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May 18, 2012

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MichelleD

The reaction by the No Kill Community irritates me the most...Instead of helping they're attacking. If you have set backs, despite other success, they'll turn on you like a rabid pack of dogs. Do they really think this is helping the animals that are still left in that shelter or the ones that will come thru tomorrow?

Sharon Lawrence

Until the multi-family rental housing industry steps up to the plate, every American community is going to struggle to get to "no kill." They need to be part of the solution to, rather than part of the problem, of shelter overcrowding. Read why...
~~~~

As of the April 2010 Census, 34.9 percent of Americans lived in rental housing (i.e., 99,479,722 people).

In some jurisdictions, the figure is far higher; 46.7 percent of Travis County, Texas residents are renters. That rate climbs to 53.5 percent for the City of Austin (441,240 and 354,241 total housing units respectively). In Dallas and Houston, the percentages are even higher, i.e., 53.9 percent and 52.7 percent respectively.

Why Are These Figures Important?

It's important because a great deal of rental housing simply is unavailable to anyone with pets. Take a look at rental housing ads, especially for private homes, and see how many say “No Pets.” Others have breed restrictions or limits on the number of pets (almost always 2) a renter may have in the unit, regardless of the size of the unit, the type/size of pet, or the number of people living in the unit.

In other instances, pets are acceptable but with the requirement that the renter pay a steep per pet deposit (e.g., $300 – $600) of which half or more is non-refundable (thus making those payments a fee rather than a true deposit). That's on top of the security deposit for other general non-pet damages (although that deposit would cover damages of any source, including those caused by pets) and perhaps both the first month's and the last month’s rent. A monthly “pet rent” (e.g., $10 - $30) may be imposed as well.

If one dares violate any lease provision on pet ownership, the penalties are harsh (e.g., $100 per violation and $10 per day until the animal is removed and/or eviction). These penalties apply for just having an animal without paying the deposit; owners need not see any damage or have any reason to believe that damage to their property has or will occur. They simply may impose huge financial penalties for the presence of an animal.

Typically, everyone must pay these deposits, regardless of their rental history and particularly regardless of their rental history with the housing owner in question. In most cases, tenants need not be told the purpose of a pet-related fee nor given any proof that the fee is ever used for the stated purpose.

To defend these extraordinary charges, one must assume the following as facts:

** Damage caused by pets is more likely or worse than damage attributable to other causes, such as children, people with poor hygiene or housekeeping skills, or smokers;
** Every renter will cause damage to the property in an amount equal to the basic damage deposit, thus requiring that pet guardians pay an additional deposit (i.e., damage caused by pets cannot be covered by the basic damage deposit because it will be used up to pay for other damages);
** Each pet will cause damage and that damage will reach the maximum amount of the pet deposit, thus requiring a per pet deposit, rather than a general pet deposit;
** Credit checks, which are now routine in conjunction with rental housing applications, do not eliminate people who are financially incapable of paying for damages;
** Damage caused by pets can be distinguished from damage caused by other sources (e.g., a diaper versus a litter box accident) or general wear and tear;
** Renters who have pets that damage an apartment would not pay the charges; and
** Owners of multi-family housing units have no other legal channels to obtain payment for damages (i.e., one must assume the absence of small claims courts and collection agencies) therefore, payment must be made in advance for damages that have not occurred and never may occur.

Taking a Closer Look at the Rental Housing Industry

When assessing the validity of these special charges, one needs to examine changes in who owns multi-family housing units in this country. According to figures compiled by the National Multi-Housing Council for the first quarter of 2012:

** The top 50 owners of apartments in the country owned 3,002,331 units. In addition, they managed another 221,113 thus controlling 3,223,444 apartments.
** Concentration in the industry is growing as ownership by the top 50 was up 3.86 percent from January 1, 2011.
** Boston Capital leads with ownership of 157,423 units. Number 50 on the list, AEW Capital Management LP, owns 23,891 apartments.
** Assuming that the units rent for an average of $721 per month (per Census figures for the first quarter of 2012), the top 50 apartment owners are earning $2,164,680,651 in rental payments MONTHLY!

Even more amazing, these 50 companies control over 6.9 percent of all rental housing units in the nation during the first quarter of this year.

Given that level of economic power, what's the justification for all the extra deposits and fees? Are they legitimately needed to keep vulnerable owners from uncontrollable losses? Or are they, like many banking fees, just another revenue source for the company, not tied to the cost of providing services to customers/renter?


Adverse Impact on Young Adults, Animals, and Taxpayers

Not only are the charges discriminatory against pet guardians, they discriminate against the young.

The Census Bureau reports that in the first quarter of 2012, 80.9 percent of Americans age 65 and over owned their home; however, only 36.8 percent of those under 35 did so.

That’s a particularly noteworthy set of figures when you look at recent trends. Six years ago, 80.3 percent of Americans over 65 years of age owned their residence (i.e., a 0.6 percent increase since the first quarter of 2006). Over that same period, however, the home ownership rate for individuals under 35 years of age dropped 5.5 percent. With the impact of the lengthy recession and the ballooning student loan debt hitting young adults the hardest, their move to homeownership is likely to lag for years.

If one assumes that many more people under age 35 would like to adopt pets versus those over 65, the impact of these policies on the local animal population is alarming. Assuming that 10 percent of the people living in multi-family rental housing in the City of Austin want to adopt a pet but don't because of these financial burdens and restrictions, that's 7,505 potential but unrealized pet homes in Austin. The number would be substantially higher if one considers all of Travis County in the calculation or assumes that people would adopt more than one pet.

