"Real Estate can not be lost or stolen, nor can it be carried away. Purchased with common sense, paid for in full and managed with care, it is about the safest investment in the world"
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
A few weeks ago, I received a call from a person who needed a realtor as she was deciding to sell her investment property in Calgary. Great, a live, hot lead, how could I say no? I didn’t. We immediately set about arranging a time to view the property, as that is a very important first step to any listing. She told me that we would have to work around the schedule of the tenant, and I, of course, was ok with this request as it is required in Alberta according to the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA).
Arriving at the house on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was shocked to learn that she had rented the house out to a couple with four massive Bernese Mountain dogs. Opening the door, we were immediately struck in the senses by an overwhelming smell of wet dog. Wow, in all my years of working in corporate rentals and dealing with landlords and property management companies, I never thought that I would witness a home that had pretty much been overwhelmed by dogs. It was filthy, and because the dogs are large and slobbery, there were rub marks on the walls, windows and multiple areas of scratches and chew marks. The back door was disgusting, dirty and scratched, not to mention the yard was a complete waste land of dog excrement, piles of it.
We walked through the house together, noting and commenting on areas that were in various stages of ruin. I was making mental notes about what would need to be done, at the very least, to list for sale, as no one was going to buy this home in this state. I also mentioned in several ways on various occasions that the tenant, not the landlord, should be 1000% responsible for the damage, no questions asked. She said that she had signed a lease that stated that at the end of the tenancy, the tenant is responsible for bringing the home back to the original state. Ok, that was a good start. Judging the surroundings, the following would need to be remedied:
- Professional, thorough cleaning of entire interior of home
- Windows, walls, doors and floors completely washed
- Carpets professionally steam cleaned or removed and replaced
- Paint the entire main and second floor (house is a 2 storey)
- Back yard clean up, complete with new loam and new grass seed spread throughout
- Furnace cleaning and duct cleaning
- Base boards and door casings replaced/repaired on a case by case basis
- Paint touch ups in stairwell downstairs
- Front lawn and flower bed tune up, consideration for a flowery curb appeal
It made me wonder about investment properties, and that just because you have one, doesn’t mean that it is going to provide you with a guaranteed and high ROI when you want to or need to sell several years down the road. Properties, investment or otherwise, are like anything living in life, they require constant and consistent attention, maintenance and TLC. This can’t just happen a few weeks or days before listing, it must be from the day you purchase until the day you sell.
This is key when it comes to selecting a tenant, and whether you allow a tenant to have a pet. Sure, a cute little guinea pig isn’t going to be as damaging as a full-grown Bernese Mountain dog, or two or three or four, as the guinea pig will probably spend 90% of his/her time in a smallish cage. A big dog, however, is entirely a different story.
So, what to do when the market for rentals is tight and you are feeling stressed about getting a tenant for 6 months, let a lone a year? Well, there are some things to keep in mind, which just might prevent a similar scenario to what I experienced with my seller.
Three important keys to renting to people with pets, providing you don’t live in a condo complex (as they will have their own set of by-laws that must be followed):
1. Restrict the size and number - as a landlord, you have the right to set what kind, size, number and age of the pet(s) that you allow to reside in your rental home. For example, many landlords who allow dogs, have breed restrictions and only allow dogs of a certain height and or weight. This is your right, feel free to exercise it, and you won’t regret it when it comes time to rent to another tenant or sell;
2. Have the tenant fill out a pet application - this is essential, and this document forms part of the initial lease agreement as an addendum. This will allow both of you to be very clear as to what your tenant is going to keep with them in your investment property. For instance, you can also ask the owner to fill out questions and include a photo, such as what the pet is, size (height and weight), male or female, neutered or spayed, and other personality or lifestyle traits. You can also ask to meet the pet before you commit;
3. Charge a fee - yes, you have the right to charge a pet deposit or pet fee. However, you must decide before hand if it is going to be refundable or non-refundable, and make it clearly part of the lease agreement. The fee must be reasonable and you must be able to explain why you are charging such an amount. For refundable pet deposits, the total of both the pet fee and the rental security deposit must NOT exceed one month’s rent. On the contrary, for non-refundable, what ever you ask for will not be returned to the tenant upon leaving the rental.
However, depending on what the market is doing, and how desperate you are in needing to find a tenant, sometimes the best response to a potential tenant asking about a pet is to simply say no. In Alberta, unlike in some other provinces in Canada, the landlord does have the right to say no to a pet. Use your judgement and always have your property’s best interest at heart, as you want it to be able to ‘perform’ for you in years to come.
For more information about landlord and tenant rights, visit the Service Alberta website, http://www.servicealberta.ca/Landlords-and-tenants-tipsheets.cfm