Tips for Pet Owners: How to Always Get Your Deposit Back

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No matter how often or how little you’ve moved apartments with a pet, you probably know that renting with an animal companion comes with its fair share of challenges. Whether your pet is furry with four legs or feathery with two, you want a happy, healthy environment for the two of you to share — while minimizing the damage done to your unit. 

The end goal of any renting situation is to get as much of your security deposit back as you can, which will set you and your pet up to get comfortably situated in another apartment. Not to mention, a fully (or almost fully) refunded security deposit shows that you were a great tenant, and that will be reflected in your rental history.

Leaving apartments in good shape is not only important for your landlord, it’s vital to make sure your credit remains in a good enough place that you and your pet will have a number of high-quality rental options to choose from. Keep in mind most landlords will want to verify your credit score, proof of income, and previous rental history—and that’s before they get to your pet! Make sure you’re proving what a capable pet parent you are by taking the extra steps to show you’re capable of making payments on time, your income can support you both, and you’re a great tenant. Keeping these in mind set you up for success not only in the short-term when hunting for your next apartment, but in the long-term as a trustworthy creditor. 

Follow these tips before you move in, during your residency, and after you move out to make sure that you leave behind a sparkling apartment guaranteed to get the full deposit back. Your landlord, the future tenants, your animal, and your credit score will thank you for the extra care you put into both make and leave your space clean.

Table of Contents

  1. Before You Move In
  2. While You Live There
  3. When You Move Out
  4. Additional Resources 

Before You Move In

Finding a pet-friendly rental that fits all of your (and your pets) needs might seem like finding a needle in a haystack. Once you’ve finally found the place that you can imagine calling home base for the next year or so, consider taking several steps to ensure you and your furry friend are getting the highest-quality rental experience possible.

Do Your Research

Before you sign a single piece of paper, the first step you should take is to learn all of the jargon that comes with housing your pet. Some of these fees vary by state, so be sure and know your rights as a pet-owning tenant in your state before signing anything binding. 

The most common expenses that come with animal-friendly apartments are:

  • Pet deposit. This is similar to a security deposit, in that you put down a one-time amount of money before renting to cover any damages done to your unit by your pet. The deducted are funds are usually used to clean or replace carpets, refinish or repaint walls, or buff scratches out of hardwood. This can be refunded after move-out, but only after appropriate charges have been deducted based on what repairs were made.
  • Pet rent. This is a recurring monthly fee charged for housing your pet in your apartment, just like human rent. Similar to the rent you pay, this is non-refundable.
  • Pet fee. Think of this as a one-time “admission charge” for having your pet in the unit, paid before you move in with your security deposit. This is non-refundable and usually does not cover any damages done to the apartment by your pet. 

Understand What Fees Apply

Most apartments will either charge a pet deposit plus pet rent, or a pet fee plus pet rent. Be sure you understand exactly what you will be paying for your pet—knowing what fees are expected of you may be the deciding factor between signing with an apartment or moving onto another one. 

On top of knowing what is expected of you, make sure you understand what pets require any of these fees. Many times, any animal in the apartment (no matter how small) will require a deposit or pet rent, but see what your lease or landlord says. If your cockatoo isn’t explicitly listed as a pet requiring pet rent in your lease, you might not have to pay rent for him.

Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate

Get the fees for housing your pet in writing if your landlord doesn’t usually allow pets, or carefully read the areas of the lease that explain what fees you are responsible for. Don’t be afraid to negotiate! See if you can get the pet rent or deposit waived by signing a longer lease upfront, or make a “resume” for your pet so your landlord can see how well-behaved they are. Sometimes, even arranging a meet and greet with your pet and landlord will sway their opinion in the right direction—if your pet is well-behaved for the meeting, that is.

Get Ready to Move In

The time has come—it’s time to move in! The best way to ensure you get your deposit back when you move out is to start early. After you get your keys and before you move anything in, walk room to room and note any existing damage done to your unit—even if it’s brand new. Take pictures and note all of the damages on the move-in form your apartment should have supplied you with. This way, there’s no way you or your pet will be blamed for the pre-existing damage when you both move out. Be sure and keep a copy of the move-in form for yourself!

Pet Tip: Moving to a new place isn’t an easy transition for your pet, so make sure you’re keeping their happiness in mind during the move-in process. An easy way to ease their anxiety about a new place is spraying a familiar scent around them, like your perfume or an air freshener you used at your old place, in the rooms of the new apartment. While your pet is sure to be cautious of the new place no matter what, this will show them that you’re here too.  

While You Live There

Cohabitation with your furry (or feathery) friend should be a fun, easy experience that meets both of your needs—with minimal damage to the unit itself. The key to ensuring a damage-free unit upon move-out is to pet-proof anything that could be damaged. Carefully pet-proofing might take a little bit of time, but it will be completely worth it when you get your entire deposit back.

Start Pet Proofing

Once all of your boxes are unpacked, take a walk through your apartment and see what belongings or fixtures could be in danger of your pet’s wrath. Think like your pet—if you were bored, would you scratch up the easily accessible walls by your bedroom door? Would you peck at the door frame by their cage?

