How much is that doggie in the window costing in pet rent?
Fees, deposits, contributing to stray animal crisis in low-income areas, say activists
Pet rent is hailed by experts as a means of increasing landlord profits. (Photo: Marie LaFauc/Getty Images)
Nevada renters are shelling out thousands of dollars a year in some cases in pet deposits, fees, and rent, while others are secretly harboring their pets in an effort to avoid paying, a situation that leaves dogs and cats in peril if they’re discovered, according to animal advocates.
A survey conducted by a real estate agent blog projects 14% of Nevada renters who own close to 68,000 pets admit to keeping their pet ownership from their landlord.
“I have heard of several instances of ‘bounty money’ paid to tenants and property management employees who report tenants with animals, so management can have cause to inspect and demand deposits and monthly fee or eviction,” says animal advocate Carlon Fruge.
Faced with the prospect of paying pet rent or being evicted, a tenant’s indoor cat suddenly becomes an outdoor cat, contributing to the stray animal crisis – and if unsterilized, to pet overpopulation.
Fruge, a volunteer who traps stray cats so they can be sterilized, vaccinated for rabies, and returned to their outdoor homes, says the “huge swaths of multi-housing in the valley are the epicenters of the homeless animal populations.”
While apartment complexes provide fertile ground for cat-trapping, poverty is the root of the seemingly endless stream of lost and abandoned animals for volunteers and animal control officials, according to Keith Williams, founder of the Community Cat Coalition of Clark County (C5), the largest volunteer cat trapping organization in Southern Nevada.
“The highest density areas are the oldest neighborhoods, which also tend to be the lowest income neighborhoods,” says Williams, as he points to maps with clustered red dots – each representing the location of a stray cat that was turned over to the Animal Foundation’s (TAF) Lied Shelter.
“Historically the highest numbers of stray reports have been in the area of downtown and on the Eastside,” says City of Las Vegas spokesman Jace Radke. The city does not break down lost animal data by location.
Clark County, which tracks stray dog reports by zip code, has had 1,722 stray dog calls this year through Oct. 30, with the most (263) discovered in zip code 89115, the area bordered by Owens to the south, Pecos to the west, Craig Road to the north and Lamb Blvd. to the east. The area has a median per capita income of $16,116, according to the American Community 5-year Survey from 2017-2021, the third lowest in Clark County.
Zip code 89121, bordered by Eastern to the west, Tropicana to the south, Nellis to the east and Sahara to the north, had the second highest number of stray dog calls (185) in unincorporated Clark County. Per capita income in the zip code is $24,106.
Sunrise Manor, zip code 89156, has the third highest number of stray dog calls (144) this year, and a per capita income of $23,164.
“Independent rescuers and organizations like the Doggie Task Force rescue a lot of strays in North Las Vegas and the east side,” says volunteer dog rescuer Kelly Winder. “The hot spots are along Lake Mead Blvd. Charleston, and Eastern.”
“Renters are much of the problem,” says Melanie Shayne of the Doggie Task Force and Kiss My Paws rescue. “You can see the Facebook posts that say ‘I have to be out tomorrow. Going to have to leave my dog if I can’t find it a home.’”
The Doggie Task Force, she says, an army of volunteers who chase down stray dogs, often find them abandoned “where there are no lights or cameras.”
Williams of C5 has maps of stray cat locations spanning decades.
“There’s the Animal Foundation. As you can see, there’s a very high concentration over here,” he says, pointing to a mass of red dots in the area surrounding the government-funded shelter on Mojave Rd. near Stewart Ave.
In 2015, the Animal Foundation began a $1.7 million community cat program with the goal of sterilizing 15,000 feral or stray cats over a three-year period. The effort fell slightly below its goal before it “called it a wrap” in 2018, according to a news release, leaving volunteers from C5 and other smaller organizations to tackle a feral population projected at more than 200,000.
In the last decade, C5 has trapped and sterilized about 5,000 cats each year. Most are returned to where they were trapped, to live in colonies where they are fed by caregivers. About 10% are deemed adoptable and placed in homes.
