Pet Issue 2016
It’s hard enough to find an affordable place to rent in Portland, but if you can’t possibly live without your best friend, Buddy the Beagle, it’s even harder.
Many apartments don’t allow pets at all, and the ones that do will often tack on an additional “pet rent”—$10, $25, $40, whatever, depending on the type and size of your animal—to your monthly rent, in addition to a potentially expensive deposit to recoup the cost of fully cleaning your place when you move out. Deposits are refundable, but the damage pets can do makes it less likely you’ll see that money again.
But generally speaking, there is good news.
According to a 2015 study by Trulia, Portland is the fifth most pet-friendly (or, as they call it, “paw-some”) city of the top 25 rental markets in the country, just behind San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and Oakland. The ranking is based on the amount of money required to rent a place with your pet, the number of apartments allowing animals, and the concentration of services for them. Trulia says 44 percent of the Portland apartments it studied allow cats, 41 percent allow small dogs, and just two percent allow large dogs.
We spoke with Cliff Hockley, president and principal broker of Bluestone & Hockley—which has about 1,800 units in and around Portland—about pet rental law and to get a landlord’s perspective on why they charge people to keep pets.
“The bottom line is this,” says Hockley, “landlords do have the ability to control the kinds of pets that are on the property. If they choose to allow pets, there’s no limit to the amount of money they can charge for a pet rent—but it’s gotta be reasonable.”
For example, nonrefundable one-time “fees” are no longer legal. They are not allowed to charge for a legally prescribed service animal, he said, but can tack on small fees if you don’t pick up after it like any other pet.
Hockley explains that the number of apartments with pets, particularly in Portland, have drastically increased in the last decade. People are getting married later, and “single people want company, so they have a pet.” The amount of wealthy people in Portland has increased as well, so more people are able to afford for their care as well as the pet rent.
Why the sudden increase? Roughly 10 years ago, during the economic downturn, landlords became desperate enough to start renting to people with pets—which were not exactly popular with building owners before.
“As these three things intersected,” Hockley says, “changes in demographics, wealth, and need for tenants—pets became a popular tool for landlords to fill up units. Then the federal government changed the laws for service animals (under the Americans with Disabilities Act)—basically to include people who need a pet for stress and anxiety—and we now have to allow service animals.”
Apartments with, say, 200 units are more likely to allow pets than a 10-unit place, he says, because “in a 200-unit you have enough turnover every month that you have to have some flexibility” to fill it up.
Hockley’s properties did not allow pets for years, but his company’s stance “softened” about seven years ago. “The key is we just have to make sure the units are clean and safe for the next tenant,” Hockley says. “In the end, you gotta deal with it. It is what it is.”
That means you have to pay up.
“I can tell you this,” says Hockley. “Many tenants want to have pets, but they don’t want to move into a unit that stinks. That’s the reality.”
It costs property owners about $1,000 to $1,500 to re-carpet a two-bedroom unit. They have to use a sealer on the floor and walls to keep the smell contained if your dog or cat had any bladder control issues. And they’ve got to get rid of fleas and other bugs pets can bring.
“It’s very expensive for us to turn units once a pet has been in there,” Hockley says. “I’d rather not rent to a pet [owner]—but if I’m going to, I’d like to recover $25 a month so I can offset the cost.”
The process of moving into an apartment is nuanced, of course, and some rental agreement language may not have been updated since the recent changes made to the state’s landlord/tenant laws. So as always when it comes to a lease, read the fine print. (Because Buddy the Beagle isn’t going to do it for you.)