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Pet Bill Aims to Help Denver Renters

There’s no doubt Denver loves its furry friends, as the city has consistently been rated among the most pet-friendly in the country. 

And at a time when housing inventory is low and prices are sky high, many residents are opting to rent. With pets in tow, this can often complicate things. 

Kitty, one of Jill Kehoe-Zekowski’s two cats.

“Most people would like to have a pet in their life,” said pet owner and renter Jill Kehoe-Zekowski. “But there were times when I could barely afford to pay my own rent, let alone pet rent for two cats, and animals to me aren’t recyclable.”

Kehoe-Zekowski began paying pet rent for her two cats, Schimmy and Kitty, back in 2011. She saw the monthly cost jump from only $25 to $100 over the course of ten years. Additionally, her base rent was also raised by $75 each year. By the time she moved out, Kehoe-Zekowski was paying $1,800—an increase of about $1000 over the decade she lived in the building. 

“When they’re raising both pet rent and human rent, I don’t know what to call that,” she said. “That’s a problem.” 

Kehoe-Zekowski said she knew many people who have given up their pets because they couldn’t afford them or were forced to live in less-than-desirable conditions to afford to keep their pets. Some renters have even opted to make their pets emotional support animals to avoid the high costs. 

Enter House Bill 23-1068—dubbed the “Pet Animal Ownership in Housing Bill”—introduced by State Rep. Alex Valdez in January 2023. If signed into law, the bill would restrict pet rent to 1% of the pet owner’s monthly rent or $35, whichever is greater, and cap pet deposits to $300 in addition to existing security deposits. It would also prevent homeowner insurance providers from denying coverage based on the breed of dog that resides at the insured dwelling. 

Denver renter Lilly St. Denis said while she understands the concerns landlords might have regarding pets in their properties, the high cost of pet rent has gone too far. 

“I’ve never been in the shoes of a property manager or a landlord, but I know it can be a real pain,” St. Denis said. “I don’t necessarily mind paying the initial deposit because if I were a landlord, I would want collateral. It’s the extra monthly rent as if your pet were a person that just seems kind of ridiculous to me.”

When St. Denis first started her apartment hunt after moving from Maryland, she was surprised to find out how expensive pet rent would be for her four-year-old rescue pup, Birdie. When she paid pet rent in Maryland, it was only around $50 a month. When she moved to Colorado, she and her boyfriend were looking at paying anywhere from $100-$500 monthly on top of an initial deposit fee. That kind of financial strain can lead some people to make the difficult decision to surrender their animal to a shelter. 

The text of HB23-1068 claims that tens of thousands of pets end up in Colorado shelters each year. Many are surrendered due to issues related to finding housing. 

“We’re excited to be supporting the bill because it does so much for the animals,” said Kathy Gaines, the executive director of Maxfund Adoption Center, a no-kill animal shelter in North Denver. The shelter initially took a neutral stance on the bill, because the original text allowed landlords to place liens on pets. However, amendments were added to exclude pets from a tenant’s personal property. 

“Obviously, we would be even more thrilled for it to be required for landlords to accept pets,” Gaines said. “But given that isn’t really feasible, at least the bill is capping the pet rent and the security deposits, and even more importantly, you can no longer place a lien on an unpaid debt using an animal. That is huge to us.” 

Gaines said there are other aspects of the bill that Maxfund approves of. The bill requires law enforcement conducting evictions to give pets back to the tenant, or if the tenant isn’t present, to contact a shelter or rescue.

“There’s just a lot of really great nuggets in the bill that are causing us to be in support,” she said. 

Gaines said that Maxfund often receives animals from individuals who can no longer afford their pet rent and have no choice but to surrender their animals. 

“I know people who would be homeless before they would choose housing that doesn’t allow their pet, Gaines said.  If this bill passes, it will allow people to at least know the maximum they would be charged if they do adopt an animal. Capping the deposits [and] pet rent allows for people to at least have some certainty.”

Valdez said that one of the bill’s main goals is to reduce the stress on local animal shelters. Maxfund’s adoption rate can vary widely, Gaines said, with around 10 to 40 cats and dogs finding new homes weekly. However, hoarding and backyard breeding busts quickly replace those animals at the shelter. Gaines hopes that passing this bill would allow more potential adopters to afford pets because every animal deserves a caring, loving home.

Not only does every animal deserve a good home, but Kehoe-Zekowski argued that humans also deserve the comfort their furry friends bring into their lives. 

“A lot of people need pets,” she said. “It’s a peaceful creature living inside your home to love and add to your life.”

Written by

London Lyle is a multimedia journalist.

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  • Thank you for this coverage.

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