The most common areas that pets will damage are:

  • Floors, both carpeting and hardwood 
  • Walls
  • Doors and screens 

To get ahead of any potential issues, start by deciding what areas your pet will and won’t be allowed on. Make sure your pet can easily see these restricted areas by implementing baby gates to section off the areas they won’t be allowed on. 

At the same time, set up their toys and bed in a corner that they can recognize as distinctly “theirs” so they know where their personal corner of the apartment is. Setting these boundaries early on will help make your life easier during move-out when you aren’t frantically bleaching 10-month-old muddy paw prints out of your carpeting. 

Respond Early

Accidents happen with any animal, but when you live in an apartment, it’s especially important to make sure you clean up after them as soon as you can to prevent staining. Make sure you have floor cleaners, deep stain remover, something to scrub the walls with, and a good vacuum or mop to ensure accidents are completely taken care of before they set.

It’s also a good idea to regularly deep clean your apartment at least twice a month, accident or not. This will prevent dander buildup, keep the pests at bay, and secure your deposit at the same time.

Be a Good Neighbor

If you’re living in an apartment complex, it’s important to remember that your pet should be a welcome member of the community. Just like you might resent the neighbors that stay up all night partying and don’t clean up after themselves, your neighbors probably won’t be thrilled if your pet howls throughout the night and you don’t clean up after them in the common areas. Make sure your pet is well-behaved in both public and private, and that you’re doing all you can to make sure you’re both being courteous neighbors. A pet with a handful of neighbor complaints isn’t a good look—and as their human counterpart, it’s certainly not a good look on your rental history. 

Meet Their Needs

Another easy way to make sure your pet doesn’t wreak havoc on the hardwood floors or scratch up the walls is simply to make sure their needs are being met. If your dog’s anxiety is manifesting itself through bites on the wall, hire a pet sitter or a dog-walking service. If your cat is unhappily spraying all over your rented carpet, spend a little extra time playing with them in the evening. Remember that just like you, your pet has needs that need to be met to ensure their happiness and health. Your pet likely feels the same way as you about being cooped up inside all day with nothing to do.

Pet Tip: An unhappy animal is a destructive animal, and a happy or tired animal is much less likely to destroy your unit and/or belongings. Setting up a routine with your pet will give them something to look forward to, and hopefully they won’t be unhappily gnawing at the door frame until you get home. Whether your routine is a half-hour walk after work or an hour of belly rubs before dinner, setting up a regular schedule with your furry friend is vital for their happiness and wellbeing. 

When You Move Out

Once you’ve decided it’s time for you and your pet to move on to a new place, it’s time to begin the move-out process. While moving itself might be a bit of a drag, there are ways to make packing up and moving on with your animal seamless—and even easy. 

Assess the Damage

Start by carefully assessing what areas of your apartment will definitely need a deep clean, fix, or replacement. Also, decide which costs and tasks you can reasonably take on yourself. Repainting over some wall smudges is one thing, but steam cleaning an entire apartment’s worth of carpet is another. Make the move-out process as smooth as possible by starting to clean and repair early. Don’t leave it all to the week before you move out! 

Air it Out

Once the cleaning and repairs have been done to the best of your ability, empty out your apartment at least a few days before you have to turn your keys over—including of your pet and their belongings, if possible. Not only will this give you a chance to see any last-minute fixes you might have not seen before, but it will give your apartment a chance to air out. 

Help your apartment be as fresh-smelling as possible by opening up windows and hanging clean-scented air fresheners throughout the apartment. This will aid in showing how responsible you were to your landlord—and will prevent your space from smelling like litter box or wet dog during your final walk-through.

Conduct Walk-Throughs

When you’re happy with the cleanliness and state of your apartment, ask a friend to do a walk-through of your empty apartment with you before you ask your landlord. This will give you an objective opinion of any last-minute things you may need to clean or repair before handing your keys over.

During your final walk through with your landlord, ask for them to give you in writing any estimated charges that will be deducted from both your deposit and the pet deposit (if applicable). Leave them a forwarding address, and have them write down when both deposits should be refunded to you. Get their contact information, and don’t be afraid to dispute the deducted charges if the amounts they estimated don’t match up when it’s refunded to you!

Pet Tip: Just like moving in, moving out will likely stress your pet out due to the sudden environmental change. Keep a t-shirt or other belonging of yours in their cage or kennel, so they’re surrounded by a familiar smell. If your pet is particularly perceptive and gets stressed out by the presence of moving boxes, try and keep them in their kennel or carrier with a blanket over the top so they don’t know what’s going on. 

While life with your pet may be an adventure, it doesn’t mean renting has to be. Taking the extra care to leave behind a clean, damage-free apartment will help you take the steps toward a better credit score, a better rental history, and more options of apartments for you and your pet to call home. Through following these steps during your residency in an apartment, you’ll not only have a happy, healthy pet on your hands, but a refunded security deposit you can use to keep renting and improving on your credit. 

Additional Resources

American Kennel Club

Apartment Guide

American Humane

The Humane Society of the United States

ASPCA

PAWS

PetMD

Cleaning Institute

Bark Post

Apartments.com

RentBerry

Trulia

Apartment Therapy

Rent.com

Sources: Apartments.com | Landlordology | Moving.com | Pet Life Today | Manage My Property

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