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Bill aims to cut rental costs for pets

By Erin Malcolm 

On Jan. 19, Colorado State Rep. Alex Valdez introduced a bill with the intention to eliminate pet-related fees for renters. 

As House Bill 23-1068, or Pet Animal Ownership in Housing, was originally written, it would have prohibited landlords from charging any pet deposits, pet rent or pet-specific fees. It would have also put a reimbursement program in place, called the “pet friendly landlord damage mitigation program,” where landlords could be reimbursed up to $1,000 — on a first come, first serve basis — for property damages proven to be caused by a pet living with their tenant. 

In addition to these pet fee-related sections of the bill, it also covered topics such as prohibiting restrictions on dog breeds for obtaining homeowners insurance, outlining the way pets should be handled when a writ of restitution is executed, excluding pets from property liens and prohibiting the Colorado affordable housing tax credit from being allocated unless tenants are allowed to bring their pets to reside at the property with them.

Many pet-loving renters who were proponents of the bill in its original form were relieved at the idea of getting rid of additional housing costs associated with providing a home for their pets. 

On the other hand, opponents of the bill, had some concerns with the elimination of pet fees for rentals as the text in the bill originally read. 

Jan Barker, a long-time Colorado resident and landlord, has owned rental properties with her husband, Bill, for about as long as they’ve been married; and they just celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary in March. The couple recently moved to Arizona where they have two rental properties, but they still have one active rental property in Elbert County, Colorado. 

For Jan Barker, the idea of renting her property to tenants with pets without the safety net of pet fees is unfathomable. 

“We’re trying to protect our own investment, our own property,” she said. “I don’t want to lump all tenants together, because the majority of the tenants are really, really good. But in my experience, for the most part, anytime that there is a pet involved, there is so much of the property that gets damaged.” 

And for landlords like Barker, who believe in restoring their property to a like-new state after each tenant, the amount it costs to do that typically increases after pets have taken their toll. For example, Barker said that typically, her non-refundable deposit is just enough money to cover small restoration tasks such as getting the carpets cleaned. But oftentimes, for her, bigger costs are involved, such as ripping up floors and/or completely replacing carpets, if animals have been living at a property.  

“I want to give people a place that’s nice and clean and taken care of,” Barker said. “And the amount of money that I’ve been out after doing that every time pets are involved is just ridiculous. Even if I have a non-refundable and a refundable fee, which is what I typically do when I allow a pet, I’m still going to be out potentially thousands of dollars because I can’t get any deposit to cover the amount of damage that an animal can do,” she said. 

Maintaining a pet-friendly property without being able to charge for pet-related fees would leave the property owner with an even greater financial burden. 

Breaking the bank for landlords was not the goal of this bill. 

The motivation for HB 23-1068, according to the legislative declaration portion of the bill summary, stemmed from concern for overcrowded animal shelters and compassion for pet owners who struggle to find available housing that welcomes their furry friends at an affordable cost. 

When discussing the issue of pet rent with CBS News Colorado reporters during an interview Feb. 27, Valdez said, “It’s very expensive. It’s causing a family to make a decision between having a member of their family living with them or taking that pet and dropping it at the shelter.” 

His concern for shelter animals comes at an important time, when shelters are seeing a rise in the number of animals that need their help. 

Like many animal shelters across the state, the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region has seen a recent increase in the number of animals that come through their doors, said Cody Costra, the public relations manager at HSPPR in Colorado Springs.

According to HSPPR, they served 27,547 animals in 2022, compared to 23,643 animals in 2021, which is an increase of 16.5% in just one year. 

Of those animals served by HSPPR in 2022, they received 9,613 pets as owner surrenders, with 1,378 of those referencing housing issues as a reason for surrendering their pet, according to HSPPR. That makes housing-related problems the second highest reason that owners surrender their pets, behind personal reasons. For a better look at that picture, personal reasons represent 64% of owner surrenders while housing issues represent 14% of owner surrenders at HSPPR.

There is no doubt that animal shelters are currently in desperate need of assistance. But for shelters like HSPPR, it’s unclear if the bill as it was originally written would help their situation or further hinder it. 

“It is difficult to predict how the bill would affect animal shelters without knowing how landlords are going to react to allowing pets,” Costra said. “If there is a higher number of landlords that choose not to allow pets (as a result of the bill), there is a possibility that animal shelters could see a higher number of animals being surrendered by their owners.” 

Costra did note some pet perks in the original text in the bill. “We feel that there are some positive components of HB 23-1068 that we would like to see passed, such as prohibiting insurers from denying a homeowners insurance policy based on the breed or mixture of breeds of dogs that reside at the property,” Costra said. “At HSPPR, we believe animals should be treated as individuals and assumptions should not be made based on breed alone. HSPPR would also support that the bill provides that no pet shall be removed from the premises during the execution of a writ and left unattended on public or private property.” 

Regardless of how the bill progresses, Costra was clear that surrendering a pet to a shelter for any reason, including housing problems, should be treated as an owner’s last resort, not the first solution. 

“If you do have to surrender your pet, we recommend rehoming your pet to a friend or family if possible, or by using Rehome by Adopt-a-Pet.com as another option before coming into HSPPR,” Costra said. “No matter the outcome of the proposed law, HSPPR will be here for the needs of our community. No pet in need of shelter will be turned away. However, rehoming with a family member or friend would be a less stressful option for your pet and leave a kennel open for another pet in need.”

Since talking with the HSPPR and landlord Jan Barker, the bill has been modified. 

With the amendments, the bill no longer prohibits landlords from charging pet deposits or pet rent altogether, but instead limits the amounts that can be charged for the fees. Pet security deposits are limited to $300 and must be fully refundable. Pet rent is limited to $35 per month or 1% per month of the tenant’s monthly rent, whichever is greater. Additionally, the section of the bill that proposed the “pet friendly landlord damage mitigation program” was removed, which means that landlords receiving $1,000 from the program’s fund for property damage resulting from a tenant’s pet will no longer be a factor. The section that would have prohibited the Colorado affordable housing tax credit from being allocated unless tenants are allowed to bring their pets to reside at the property with them was also removed from the bill.

On March 13, HB 23-1068 passed with amendments during the House third reading. On March 16, HB 23-1068 was introduced in the Senate and assigned to Local Governments & Housing. 

The Colorado Association of Home Builders, the National Association of Insurance & Financial Advisers and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce are among those opposing the bill. Other insurance companies and housing related associations are monitoring the bill. All animal related organizations in Colorado support HB 23-1068.

Rep. Alex Valdez did not return NFH calls.

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