When It’s You or the Cat

When It’s You or the Cat

When it comes to living in apartments and condominiums, pet ownership options can be limited. In fact, with some there are often no choices – pets simply aren't allowed.

Your Right to a Pet

Your right to a dog or cat in a high-rise building is typically governed by your pet's size, species and sound level. With dogs, 20 to 25 pounds is usually the limit. Cats, however, generally don't pose any problems. Unlike their canine counterparts who require at least two to three daily outdoor trips to relieve themselves, cats are happily self-sufficient indoors with a clean litter box. They usually don't pose a noise problem, either!

Realize Your Renting Rules

If you're considering a new pet and plan to live in an apartment or condominium, check the bylaws carefully beforehand. An oral OK by the manager isn't good enough. If you have a pet, get it in writing that your pet (his name should be cited) and size (weight) will be permitted to reside in the building providing he meets the noise and cleanliness regulations. If you're renting, you can usually expect to pay a hefty damage deposit.

Your best bet may be to get an agent to help you find pet-friendly apartments and condos. Some agencies charge a fee, but there are many who get their compensation from the apartment building. An agent can list the criteria important to you and get lists of rentals/condos that match your needs. Of course, "pets welcome" should be at the top of your list!

By the way, some agents may tell you not to mention that you own a pet – "the owner or manager is never around so don't worry," is a common reason. Get another agent. Once that person gets his or her commission, you're on your own, and legally bound to the lease or bylaws.

Your Pet and Your Security Deposit

Review the pet policy very carefully! Some rental management companies will return your entire deposit, providing that you leave your apartment in good condition. Leases usually provide for "normal wear and tear," but what that means varies from building to building. At the beginning of your lease, walk around your rental with the building manager and document any damage already there. Ask exactly what condition the apartment needs to be in to get your security deposit returned when you leave. Document that as well. Many rentals give you a carbon-copy form to fill out and sign, dealing with exactly these issues. If the building does not offer them, write one up yourself. It's also a good idea to take pictures before you move in.

Rental management companies sometimes keep a portion (or even all) of your pet deposit – find out if this is the policy of your prospective building. This probably sounds like highway robbery, but it is a common practice to cover people who are less responsible than you are. Remember, though, that if they take some of the pet deposit, they can't touch your main deposit to cover any pet-related damage.

If your cat does damage the carpet or mark the wall, don't automatically write off something from the deposit, especially if you have lived in the same apartment for 2 years. That "normal wear-and-tear" clause may give you some ammunition. For instance, many buildings will re-carpet and paint an apartment for new tenants. If they are going to do this anyway, you can argue that your deposit shouldn't be touched. (How far you want to go with this is up to you … you can even challenge this in small claims court. This is where all that evidence you accumulated really comes in handy.)

The Roommate Dilemma

Need a roommate to help cover the costs of your luxury apartment? Choose very, very carefully. A lot of people are desperate enough for a room to pretend to like pets. The honeymoon with your cat will last only so long, however. Then the complaints begin. Interview them like you would someone looking for a job. Prepare a list of questions, especially regarding their experience with pets. Don't be afraid to ask detailed questions about their pets, if any, but do it in a friendly way.

Make sure your roommate understands "the rules" regarding your pet. That may mean some education on their part on cat behavior and health. These rules should be understood because you won't be home all the time. The things you need to cover include (but are not limited to):

  • Not to leave the front door open. People who never lived with pets often forget this very important rule.
  • Dietary restrictions. It is important to go over the treats your cat can have, how much, and her feeding schedule (if you are not around) and diet. Also, go over any absolute no-nos, like chicken bones.
  • Litter box duty, in case you are on a trip. Be careful here, many roommates will shun this job. Ask your roommate to be honest if they are comfortable with doing this; otherwise, arrange for a cat-loving friend to do it.
  • Things that get on your cat's nerves. Let your roommate know how your cat reacts to certain things to prevent them being scratched or bitten.

    You also have responsibilities to make sure, as best you can, that your cat does not damage your roommate's belongings. Unless your roommate falls in love with your kitty – and who wouldn't – keep her out of your roommate's room, unless he or she invited them in. Of course, once that threshold is crossed, your cat will now own that room as well!

    The Great Outdoors

    The outdoors can be a dangerous place for cats. There are many infectious disease and trauma related injuries that can drastically shorten your cat's life span. Great care should be taken to consider if your cat should be let outdoors at all. Once you start letting them out, it can be quite difficult (but not impossible) to keep them in. In an apartment setting, this is an extremely dangerous idea. With so many cars coming in and out of the parking lot, the chances of tragedy are pretty high. In addition, your cat will not know the area very well and could get lost easily.

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