Think too about the impact on taxpayers. If it costs the City of Austin/Travis County $100 to take an animal into the shelter and hold it for adoption (after deducting for adoption fees), that’s $750,500 in avoidable expenditures for local taxpayers.

That's the fiscal impact on just one community of thousands in the US. Obviously, do something about these housing impediments and “No Kill” not only becomes “No Problem” across the US, taxpayers will be the better for it.

Smarter Strategies

To balance the interests of pet parents, communities, taxpayers, and the rental housing industry, smarter rental housing strategies should be employed. If a pet is spayed/neutered, microchipped, and current on vaccinations (as is almost universally done by rescue groups), pet deposits should be permissible only:

** If they are refundable and interest accrues while they are retained by the owner; and
** The owner holds less than 200 rental units (with restrictions in place to avoid splitting the ownership to evade the restrictions) or upon a specific showing of previous bad acts by, or poor credit history of, the tenant.

Non-refundable pet-related fees would be permissible only if the amount and purpose of the fee is specifically spelled out in the lease and the tenant is provided with proof that the service has been rendered at the price set in the lease (e.g., $10 per month per dog for hiring of a pooper scooper company). Requirements that cats be declawed as a condition of rental should be banned as well

Limits on the number of pets should be tied to the size of the rental unit, the weight of the pets (e.g., 2 pets per bedroom up to a maximum of 6 pets or 75 pounds, whichever is less), and the number of human occupants (e.g., allowing a combination of 6 people and pets in a 2 bedroom unit).

To help ease worries that managers/owners of multi-family dwellings have about pets on their property, local government shelters/rescue groups and apartment associations should develop an educational program that promotes responsible pet ownership (e.g., proper disposal practices for pet waste, and stain removal). The programming also could have modules for issues specific to cats, dogs, and rabbits (e.g., dog barking, dog bite prevention, or litter box issues).

Such training could be scheduled on-site at large multi-family housing units, perhaps in conjunction with an adoption event. Just as is done with defensive driving classes, completion of a “pet parenting” class could be used to eliminate/reduce financial penalties or restrictions on renters (especially those in residences not covered by the new policies).

Given that an ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure, educated pet parents should reduce the risk of loss for complex owners and produce more pleasant living conditions for everyone.


Conclusion

Virtually every day, one sees a news article highlighting the value of pet companionship for humans. We know that children who struggle with their reading skills may overcome that program by reading to dogs. We know that veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder are calmed by a companion animal. We know that everyone benefits from going out to walk a dog several times a day or petting a cat. Those benefits should be available to everyone, regardless of their housing status. Our communities will be better for it.



Notes:

1. Sources: US Bureau of the Census, State & County Quick Facts and “Residential Vacancies and Homeownership in the First Quarter of 2012” (CB12 – 60; April 30, 2012).
2. The Census Bureau recorded 39,521,000 occupied rental units in the US during the first quarter of 2012 and 3,861,000 unoccupied ones (total 43,382,000 rentals).
2. At the time of the 2010 Census, 35.3 percent of Texans lived in rental housing, a percentage that climbs to 46.7 percent for Travis County and 53.5 percent for the City of Austin (441,240 and 354,241 total housing units respectively). In Dallas and Houston, the percentages are even higher, i.e., 53.9 percent and 52.7 percent respectively.
Of those Travis County renters, 39.6 percent are in multi-unit structures (i.e., more than 2 units in the structure); 47.0 percent of Austin renters are in similar multi-unit structures. For purposes of addressing issues regarding Austin Animal Services, note that it serves not only the City of Austin but all of Travis County.
The “unrealized pet adoptions” figure is calculated from (total housing units) x (percentage in rental housing x percentage in multi-family units) x 10 percent.
3. Savvy corporate recruiters should immediately realize that having more pet friendly rental housing policies could be another substantial tool in their arsenal for recruiting the best and the brightest, who are typically the youngest, to their companies.

CristyF

Good info, Sharon. I also wish rental places would rescind their lengthy lists of breeds they've banned from their property.

Reiven West

I was gonna say what Sharon Lawrence said, only not a eloquently. Now, how do we get this done?

Brent

Well, part of it would help if we could get insurance companies to change their policies -- as many apartments, at least around here -- merely react to what their insurance will allow.

Carol

"I will not go along with a lie, no matter the source and no matter how haters may react. No kill is no kill. I stand with the 17 dogs who lost their lives at the hands of those who should have protected them on May 11 in Austin. It is an insult to the memory of those animals and to the entire no kill movement to try and re-classify their deaths after the fact as something other than what they were – convenience killings."

http://yesbiscuit.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/austin-animal-center-runs-out-of-truth/

Brent

Carol, I read what Shirley wrote.

And yes, I agree that every life is worth saving.

On the flip side, I don't think Shirley is in a position of authority on this. It's pretty easy to find fault in others if you're looking for faults. But if you look at the entire body of work, what is being done in Austin is pretty amazing.

MichelleD

The public attacks did NOTHING to help the situation down in Austin. In fact, it quite possibly may hurt their ability to save lives in the future. But hey, being RIGHT is what is most important now isn't it...

Annette Berry

Love to see so many interested in this movement. Take a look just down the road from Austin in San Marcos: In 2010, intake 2,285 with 90.85% euth, in 2011 intake 1,972 with 86.53% euth

And its not much better, if at all, this year(although its not easy to get them to release the stats) Please contact the San Marcos city council and mayor. Take a stand for these pets too. Thanks

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