In addition to the east Las Vegas area, William’s maps depict clusters of lost cats near UNLV and the poverty-stricken but apartment-rich neighborhoods bordered by Flamingo to the south, Desert Inn to the north, Paradise to the west and Maryland Parkway to the east.
“The high density areas are where there was development in 1984,” Williams says.
Much of that density stems from apartment complexes, according to animal advocates, where catering to pet owners, once considered an undesirable nuisance, has become a profit center.
Pets as profit
“Allowing pets in your rental property can be a great thing,” says one real estate blog. “It attracts more renters and increases your rental income.”
Pet rent is hailed by experts as a means of increasing landlord profits. An estimated 87 million American households (roughly 70%) have a pet, according to a survey from the American Pet Products Association.
In addition to the profit potential, landlords have come to appreciate other benefits, such as longer tenancy among pet owners.
Landlords impose a variety of charges on pet-owning tenants.
A pet deposit is a one-time, refundable payment, intended to cover damage caused by a pet. A pet fee, however, is non-refundable. It’s a one-time charge a renter pays for the privilege of having a pet. Deposits and fees range from $200 to $500.
Pet rent is a recurring monthly fee tacked on to the tenant’s regular rent. It ranges from as little as $10 a month, depending on location and type of pet, to as much as $100, according to a variety of sources.
“When we place a dog with a renter, they have to pay $300 or $400 to the landlord for a deposit, and a monthly fee on top of the adoption fee. So they’re paying like $1,000 to get this dog from us in total,” says Shayne of Kiss My Paws rescue.
A popular means of avoiding pet rent is to obtain a letter from a mental health professional who attests that a pet provides emotional support to the patient. On-line services are available that include a consultation with a professional. The cost is nominal, compared with pet rents and fees. However, sites that purport to register a pet as an emotional support animal are worthless when it comes to obtaining rent-free tenancy for a pet. There are no official emotional support animal registries.
Fruge and other activists want landlords to require tenants to provide proof their pets are spayed or neutered, in accordance with local laws in Southern Nevada. He suggests landlords who fail to do so, as determined by government inspections, could be assessed a penalty “equivalent to what it would cost a shelter system that ameliorates the problems that emanate from their properties.”
The money, Fruge says, could be used to subsidize sterilizations for the pets of low-income residents.
A spokesperson for the Nevada State Apartment Association says such a regulation “would likely require additional fees to be passed on to the residents, above and beyond the pet fees that are currently charged which are designed to cover the increased risk of damage from pets.”
Currently, public housing administrators may require that tenant’s pets be sterilized, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Southern Nevada governments enacted laws in 2010 requiring that dogs and cats four months and older must be sterilized, with the exception of service animals, those used by law enforcement, and animals belonging to licensed breeders.
Intake at the Animal Foundation at the time was 48,496. It dropped to 40,348 by 2013 and to 30,500 in 2015. However, the valley also experienced a human exodus between 2008 and 2013. of about 100,000.
Today, TAF’s intake is about 25,000 a year, a reduction some experts say is the result of mandatory sterilization. But some experts suggest that while critical to shelter and feral populations, the spay/neuter law is a disservice to low-income pet owners, who may not be able to afford even reduced-cost spay and neuter, and may avoid necessary veterinary care for fear of their pet’s status being detected.
A 2015 ASPCA study of pet owners who said they gave up a pet in the last five years found 40% of those with incomes below $50,000 said free or low-cost vet care would have allowed them to keep their pets. Almost a third said free or low-cost pet food would have been most helpful.
“Where is rent control?” asks Shayne of Kiss My Paws. “Landlords shouldn’t be able to increase rent by $400 a month.”
The cost of pet rent poses a significant barrier to pet ownership for low-income Americans, and is being addressed in some states.
Last year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law designed to keep low-income families and their pets together.
Senate Bill 971 seeks to improve the supply of low-income rental housing that allows pets by incentivizing the development of pet-inclusive, subsidized housing.
Landlords of housing financed through the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee and the California Department of Housing and Community Development are no longer allowed to charge non-refundable fees, such as “pet rent,” on top of regular security deposits and monthly rent. They are also prohibited from restricting pets based on weight, a practice that is permitted in Nevada.
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