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Tenants have bone to pick over rent surcharge for pets

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    Ellen Bornet, general manager of London Terrace Gardens in New York, greets resident Lisa Bulloch-Jones and her Maltese-Yorkshire terrier mix, Marley. London Terrace Gardens allows residents to own one dog that weighs less than 25 pounds.
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Man’s best friend is taking a bite out of renters’ wallets.

Pet security deposits register in the hundreds of dollars and are getting steeper. Now a monthly rental payment ranging from $10 to $50 is quickly becoming the norm, adding to the cost. Apartment managers nationwide say they require some safety net against pet damage, while others won’t allow animals at all.

The rents and deposits pay for dog-poop picker-uppers, cleaning services and more, but some managers say they charge because they can. Many residents decry the move, arguing they are being bilked to keep their cats and canines.

"One out of 50 people will say, ‘I can’t believe you charge pet rent,’ but most accept it," said Stacy Leighty, who manages more than 400 properties in Salem, Ore., and added the monthly fee after her financial adviser said it would boost revenue and is becoming more widespread.

With a third of the country’s population — 103 million people — living in apartments, according to the Arlington, Va.-based National Apartment Association, loads of pet owners are facing extra costs. That’s something Fred Lopez, of the small Los Angeles suburb of Hawaiian Gardens, isn’t happy about.

"They are exploiting the fact that more and more people have pets," he said. "First they ask for a deposit, then rent. How much more are they going to try and squeeze out of us?"

Lopez, his girlfriend and their Pomeranian recently moved from an apartment where the manager charged $50 a month in pet rent. Lopez, 38, called the cost "ludicrous and another way to gouge people for money."

Humane Society has tips for tenants

Hawaii’s pet deposit law, allowing landlords to charge an additional fee for pets, went into effect in November 2013.

The deposit can be equal to but not greater than one month’s rent. The law does not apply to assistance animals.

Finding pet-friendly rentals in Honolulu’s tight market has always been difficult, and the additional fee may make some tenants balk. The Hawaiian Humane Society supported the law, saying it would encourage more property owners to open their rental properties to families with pets. Nearly 60 percent of Oahu households have at least one pet, according to society community relations director Jacque Vaughn.

"Policies that ban pets increase the number of pets relinquished to shelters, limit the pool of qualified applicants and penalize the majority of pet owners who are responsible," she said in an email.

The society offers tips for tenants, a downloadable pet addendum to a rental agreement and a pets-in-housing brochure at www.hawaiianhumane.org/pets-in-Housing-Program.html.

Nina Wu, Star-Advertiser

Two years ago, pet rents weren’t even on the radar, said Tammy Kotula, a spokeswoman for Apartments.com, the Chicago-based online listing subscription service that tracks owners and renters. This year, 78 percent of renters who worked with the company and voluntarily filled out questionnaires said they paid a pet deposit, Kotula said. Of those, 29 percent also paid monthly pet rent. That’s up from 63 percent who paid pet deposits last year — 20 percent of whom also reported paying rent for their animal.

The Associated Press spoke to apartment managers in several states about how they handle pet payments:

OREGON

In Leighty’s buildings in Oregon’s capital of Salem, dogs cost $20 a month and require a $500 dog deposit, while cats cost $10 monthly and need a $400 deposit.

Her 400 properties started taking dogs last year. Though she was advised to charge pet rents to bring in more money, the additional pet deposit is used to cover damage caused by animals.

"We are a higher-end luxury complex, and we want people to feel at home here, and having a pet is a large part of making people feel at home," Leighty said.

NEW YORK CITY

Mitchell Gelberg, managing director of Rose Associates, said pet policies in the 25,000 units he handles in New York City vary by property. They have restrictions on dog size and ban aggressive breeds but do not charge pet rents, Gelberg said.

Most leases require dogs be leashed at all times, and some make pets use service elevators.

MINNESOTA

Sarah Fuller, a property manager in Maple Grove, Minn., oversees 600 units in 17 buildings, but just two complexes allow pets. Renters pay $40 per dog per month and deposits between $400 and $600.

Pet owners must leash and pick up after their pooches, which are restricted on size and breed.

FLORIDA

Bonnie Smetzer, executive vice president and Melbourne, Fla.-based partner of JMG Realty Inc., manages 10,000 apartments in 35 communities, some of which do not allow pets. In those that do, pet rents range from $10 to $20 and help pay for expenses related to the animals, Smetzer said.

She pointed to pet walkways, parks, waste bags and the cost to hire workers to pick up after animals and spray for fleas.

"We try to balance people who love pets with the people who don’t," Smetzer said.

HAWAII

Lurline Johnson, a vice president and Realtor at Property Profiles Inc., which manages more than 500 properties, said she has applied the state’s new pet deposit fee to several rentals.

What she charges for a pet deposit depends on various factors, she said, including the size and age of the animal as well as the condition of the property. "If it’s a puppy, then the chances for damage could be greater," she said.

The pet deposit is generally negotiable, she said, and not always a full month’s rent. If the rent on an apartment is $2,000, for example, then charging an additional $2,000 on top of that may turn away potential tenants.

But some property owners are now more willing to open their doors to pet-owning tenants because of the pet deposit option that is now available.

"It hasn’t opened a floodgate," she said. "But now they’ll be more open to it, when it’s presented as an option. Ultimately, it’s the owner’s decision."

By Sue Manning, Associated Press

Honolulu Star-Advertiser staff writer Nina Wu contributed to this report.

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