Most forms of discrimination are illegal in the United States when it comes to renting a home. However, families with pets face additional challenges.
Pet policies — including pet deposits, fees, and additional pet rent, along with weight, breed, and number of animals restrictions — are pretty standard for rental properties. Most renters with animals accept these policies as a frustrating but unavoidable aspect of having a pet. Today we’re going to take a closer look at the logical basis for these policies, how they can lead to more homeless and euthanized pets, their impact on the finances of people without pets, the issue of pets as property, and whether they’re actually a form of discrimination. tweet this
This video is by request and on behalf of companion animal activist Andy Schulgasser, who has commissioned this video to illustrate her main arguments against pet discrimination on rental properties.
Finding a decent apartment or home to rent can be a stressful undertaking. If your family happens to include some non-human members, it can become downright impossible. Pet policies and fees are standard in the United States and other countries, though their exact details vary widely by landlord and location. Termed “pet discrimination” by opponents, a landlord’s ability to completely deny, overly charge, punish, or even evict tenants based on whether they have an animal, leaves renters with pets in a difficult situation.
Today we’re going to look at several aspects of the pet discrimination issue, which is more complex than initially meets the eye.
Let’s start with the basics. If you have a non-human in the family and are looking for a place to rent you will face one of several outcomes: no pets allowed at all, severely limiting your options of properties to chose from; a limit to the size or weight of your pet; a limit to the breed or species, most often seen with pit bulls being banned even at city levels; or a limit to the number of pets allowed.
Fee-wise you’ll typically be asked for an initial fee, deposit (usually non-refundable), and monthly pet rent. The last apartment I rented charged a $600 refundable deposit (if no damage incurred), $350 non-refundable pet deposit with $100 additional for each pet, and a $10-40 or so in pet rent per month, per pet, and the breed restrictions listed on their website exclude “Akitas, Alaskan Malamutes, American Bull Dogs, American Pit Bull Terriers, American or Bull Staffordshire Terriers, Bull Terriers, Chinese Shar-Peis, Dalmatians, Doberman Pinschers, Persa Canarios,[sic] Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Siberian Huskys, Stafford Terriers, Chows, German Shepherds and any mix thereof.”1
So, you know…dogs.
The reasoning behind pet policies seems logical enough. Landlords need to protect their properties and ensure that any damage can be repaired with the renter’s deposit. The assumption behind an additional pet deposit and/or pet fee and/or pet rent is that animals cause extra wear and tear and are more destructive to property.
It seems reasonable, right? everyone’s heard of a cat clawing the carpet or furniture or a puppy peeing on the rug or scratching at the door. However, not all pets are destructive. I’d argue that the majority are not, though I don’t have any hard statistics as no one that I can found has looked into this systematically.
If we assume that pets will cause property destruction 90% of the time, then the policies start to seem reasonable. And if something caused damage 100% of the time, then extra rent and fees would most definitely be justified, right? Strangely enough, the tenant behavior that is always destructive to property no matter what – and devastatingly so – never incurs its own deposit, fees or rent.
It ruins carpets, drapes, wallpaper, ceilings, furniture, appliances, and even adversely impacts neighbors. Some property managers estimated it costs them at least 4-5 times more to clean, sometimes up to $5,000, often requiring the complete replacement of carpet and overhauling the unit. tweet this
So what is the source of this destruction? Cigarette smoking. This video2 interviews several property managers who discuss the cost of turning over a smoker’s unit.10 Smoking always damages property, with the smell remaining even years afterwards. So if property damage is really the reasoning behind pet fees and policies, then where is the smoker’s fees and smoker’s rent?
In addition, smoke travels through piping and into non-smoking units and through open windows, endangering the health of neighbors.3 Endangering neighbors is the reasoning behind the stringent breed restrictions on so many properties, as specific breeds are believed to be more aggressive than others. I personally have yet to meet a pit bull that isn’t a total softy. And I have yet to hear of a cigarette that doesn’t create dangerous secondhand smoke.
For a habit that is damaging on a far greater scale than any pet could ever muster, and 100% of the time, at that, and dangerous for neighbors, you’d think there’d be a fee or two, right?
Now let’s consider the wider impact of pet policies. According to the American Humane Association, the most common reason why people relinquish or give away their dogs is because their place of residence does not allow pets.4 Given that landlords can decide to change their pet policy at any time and stop allowing animals, even people in established rentals have to then “get rid” of their pet or move out.5
Pet policies not only lead to the tragedy of more homeless and euthanized animals, but they also impact everyone’s finances as Animal Control and some shelters draw from taxpayer funds.7
For those of us who consider our animal companions part of our family, the entire concept of pet policies is a manifestation of the troubling societal belief system wherein animals are seen as property. Even the terms “pet” and “owner” support this mentality. tweet this
Blogger Philip Rose, highlights this issue asking, “Why are there no ‘children fees; to match the ‘pet fees’? Why is there no discrimination against couples with children?”8
And providing his “Suspected Answer” that, “realtors would if they could. But the law treats children as individuals and pets as property so the rental industry feels they can freely discriminate against and take advantage of pet owners despite such discrimination being a clear rights violation).”9
The sad truth is that our companion animals don’t have rights as family members. In his legal analysis “Man’s Best Friend’ Property or Family Member,” William C. Root looks through the legal history of companion animals’ assigned value when harmed or killed. He cites studies and surveys showing how integrated companion animals are in most families. They have their own space in the house, are included in the family photo, with 70% of respondents celebrating their pets birthday each year.10
This is not just a vegan thing. Most people with pets, just like most people without pets, are not vegan. And while the idea of animal rights for farmed animals is extremely difficult for most people to grasp, the idea that their pet is a member of the family is usually unquestioned.
I do want to mention the one exception to pet policies, outside of a trained service animals, are emotional support animals. An emotional support animal, unlike a seeing eye dog or other service animal, is an untrained animal companion whose presence alone enhances ones health. This is usually in the case of depression, anxiety, or other mental health struggles.
Below I have a list of resources on how to get housing in rentals with no pets allowed policies if you qualify for an emotional support animal. In this case, you also wouldn’t have to pay any additional fees or rent. There are also tips for renters with animals, including legal resources and how to properly file complaints.11
This is only touching the surface of this complex issue, made all the more complex by the lack of uniformity of policies. There are efforts to fight this form of housing discrimination. In 2013, Councilor Tim Stevenson of Vancouver, Canada lobbied to make it illegal for landlords to completely ban pets as it was virtually impossible for renters with animals to find a home.11 The city of Ontario had already passed such a bill.
In the US, pet discrimination is alive and well. At least 42 states have breed-specific laws or complete bans on breeds as an entire breed is held responsible for the actions of humans raisin their dogs violent. And pet policies abound.
Given the logical weakness of the destruction argument, the cost to taxpayers and the animals themselves that are euthanized, and the treatment of living being as property, pet policies are an animal-rights area yet to be fully explored. I hope this video helps to shed some light and start some action.
I’d love to hear what you think about this topic. Have you had trouble finding housing for your animal family members? What experiences have you had with landlords and rental companies? Do you think such policies are fair? Let me know in the comments! And see the links below to get in touch with Andy to help in her efforts to fight pet discrimination.
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Now go live vegan, screw the pet policies, and I’ll see you soon.
— Emily Moran Barwick