AUSTIN (KXAN) — Many pet owners have likely paid an extra deposit or rent for their non-human companions, but that extra expense can act as a barrier to pet ownership for some. Troubling research suggests that additional pet fees in Austin disproportionally target lower income and non-white communities.
A study titled “Pet-Friendly for Whom? An Analysis of Pet Fees in Texas Rental Housing”, published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science in Nov. 2021, examined rental properties in several Texas cities to “understand the extent to which renting with pets may create an additional cost burden for renters.” The researchers specifically looked at apartments that described themselves as pet friendly.
The study hoped to build on similar research that looked at cities in North Carolina, which found that pet-friendly rentals are more readily available in communities with predominantly white residents than ones with predominantly people of color.
What researchers found for Texas cities is that higher cost pet-friendly units are less likely to have pet fees. These units are more likely to be in high income and predominantly white communities, while the heaviest pet fees land on low income and predominantly Latinx communities.
“[Austin], in many ways, exemplifies some of the key issues that are highlighted. We know how big of an issue gentrification is in our city. We know how many racial divisions there are in our city. We know how overwhelmingly white parts of our city are,” said Kevin Horecka, one of the study’s researchers. “This is yet another example of a societal issue that relates to all of those things.”
Horecka, who is also a researcher for Austin Pets Alive!, said he thinks the study’s policy recommendations might not directly help more people become pet owners, but instead help them with the costs.
“People who want pets find ways to get them, but they’re paying these unfair and unfortunate costs to do so,” Horecka said. “We would probably see benefits in terms of pet ownership, in particular special populations of animals that are much harder to adopt out, such as ones with medical conditions, are larger or particular breeds.”
Specifically, the study recommends against landlords using the Texas Apartment Association’s (TAA) animal addendum template or charging an additional pet security deposit. According to the study, the addendum allows landlords to enter a unit and remove a pet from the property after a single complaint or violation.
What’s the purpose of pet fees?
David Mintz, the TAA’s vice president of government affairs, disagrees with these recommendations. He said that TAA’s addendum allows for property owners to access a unit to help abandoned or neglected animals, as well as remove pets that are unruly or dangerous.
Mintz is in favor of using pet deposits and fees, but notes the TAA cannot legally provide landlords with guidance on setting those fees.
“A lot of apartment communities are pet friendly, but along with that comes some additional costs as well. Pet deposits are there to cover the potential for damage that a pet may cause within a rental unit beyond normal wear and tear,” Mintz said. “The reality is that having a pet comes with some responsibilities. When you’re renting your home, it’s important you’re helping take care of that property.”
Mintz says deposits, extra rent and one-time fees for pets often cover property and grounds upkeep, paperwork and other administrative costs, as well as amenities like dog parks and pet washing stations.
“There is a real cost for having a groundskeeper go around the property to pick up after pets or when there’s landscaping damage,” Mintz said. “I think that properties try to be as welcoming as they can, but they have to balance those added costs or the potential for damage with trying to keep costs reasonable for all of the renters as well.”
However, the 2021 study’s researchers say previous research doesn’t support that claim.
“Past research has found that, in the rare instances in which pet-related damages do occur, security deposits are more than sufficient in most instances. Furthermore, there is no evidence that landlords charging for pet ownership are using this extra income to pay for any additional costs of maintaining rental properties that allow pets,” the researchers said in the study’s conclusions.
“I think [landlords] should be more mindful of what and why you are asking people for around pet ownership,” Horecka said. “I don’t know that it’s fair to ask landlords to go against their own economic best interest. There’s just not a lot of incentive for them to act any differently.”
Texas Pets Alive! has a program called “Positive Alternatives to Shelter Surrender” (P.A.S.S.) that offers assistance and resources to help pet owners keep their pet in a home.