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Pet rent ban would do away with hidden "fee" for pet owners

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As Oregon continues to grapple with a housing supply problem, the Oregon Legislature has introduced a number of bills in the current session, covering everything from rent control to no-cause evictions to pet rent. Some bills surrounding housing can have unintended consequences.

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In the case of pet rent, it seems a case of unfair double-dipping on the part of landlords.

Last week, an article in The Oregonian shed some light on HB 2683, a bill brought forward by three Oregon representatives that would ban pet rent in the state.

According to the language of the bill, sponsored by Reps. Rob Nosse (D-Portland), Tawna Sanchez (D-Portland) and Karin Power (D-Milwaukie), it "prohibits landlords that allow pets from charging tenants additional rent or fees based on possession of pets." Landlords would be barred from charging a "one-time, monthly or other periodic amount" of rent based on the fact that a pet lives in the home. The bill was in committee as of press time.

Opponents of the bill would argue that pets, by and large, inevitably cause damage to properties, and thus, the bill is unfair to landlords, who should be able to recoup the damages done by pets in a rental home. We agree with that—but we disagree that pet rent is the way to go about it. Pet rent, by its very name, indicates that it's a monthly, non-returnable fee. That's unfair—largely because pet rent offers no framework or guarantee that should a pet damage a home, the "pet rent" will be used to fix it. What's more, non-refundable pet fees are against the law in Oregon already.

Here's an example that can shed light on the challenges. Say a landlord charges a tenant $25 pet rent per month for the tenant's dog. In addition, the tenant pays a $500 pet deposit, as well as a standard security deposit of $500. (In some cases, landlords charge a separate pet deposit for each pet in the home.) The tenant remains in the home for three years—paying an additional $1200 in "pet rent" throughout their tenancy. When it comes time for the tenant to move out, the landlord determines that the carpets need to be replaced due to the pet, at a cost of $1200. The landlord keeps all of the $1000 the tenant paid in deposits, and then sends the tenant a bill for the remaining $200 in carpet replacement fees. Because the "pet rent" was not a deposit and there's no obligation for the landlord to use the pet rent toward damages, the tenant has no recourse but to pay the additional $200, or face a judgement in court should the landlord pursue one. We are not arguing that the tenant isn't liable for the damages, but in this example, it's unfair for a tenant to have paid a monthly pet rent that was ultimately not used to cover damages caused by the pet. In this example, the tenant paid additional money, simply for the right of the pet to exist within the rental space.

Sure, it stands to reason that some reasonable landlords might put that pet rent toward additional damages, but when there's no guarantee that those monies will go toward the purpose, pet rent is problematic. Landlords already have recourse in recouping damages done by pets in the way of deposits. When the cost of damages exceed the deposits, landlords have legal recourse to seek more money from the tenant responsible for those damages. With pet rent, tenants have no similar recourse. They're simply paying a "fee" for something they'll never see again—even if their pets do no damage to the property whatsoever.

Some will argue that landlords can simply raise their rents to "add" the pet rent in surreptitiously. That may be true, but they'll need to keep the rent competitive to similar units on the market—something that might be of concern the next time the market turns to favor renters. Likewise, landlords can also simply disallow pets, but many have found that yet another way to make the property more attractive to renters.

Landlords can and should be able to charge deposits that will cover any damages to their investments—but these unfair "fees" in the way of pet rent should go by the wayside.

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