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The Rental Trap: Landlords are charging tenants ‘pet rent’ and $600 fees. Some pet owners, already under pressure from rising rents, are not happy.

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With rental prices rising nationwide, there has never been a better time to examine how high housing costs impact everyday AmericansThe Rental Trap is a new MarketWatch column profiling tenants’ issues, including renters who spend a high portion of their income on housing.

How much is the companionship of a canine or feline friend worth?

Pet lovers, of course, know the limit does not exist — even if repeat bills for vet visits, favorite treats, and medications bring their fair share of pain. 

And yet, there’s one cost that still manages to catch some people off guard: Pet rent, or the monthly fee one’s landlord might charge on top of standard housing costs to shelter the animal and cover any damages, sometimes in addition to a second deposit or non-refundable fee.

“I don’t think I can name any rental complexes, as far as corporate landlords or smaller landlords, that don’t engage in this practice — at least not in my area,” Chris Ross, a 25-year-old cybersecurity analyst living in the Manassas, Va., area with his 4-year-old retriever mix, Goose, said. “I kind of proceed with the assumption that everywhere is going to ask for a little more for a pet — to a lot more.” 

But, commonplace or not, throwing down extra money for pet rent “definitely does add to a growing list of reasons that a renter might feel pretty bitter about the whole rental situation,” Ross said. 

“‘I don’t think I can name any rental complexes, as far as corporate landlords or smaller landlords, that  don’t  engage in this practice.’”

— Chris Ross, 25, a cybersecurity analyst in Manassas, Va., pays $45 ‘pet rent’ for his dog

Ross currently pays $45 a month in pet rent, which, because he’s owned Goose since February 2019, has added up to nearly $2,000. Adding his 59-pound dog to the lease also required a $300 “deposit,” though Ross said it is not refundable and is meant to cover the cost of purchasing new carpets once he vacates the unit. 

Otherwise, Ross owes $1,575 in rent for his one-bedroom apartment each month before any additional fees are tacked on. Come November, that rent is set to increase to $1,823. (Ross’ landlord did not respond to MarketWatch’s request for comment.) 

Nicole Ryan, a spokesperson for the National Apartment Association, a trade group representing apartment communities and owners, said the organization doesn’t have concrete data on how widespread the practice is in the U.S, though providers may implement if they are allowed do so by local law to cover the “increased wear-and-tear” caused by furry friends, including the cleaning, maintenance, and landscaping of any maimed areas.

“Laws and regulations vary, so it’s critical to consult with local counsel to ensure compliance with all local, state and federal laws and regulations surrounding pets,” Ryan said.

Still, social media is rife with complaints — often sarcastic — about the cost. After all, it’s not like (most) pets can get a job and chip in. 

Last week, the beloved “We Rate Dogs” Twitter
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account, which has 9.3 million followers, shared a photo of two pooches with the caption: “This is Loki and Luna. Their apartment complex thinks there is only one of them. They go on separate walks to keep up the facade and save on pet fees. 14/10 for both.”

The beef with pet rent might be that it’s pretty expensive, period, to be a renter right now. 

While rent growth is leveling off after rising at a breakneck pace earlier in the pandemic, the national median asking price was still up by 11% in August compared to last year, according to a September report from Redfin
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 That means renters were being asked to pay a median of $203 more than they had in August 2021, when prices were at $1,836.

The price of caring for a pet is going up, too: 75% of pet owners said in a LendingTree survey last month that inflation had made pet ownership more expensive, and 26% were struggling to cover the extra cost. Indeed, some animal shelters have seen an increase in owners surrendering pets due to higher housing costs, including those associated with pet rent.

Morgan, who asked that MarketWatch not use their full name because they were concerned it would cause issues with their landlord, pays $1,600 for their two-bedroom townhouse in Lawrenceville, Ga. Just to move in July, they had to fork over a security deposit worth two months’ rent, which included a $600 non-refundable pet fee for their two cats, and the first month’s rent. 

On top of those costs, Morgan pays $30 a month in pet rent for their cats Catticus Finch and Scout.

“‘If pet rent is going to exist at all — which I personally don’t think it should — it really should be scaled to the size of the animal.’”

Even so, they’re “half-and-half” on the cost, they said, because pets genuinely can be destructive: they’ve heard of dogs who have chewed on baseboards or stripped paint. But that doesn’t mean tinier pets are on par.

“I guess the boys could scratch stuff up, but they’re infinitely smaller,” Morgan said. “If pet rent is going to exist at all — which I personally don’t think it should — it really should be scaled to the size of the animal.” 

Further considering what that would mean for a tenant with a quiet 50-pound pooch, versus a tornado of a small dog, Morgan added: “I guess the solution is to just not have [pet rent].”

Stacey Schulte, a spokesperson for Home Partners of America — which owns the company that Morgan identified as their landlord, Pathlight Property Management — said the company generally charges $300 for a pet deposit and $30 a month in pet rent. Some states have different requirements around what can be charged, Schulte said, but the standard amount is meant to cover wear and tear.

To put the damage question into context: One U.K. survey concluded that more than 85% of landlords and agents incurred damage to their property by pets. However, this was closely followed by 84.7% incurring damage by adults and 55% incurring damage by children. 

Ross’ dog, Goose, is pretty tame, too — though some pet owners aren’t so lucky. Still, he felt that a regular security deposit, which is often at least one month’s full rent, should be enough to cover the typical wear-and-tear brought by humans and pets alike. 

“I pray that he doesn’t learn how to operate a drill,” Ross joked. “So far, so good.” 

If you want to email the author, or if you are a tenant who spends 50% or more of your income on rent, contact emma.ockerman@marketwatch.com.

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