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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

More renters and their furry friends could stay together if bill to reduce pet deposits passes

Talauna Reed and her dog, Piper, testify in support of a bill that would lower pet deposits and remove pet fees for renters on Jan. 26, in Olympia Washington.  (Lauren Rendahl / The Spokesman-Review)

Renters who face costly pet fees in Washington might gain some relief with a proposal to eliminate unnecessary fees and lower deposits in hopes of keeping families and their pets together.

It’s not uncommon for renters to surrender their beloved pets to the shelter because of unaffordable pet deposits or pet rent; however, Sen. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, proposed a bill to the Senate Housing Committee on Tuesday in hopes of changing this.

SpokAnimal Executive Director Dori Peck said just last year they took in over 4,000 surrendered animals. A lot of those were because housing isn’t affordable for renters anymore, let alone the pet costs.

Under the bill, pet deposits would be lowered to no more than $150, and non-refundable pet fees as well as pet rent would be vetoed if the bill passes through the legislature.

“When you add additional pet-related costs, lower-income households are often forced to choose between housing and pets,” said Susan Riggs, senior director of housing policy of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Pet-friendly rental units tend to be more expensive for low-income families and communities of color, according to a 2021 study. Further, findings indicated that more expensive housing was less likely to have pet fees, creating disproportionate accessibility for people who want to keep their animals.

Higher-income people aren’t usually the ones complaining about pet fees, Peck said. She’s seen up to $200 a month in pet rent, and up to $1,000 for pet deposits in her time at SpokAnimal.

The emotional toll on people who have to give up their pets is real, Riggs said, especially for the lower-income community. Animals can help children with empathy and get senior pet owners to be more active, providing companionship and combating loneliness.

Breed, size, weight and no-pet policies also contribute to the inaccessibility of owning pets when renting a home, and numerous people are beginning to characterize their pets as emotional support animals in fear of losing them, Riggs said.

Under the Fair Housing Act, pet restrictions and fees are waived for renters with service or emotional support animals, and they can keep their pets even if a landlord has a no-pet policy.

Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, questioned the rates of rent if everyone declared their pet as a service animal. As a housing provider himself, he said he would start raising his rent price to accommodate potential pet damages.

Over two-thirds of Washingtonians own a pet, with a third of those being renters, Riggs said.

“I made a $500 non-refundable pet deposit, a damage deposit of $1,260, first and last month’s rent, and had to agree to a $30 per month pet rent,” Talauna Reed testified while holding her dog, Piper. “It just wasn’t fair to me or my family.”

A small real estate property management company in Kitsap County has seen a dramatic increase in landlords accepting pets since they upped their pet fees, owner Marlene Scheffer said. Their company charges an initial $500 pet fee and $40 a month for pet rent.

“We’ve gone from less than 20% of our owners taking pets to over 50%,” Scheffer said. “However, if you put a $150 limit like that, my owners aren’t going to accept pets, and it’s not up to me.”

The bill does not clarify whether the $150 deposit covers one or multiple animals.

Pets can urinate on the floor, scratch walls and cabinets, and bring in fleas or odors that are difficult to mask, said Jim Henderson, representing the National Association of Residential Property Managers. Damage typically exceeds the proposed $150 pet deposit and can cost upwards of $1,000 or more.

A 2021 Pet-Inclusive Housing Report found fewer than 10% of pets in rental properties cause damage, with repairs costing an average of $210 and most renters fix the damages themselves rather than relying on deposits,

The same report found that renters who find pet-friendly housing stay ten months or 21% longer than those in non-pet-friendly housing.

Last year, SpokAnimal rescued 47 cats from a one-bedroom apartment, Peck said, so she understands why landlords charge for pets. But it varies based on good or bad tenants.

“On the rare occasion I have encountered damage from pets, there have been numerous other challenges with the tenant such as human-caused damage and human issues,” Olympia Landlord Whitney Bowerman said. “Many issues with pets can be mitigated by careful screening of tenants so that landlords know what they are getting into.”