Saturday, July 1, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A place for Finnegan: How to rent with pets

Special to The Seattle Times

Tips for finding pet-friendly rentals

To avoid major pitfalls and hassles of renting with pets, here's a list of tips to ease the process.

Give yourself time

It can take longer to find pet-friendly housing. The Humane Society suggests starting your search six weeks before you'd like to move.

Pitch your pet

Create a rsum for your animal and give it to prospective landlords. The Progressive Animal Welfare Society suggests including its breed, weight, height, age, cleanliness, behavioral traits, training background, veterinarian's name and phone, and personal references.

Tout your responsibility

The Humane Society suggests bringing a letter of reference from your current landlord verifying that you are a responsible pet owner, written proof that your dog has gone through obedience training, and a letter from your veterinarian proving that you are diligent with shots and flea-prevention treatments. Leake Schilder suggests bringing your clean, exercised pet in to meet prospective landlords. (A tired pet is a good pet when meeting a landlord.)

Get approval in writing

PAWS and the Humane Society suggest signing a pet addendum to your rental agreement. These policies protect the people, property and pets themselves. They also suggest you have any pet deposits and monthly fees put in writing. Ask for a copy of pet policies and rules.

Be honest

Don't try to sneak a pet into a place with a no-pet policy. You could be subject to eviction and legal action. Lying about having a pet also gives other prospective pet-owning tenants and bad reputation.

Helpful Web sites

Our search for a Finnegan-friendly home started off the wrong way: haphazardly. We weren't sure where to look for places that allowed dogs, so we looked into every place in our price range that didn't specifically forbid dogs.

On one particular spring day we were lured in by "Now Leasing" signs, cheery balloons and units surrounded by large belts of green grass perfect for quick romps with a dog. We walked in, saw the floor plans, saw the price list and thought we'd found our new home.

Then came the deal breaker: We told them we had a dog.

"And I'm guessing he's a permanent part of your family?" the leasing agent said. "I'm sorry. We don't allow dogs."

It appeared that we could have Finn — the sweet, lovable Australian shepherd my husband brought home a few months ago — or we could have covered parking, ceiling fans and a full-size washer and dryer.

"It is universal challenge for renters and for landlords as well to find and provide pet-friendly homes," said Mary Leake Schilder, public affairs manager for Progressive Animal Welfare Society, which tries to help educate pet owners. "In my experience of big cities, I've found Seattle to be more pet-friendly, but it is still challenging."

You can find a rental that allows pets, and the process doesn't have to be grueling. But it can be a challenge.

In the few months we looked, we made quite a few mistakes before we learned what we should have been doing to find a pet-friendly place to rent. If we'd know then what we know now, the process would have been a lot easier.

We would search online and suddenly find it, the right place for the right price in the right area and then as if on cue it would appear at the bottom of the listing. Right next to "No smoking" was the doggie dismissal.

Once, before we knew better, we drove out to see a little condo once without asking about a pet policy. Finnegan was there in the back seat, head out the window, eyes closed and a contented smile on his marbled face.

We put on our best, most eager, tenant-of-your-dreams faces and Finnegan followed suit. Ears up, eyes bright and blessedly silent, he was the poster dog for manager-friendliness.

"Oh, oh, he's bigger than I thought," said the manager. "They have a cat-only policy, but I thought maybe if he was a small dog."

It became clear that finding a home for us and Finn could be tougher than we had thought.

Renting with dogs is generally harder than renting with cats, and if you have a large dog, renting harder than it is if you have a small dog.

Deposits, fees

Allowing pets, especially in apartments, said Chris Benis, legal counsel for the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound, can mean dealing with barking, odors, fleas and animal waste. All this has led many places to have pet deposits and fees to cover the cost of odor treatments, carpet cleaning, flea treatments and other repairs.

There are clear reasons landlords find cats more appealing, Benis said.

"Cats don't tend to be as noisy and damaging," Benis said. "I've never met someone who said, 'I have a terrible dog or a barking dog or a badly trained dog.' It's always 'My pet is wonderful, my pet is well-trained, my pet is never a problem.' "

Smaller dogs are generally seen as less of a liability that larger breeds, which has led some landlords to restrict sizes and breeds of dogs.

Making broad assumptions about sizes and breeds may not be accurate, but short of knowing a dog personally, it's the best tool they have to judge a particular dog could be a problem.

"I've known Bernese mountain dogs, Great Danes and other large breeds that pretty much just lie around while a Jack Russell terrier will bounce off the walls," Leake Schilder said.

While more homes and apartments in the Seattle area are open to smaller dogs (under 25 pounds), options remain even for owners of large breeds.

When we decided to look for a new place a few months back we felt as if we were stuck in a Snoopy cartoon. You know, the one where Snoopy is trying to find a sick little girl? He's greeted almost everywhere with an ominous chorus of "No Dogs Allowed."

After months of disappointing searches, we decided it was time to focus on the real options.

Thankfully, we found several Web sites that offer advice for renters with pets.

Advice available

The Rental Housing Association, Progressive Animal Welfare Society and several other organizations have free listings of pet-friendly apartments, complete with listed pet policies.

Some of the sites list several dozen pet-friendly apartments, condos and homes in the Seattle area.

One bit of advice: Don't take your dog on an evening walk to check out an apartment.

That seemed like such a great idea. We'd walk Finnegan to the apartment and one of us would stay with him while the other gave it a look and then we'd swap. It seemed like providence when the woman showing the apartment professed her deep love for dogs and her insistence that we bring Finnegan in.

We were talking and laughing and she was gushing over our dog and we ate it up. She said there was no need to keep him on the leash, that we should let him walk around and we suddenly forgot everything we knew about dogs — and Finn seemed to forget everything we had ever taught him.

Not two minutes had passed before Finnegan decided that the carpeted hallway seemed like a great place to, um, relieve himself. There we were living some kind of dog owner's nightmare: Our superbly trained, immaculately mannered pup had just pooped on the carpet.

That underscored for us the reasons landlords struggle with whether to allow pets. I mean, if even our smart, trained and practically perfect dog has accidents in homes we haven't even paid for yet, then probably anyone's can.

Thankfully, we finally found a place willing to take in our whole family. It took several months, a lot of patience — and several mistakes — but we found a pet-friendly home with nominal fees near Finnegan's favorite dog park.

Oh yeah, and it has covered parking, ceiling fans and a full-size washer and dryer.

Maybe you can have it all.

Heather Rae Darval

is a Seattle-area freelance writer:

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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