RICHARD-SAIZ-02032021-KS-205 (copy)

Housing instability is the No. 1 reason that pets are surrendered. 

At many Colorado animal shelters, housing instability is the No. 1 reason that pets are surrendered. So far this year, around 200 pets have been surrendered to Dumb Friends League shelters in Colorado due to problems with housing, not including homelessness, according to the organization.

One of those 200 pets is a dog named Duke, whose owner was forced to surrender him so she could afford to stay in her home, calling the pet-related housing costs “impossible” to manage, said Rachel Heatley with Dumb Friends League.

“Why should Duke or any of the thousands of animals that enter Colorado’s shelters every year for this exact same reason suffer this separation?” Heatley said. “The cost of pet rent and pet deposits should not be so prohibitive that a person is required to surrender their pet to keep a roof over their head.”

Rep. Alex Valdez is trying to address this issue with House Bill 1068, which seeks to cap pet rents to 1% of the owner’s monthly rent and cap pet deposits to $300 on top of existing security deposits.

The bill would also prohibit homeowner insurance providers from denying policies based on specific dog breeds and would require law enforcement conducting evictions to give any pets present to the tenant or, if the tenant is not there, turn the pets over to a local animal shelter or rescue.

The bill passed its first committee vote on Wednesday, receiving 8-4 approval from the House Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee.

“My base goal here is to create a manageable situation so that they’re not put in a situation where the options are spending a tremendous amount of money or dropping the family pet at a shelter,” said Valdez, D-Denver. “If you’re making choices about what you can or cannot afford, let’s not make the family pet a part of that.”

Proponents of the bill argued that landlords often charge more than what is reasonable for pets to live in their property. A 2019 national survey from the Michelson Found Animals Foundation found that damages were reported for only 9% of pets, with the cost averaging at $210. Only 2% of pets were reported to cause damages requiring a security deposit deduction.

Pet rents and deposits vary widely in Colorado, with most renters typically spending between $25 and $100 per month for pet rent and between $200 and $500 for one-time pet deposits.

Opponents of the bill assert that these payments are necessary to accommodate for the risks pets pose.

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Edward Schoenheit, a former landlord in El Paso County, said one of the 2% of destructive pets drove him away from the rental industry for good.

Schoenheit said he rented his home while deployed for the military and returned to find it had been illegally subletted to tenants with several dogs that caused “thousands of dollars’ worth of damages” and bit him.

“I will never rent my property again,” Schoenheit said. “This is a feel-good, heartstring bill that ignores risks and costs to homeowners. ... This bill seeks to prioritize pets over people when it comes to housing.”

Under the bill, landlords would still be able to restrict certain breeds or not allow any pets at all.

Originally, the bill sought to completely prohibit pet rent and deposits and block housing developments that don’t allow pets from claiming the Colorado Affordable Housing tax credit. However, Valdez passed several amendments Wednesday to water down the bill.

Despite the changes, critics insisted capping the amount of rent and deposits landlords can charge for pets might lead landlords to stop allowing pets entirely.

Drew Hamrick with the Colorado Apartment Association said landlords will also likely shift fees to make up for the lost funds.

“Housing a pet does have costs,” Hamrick said. “All pets, regardless of how well-trained, occasionally have an upset stomach, will throw up, will have diarrhea, will have waste reconditioning issues in the unit. You’re very likely to have a pet occupant followed by an allergic occupant so some professional cleaning is required. … All pets have added costs and wear and tear on the community.”

In the end, the committee passed the bill in an 8-4 vote, with all Democrats in support and all Republicans in opposition. The bill will next face the House Finance Committee for consideration.

Despite push back from the housing industry, some landlords said they support the bill. Ashely Anderson, a Lakewood landlord who volunteers with local animal rescues, said she allows pets and will continue to do so if the bill passes, saying all the trouble she’s had with property damage in the past has been a result of humans, not pets.

“If something changes with our ability to have housing or work or make money, we can’t choose between our dog, our family and where we’re going to live,” Anderson said. “I wouldn’t want us to add that turmoil to people who are going through that.”

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