In 2022, Soo Cho and her boyfriend, Alan Ngo, adopted a two-year-old husky mix named Aspen after fostering him for a few months. Like so many pet owners, Cho thinks of Aspen as her child. But unlike most people who rent a home with their children, the couple knows that there's always the possibility that they will have to surrender Aspen to an animal shelter because of the pet deposits, fees and pet rent that many landlords require renters to pay every month.
To move into their 850-square-foot apartment in Broomfield, Cho and Ngo had to pay $350 for a pet deposit and initial fees. They also agreed to pay $35 in pet rent per month. All of those charges are on top of their monthly rent of $2,000, Cho says. After living in their unit for about a year, Cho has paid approximately $1,020 in pet rent and fees, or about half a month’s rent.
The couple’s lease is set to expire in April, and finding a new place to live with Aspen has been tough so far, Cho says. They want to stay in Broomfield because it’s close to where they work, but the apartments they’ve been looking at all charge higher pet deposits and fees than the one where they currently live.
“The thought of having to surrender Aspen has never really crossed my mind, because there is no way I am giving him up,” Cho says. “Like, I will go into debt to make sure that I get to keep him. He means that much to me.”
Many renters in metro Denver are in a similar predicament, at a time when the cost of living continues to rise and the number of surrendered pets entering the city’s shelter system is at an all-time high.
But a bill circulating in the Colorado General Assembly could eliminate those pet-related charges altogether. House Bill 23-1068, introduced on January 19 by Representative Alex Valdez, a Democrat whose district includes parts of downtown Denver, seeks to prohibit landlords from charging pet deposits and pet fees, and would also set up a state fund to reimburse landlords up to $1,000 for damages caused by their tenants' pets.
The first hearing for HB23-1068 will be tomorrow, February 7, before the House Transportation, Housing & Local Government Committee.
Valdez says that the bill is looking to solve two problems: First, it aims to lower the cost of living for pet-loving households across the state. Second, it strives to reduce the workload for local animal shelters.
For example, Denver-area shelters and rescues have reported that in 2022 they saw a significant increase in the number of animals that needed assistance, as well as higher-than-usual numbers of owner surrenders over the year, with shelters' already thin resources stretched to near invisibility.
“There are so many economic variables that are affecting people’s ability to retain their pets, and housing is number one,” Pam Krider, director of marketing and communications at the Denver Dumb Friends League, told Westword last September.
Valdez suspects that the metro area’s increasing average rent is one reason why so many pets are being surrendered. The Apartment Association of Metro Denver measured the average Denver rent at $1,838 per month during the fourth quarter of 2022, which is an increase of 7.5 percent year over year and a 19.6 percent increase since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Valdez suggests that eliminating these fees could also help improve mental health outcomes for people who are dealing with trauma, stemming from the pandemic or otherwise. A 2021 study from Oklahoma State University concluded that pets play “a vital role” in mental health by improving self-esteem and physical health while decreasing feelings of loneliness.
Cho, who is a therapist by trade, says that living with Aspen has greatly improved her well-being. Both Cho and Ngo work from home in their tiny apartment, and she says that having their pooch around has helped her develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be forgiving, patient and compassionate.
“Dogs are angels,” Cho says. “I truly believe they are here to help guide us and make us better people.”
While the bill is still looking for co-sponsors, it has earned the praise of some landlords, such as Maggie Fast, a realtor who works in the Denver area. Fast has been a landlord for the past seven years and currently has five units in her portfolio. She says that she doesn’t charge any of her tenants pet fees or pet rent, but does charge a fully refundable $500 deposit, explaining that the deposit is typically used to replace any damaged carpet or flooring.
“Pets are a part of my tenants' families, and I don’t see a reason to try to nickel-and-dime every single dog or cat that lives in my home,” Fast says, adding that she could only recall one case where she kept the entire deposit after a tenant moved out.
Critics of the bill, including Drew Hamrick, general counsel at the Colorado Apartment Association, say that the fees some landlords charge are reasonable because “there are costs” that come with renting to pet owners.
“Pets can be a wonderful addition to a household,” Hamrick says. “Even though we all love our pets, we can’t just wave a wand and declare that their housing, food, medical care and transportation are free.”
If the bill passes and landlords are ultimately prohibited from charging pet-related fees, Hamrick says that renters who don’t own pets might have to make up the cost difference by having to pay higher rents and deposits.