Today’s article was inspired by a prospective tenant who called our office yesterday. This was a family with six pets. Two of them were Pit-Bulls (on most aggressive breed lists), two of them were German Shepherds (on some aggressive breed lists) and the last two were cats. Now, believe it or not, we quality property managers do actually care about our tenant customers a great deal. We want people to find housing, even those folks who struggle with credit problems, have evictions on their record, and who have six pets. It is because of this care that I am writing this article today - to assist folks who face these kinds of challenges.
Before diving into the meat of this, there is a rather candid disclaimer that I feel is important. Know that you will have some serious leg work to do. It’s not going to be easy, and forgive me for saying it, but that is likely the result of some poor decisions made in the past. I’m not trying to put anyone down here, I just believe that it’s important to be real about why the challenge exists for the sake of perspective. We have all made poor decisions in our pasts at one point or another, but your poor decisions have contributed to your struggle in finding housing. Landlords that do auto decline because of your history are simply doing their jobs – to protect the home owners best interest. They are required by law to do this, and statistically, folks with less than perfect qualifications are more likely to default. It's not personal, it’s business. Calling landlords and getting angry at them because their policy excludes you is not going to help your case or chances in your search for housing. “Difficult people” are not a protected class, and even those who are well qualified could be declined just because they are rude and difficult to work with. The last thing we want or need is more drama.
Let’s first start by discussing pets. There are some extreme pet loving property managers out there, just as there are some extreme pet loving tenants. So, the first thing you need to do is call every property management company in town to ask them two questions: 1) do you accept X breed of dog and 2) do you know of any other companies in town that will accept X breed of dog. In El Paso County for example, there are just a couple management companies in town that will work with breeds like Pit-Bulls (or the legitimate breeds that are commonly referred to as Pit-Bulls), even though they would be risking their home owner’s property insurance, but they do exist and most of us property managers know about them. Also, don’t ask this question to the property management company’s front desk person, ask this question directly to the property manager licensee.
You may also have more luck trying to find an individual landlord. Believe it or not, a management company’s greatest competition is not other management companies, it is homes that are self-managed by the owners. We get a lot of calls from folks who tried to self-manage, and for one reason or another, things didn’t work out. Often, this is because they were not strict enough or experienced enough to analyze the risk they were getting into based on the applicant’s qualifications. For folks who have a hard time finding housing through a professional, this can be a very good thing. More homes are self-managed in most markets than are professionally managed.
It might also be worth the cost to take the pet through some kind of certified pet training. Saying “I have a professionally trained and certified X breed” sounds much better. Also, be very careful about over selling the following: “my dog is very well house trained and is the nicest dog you will ever meet.” Property managers ALWAYS hear that, and it really means nothing to us. We’ve all had plenty of tenants say that and those dogs often end up doing damage to the home. Something that we do love to hear however, is the words “crate trained.”
Also, it would probably help, for those companies that will occasionally accept the common aggressive breeds, to have a letter from your former landlord indicating how long you lived there with the pet and that it caused zero damage. It is important to note that a letter from the most recent landlord won’t carry the same weight as a letter from the landlord prior to that. After all, they might just be trying to get rid of you as a tenant and will say whatever makes that happen. For the record, most management companies do not restrict breeds as a matter of personal bias or even concern for personal liability. Most of them do it solely because they know that home owners can lose their insurance should the insurance company find out one of these breeds is at the property. We had an insurance company do a random drive-by last week at one of our homes, and they said that the tenant’s dog which is a husky mix, “looked too much like a Pit-Bull” (we of course disagree) and so they told the home owner they would cancel his policy. This is extremely rare, but it can happen.
Second, if you have credit issues, there are some companies that will review applications with a holistic approach, unlike the companies (like mine) that will auto decline tenants based on a specific set of criteria. If you do the leg work, you can ask around to find these companies, and that is where you want to focus your effort. It would be smart to do everything you can to come across as thorough and professional; think of applying for a home like applying for a job. You want to fill out everything in a thorough manner, and with good spelling. You want to possibly even provide a ‘short’ letter of explanation if there is anything on your credit that is less than perfect. Similarly, if you have less than perfect housing references, you are going to want to explain in detail why that is the case in a way that might help the other party understand your side of the story. Whatever letter of explanation you do provide DO NOT make it too wordy; wordy means drama, and as mentioned before, we don’t need more drama. Stick to the facts. Poor housing references are sometimes more of a problem than credit. If you have poor housing references in addition to poor credit, you will almost certainly need to find an individual landlord without professional representation. There are some things that represent an auto-decline with almost all management companies. Another example would be past evictions, or pending bankruptcies. In these cases, you’ll likely only be able to rent through an individual landlord, and possibly in a less than ideal area of town.
Once you’ve found someone that might take your qualifications, ask if they qualify applications on a first-come-first-serve basis or if they accept all applications and pick from the best of them. If they do first-come-first-serve it is less likely that you could lose your application fee if you do not meet their minimum criteria.
Lastly, when you do find someone who will approve you with your history, treat the house like gold, pay your rent early and stay there for a few years. Make that landlord LOVE you. You want them to write a glowing recommendation letter when you vacate so that you have an easier time finding housing the next time around.
Always remain friendly, understanding, and professional. Ask questions and ask for advice, most people want to help and to at least point in you in the right direction. All the best in your search!