Briefing

Why pet rent is so hotly contested

What is pet rent, and is it even legal?

Pet owners can often expect to pay a one-time pet security deposit or a non-refundable pet fee when they start a new lease. However, landlords everywhere are tacking on an additional monthly fee for furry roommates, catching some pet owners off guard. Pet rent is slowly becoming the norm, and the extra cost puts some pet owners in an inconvenient position. Can landlords put a price on companionship? 

Here's everything you need to know about pet rent: 

What is pent rent?

It's not uncommon for pet owners to get hit with extra charges when renting an apartment. Pet-friendly apartments typically charge a one-time pet deposit or fee upfront when you sign the lease. Prices range from $50 to hundreds of dollars and might be non-refundable. Many landlords have added pet rent, a monthly fee ranging from $10 to $50 on top of the regular rent. 

Landlords say the fees are meant to offset the cost of any damage the pets might cause to the property. Nicole Ryan, a spokesperson for the National Apartment Association, told MarketWatch that if local laws permit it, landlords could implement the recurring monthly pet rent to cover the costs of "increased wear-and-tear" caused by pets. This would include any cleaning, maintenance, or landscaping costs incurred after renters with pets move out of the property. 

Earlier this year, a U.K. survey found that 85 percent of landlords and agents reported damage to their property by pets. However, some studies indicate that some landlords are charging deposits and pet rent that exceed the cost of pet-related damages. The 2021 "Pet Inclusive Housing Initiative Report" from Michelson Found Animals and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute found that tenants pay $864 in deposits and $600 a year in extra rent fees. Yet, "the average dollar amount of extra damages caused by pets is $210 and many residents choose to pay for these damages out of their own pockets."

Is pet rent legal?

Laws and regulations regarding security deposits, rentals, and pets vary, so landlords and tenants must be familiar with local, state, and federal laws. Security deposits are generally legal, but some states limit how much a landlord can collect. For example, states that have rent control laws prohibit landlords from charging higher than a specified amount for a deposit. 

As long as the total rent price doesn't exceed the local legal maximum, landlords are allowed to add an additional monthly fee for pets. In a blog for Lawyers.com, attorney Ann Cotton wrote, "Higher rent for pet-owning tenants is legal — rent is rent, no matter how the landlord divvies it up." The only pet owners exempt from any extra fees are those who have trained service or assistance animals, per Dame Magazine. It is illegal everywhere to charge an additional fee for tenants with disabilities that need their service animal. In some cases, emotional support animals qualify for the exemption as well. 

Why are pet owners against paying pet rent? 

Besides the fact that pets don't work to pay bills? Some pet owners feel that the additional price of pet rent, no matter how small, adds to the financial burden of being a renter, especially amid persistent inflation over the last year. The latest consumer price index report found that while inflation rates decreased over the previous month, rent costs were the most significant contributor to November's inflation. Rent prices increased 0.8 percent over October, a slight increase from the last report.  

The price of caring for furry roommates is on the rise as well. A LendingTree survey found that 75 percent of pet owners said inflation caused them to spend more on pet care, and 26 percent said they struggled to keep up with extra costs. Animal shelters reportedly have seen an increase in owners surrendering their pets due to higher housing costs, including pet rent, per MarketWatch. Experts say the rising cost of renting with pets is one of the top reasons pets are turned into shelters. 

Strict restrictions about which pets are allowed and the extra financial burden of pet rent can make it difficult for homeless pet owners to find housing. Ruby Aliment, Sara Rankin, and Kaya Lurie of the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project write that the extra costs are one reason "attempts to rehouse pet owners experiencing homelessness are consistently unsuccessful." While some pet owners try to hide their pets to avoid fees, they put themselves at risk of eviction. 

The authors of a recent research paper, "Pet Friendly For Whom?" found that tenants in marginalized communities are bearing the brunt of high pet rent fees. They concluded, "Low-income communities and communities of color were more likely than higher income and predominantly white communities to pay disproportionately higher fees to keep pets in their homes." In some cases, landlords might use pets as leverage to retaliate against low-income tenants. Attorney Dianne Prado told Dame Magazine, "A tenant complains about a leak or infestation, and the next thing they know, an animal control officer is knocking at the door. The landlord has called to report them as abusers."

The research paper's authors conclude that "pet fees are yet another discriminatory practice that inevitably leads to poorer housing security and potentially increased evictions among already disadvantaged and marginalized populations." 

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