Sextiped Valley: Pet housing crunch is getting worse
A recent column complained of the unreasonable prejudice in our housing market against pets, especially dogs. It isn’t a new issue.
Since at least the 1980s, shelters have found prohibition of pets a common feature of residential leases. Progressive shelters, such as the San Francisco SPCA, have responded with studies and outreach programs aimed at both tenants with pets and landlords, addressing the needs of both. The Open Door program has successfully developed provisions that assist responsible pet owners to find housing and landlords to protect their property.
I’ve counseled many pet owners on effective ways to negotiate with landlords, including preparing “resumes” for their pets, with references from their veterinarian, trainer, day care provider, former neighbors and landlords. When the property owner is a private individual or small holding company, this can be very effective, but it is almost always useless when dealing with corporate managers of multiple properties, who prefer to prevent problems by excluding all potential conflicts.
Ironically, while every day we learn more about the important roles pets play in human well-being, the narrowing of options for living with pets increases apace. Even home ownership doesn’t guarantee the right to enjoy a companion animal, as HOAs can be unreasonably restrictive, often prohibiting accommodations that would facilitate responsible pet ownership — such as rules against fences.
For low-income tenants and elderly people on fixed incomes, these trends are especially burdensome. Years ago, we had a client who “won the affordable housing lottery” for the right to purchase a home in a new development, only to learn that she would have to give up one of her two dogs in order to live there. The exemption required by law for acceptance of service animals in rental housing has created irresistible temptations for applicants to fudge the requirements for certification in order not to have to give up a pet. It has also contributed to the oft-lamented bogus “certification” industry that provides documentation without proof of legitimate acquisition.
The current housing squeeze in our area has severely exacerbated the problem. For many seniors and singles, the pet is their whole family, their main source of emotional support. To face the choice between homelessness and abandoning their life companion is excruciating. The affluent are seldom affected by such things, but growing inequality means more and more people do face such wrenching ultimatums.
Besides the individual heartbreak and the resulting misery of pets made homeless, there is an additional social cost that I’m convinced is real, though difficult to quantify: namely, the erosion of basic honesty and the public trust that depends upon it. When enough people feel they are being discriminated against without cause and deprived thereby of something essential, some of them will lie or cheat the rules they perceive as unfair, and before you know it deceptive practices come to be seen as necessary and fair. Given enough time and enough provoking issues, this erosion of trust can corrupt a whole culture.
We know that at least 50 percent of households have pets. Why not take this evidence of their importance to humans into account at every level? Developers could design housing estates to accommodate popular pets in their layout and in the design of individual units. HOAs could have sub-groups of residents with pets with requirements that would serve everyone’s interests. For example, dues that would pay retainers for a mediator and an animal trainer, and procedures for addressing problems quickly, thoroughly and efficiently. Self-help programs within multiple housing developments encouraging flexible and creative internal animal care arrangements.
Is there any will in our valley to explore neighborly and practical steps toward relieving the current impasse? I’d like to hear ideas. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 970-945-8723.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.
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