.

“Renters should set up alerts so they’ll be notified when there are new apartment listings that match their interests,” Herlihy recommends, noting that pet-friendly options can be more competitive because they’re simply not as common.

For more info, check out the SF SPCA’s tips for tenant who have pets.

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About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox, and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).