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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pet Fees, Policies, and Housing Discrimination

The Vegan Vine; No Irish No Blacks No Dogs
I recently received my lease renewal and, to my ire, learned that I will be charged an additional $35 a month for “pet fees.”

My apartment is spotless. My feline companion is both well cared for and well-behaved (as far as domesecrated animals go), which often go hand in hand. Sadly, I can’t say the same for some children. Every so often the rental office sends out cautionary emails regarding unruly juveniles trashing the clubhouse and other communal areas. So why, I wonder, aren’t my neighbors charged “child fees?”

Speciesism—human intolerance, prejudice, or discrimination on the basis of species, especially as manifested by cruelty to or exploitation of nonhuman animals—is prevalent in all sectors of our society and culture, including the places where many of us call home.

Anyone who has ever attempted to rent an apartment with a companion animal, like a dog or cat, knows about species discrimination. Advertisements abound stress “We are a pet-free community" or “Sorry, no pets.” These are just nice ways of saying “No Dogs or Cats Allowed!” Anti-pet policies strike me as being highly biased and speciesist. Likewise, opportunistic pet-friendly rental communities that charge ancillary fees on top of already astronomical rents to those who open their lives to homeless animals are equally discriminatory.

On my way home from work I used to pass a billboard that advertised a nearby townhome complex. It featured a picture of a dog and cat with a caption that read “Pets stay free!” I was pleasantly surprised, but why is this practice the exception and not the rule? Moreover, why is it acceptable for me to be charged more rent per month just because the only other member of my household happens to be feline? Can you imagine a billboard that said “Children stay free!”? Probably not because we are so indoctrinated by anthropocentrism. People would be appalled if rental communities charged by the child, yet I clearly remember one occasion when I was shown an apartment in which a child had written all over the walls in crayon.

Don't children cause more damage than pets? Yes, according to the Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research and Education Promoting Animal Welfare (FIREPAW). In their 2004 study, FIREPAW found that tenants with children on average caused $150 more damage than tenants without children, and that people with pets caused less damage than both people with and without children. Based on these findings, tenants with pets should be given a discount!

In most cases it is illegal to discriminate against children, but it is not illegal to discriminate against other animals, however, there is one exception. The law provides that "reasonable accommodations" must be made for companion animals who provide a service or emotional assistance to those with disabilities. This affects everyone, including those landlords, apartment complexes, and management associations with policies limiting or excluding companion animals. Furthermore, they are prevented from charging pet fees since service and assistance animals are not technically considered pets.

The FIREPAW study also found housing issues to be one of the largest causes of abandonment of animals to shelters and elsewhere. And while one-half of housing in the United States is pet-friendly, only nine percent of these residences had no significant limitations (size, race).

More pet-friendly dwellings are good news for tenants and their companion animals, and animals in shelters. What's more, FIREPAW found that landlords received a net benefit of $2,731 per unit annually from allowing pets, so those who prohibit pets are essentially doing themselves a disservice. However, the financial benefit to landlords comes at the expense of tenants. Most pet-friendly residences were found to charge separate pet deposits that were anywhere from 40 to 85 percent of the rent in addition to regular security deposits and monthly pet fees. Exploiting tenants and their love for their nonhuman family members by adding an undue financial burden still seems unfair and unscrupulous.

I now equate “Sorry, no pets” with “Sorry, you’ve just lost my business.” Even if I didn’t look after a companion animal, I still wouldn’t patronize a company that turned companion animals away, especially when we need more people to adopt animals into loving, forever homes. Similarly, I will not patronize companies that single out women, people of color, or those who are gay. Discrimination is discrimination!

Similarly, it's not illegal for companies to discriminate against certain races of dogs. Unfortunately, many housing developments and insurance companies will not accept pit bulls despite their loving and attentive nature because humans have abused them for selfish and violent machinations. Ever willing to please, pit bulls are often manipulated and mistreated by cruel owners and taught to be aggressive toward others, not unlike children who are raised in abusive homes and taught to resort to violence. 

Complaints stemming from damage or noise are—and always will be—about humans, not their companion animals. People need to be more responsible regarding the beings in their care. The cat who urinates outside of the litter box is communicating a problem to her owner and it’s up to the owner to learn why and help her. The dog who barks frequently and runs around at night because he’s in a crate for most of the day is reflecting his owner’s negligence. The child who doesn’t respect his own home or that of others exhibits a failure in parenting.

Lastly, some naysayers grumble over allergies but I, too, have allergies to many things, including people's noxious perfumes, deodorizers, and smoking products. It is simply a part of communal living and there will always be some things beyond our control in these environments.

Our nonhuman brethren are the last group of beings to face systematic prejudice, discrimination, cruelty, and extermination on a daily basis. We need to recognize this and rectify it in all societal spheres, starting at home. Until we put an end to the forced breeding, selling, and domesecration of cats and dogs and other "pets," there will always be animals in need of sanctuary. We should be making it easier for people to open their homes to them, not harder. 

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